The Nantahala is the classic southeastern river for entry level whitewater. Its safe to say that the Nantahala is one of the most rafted streams in the country. Its probably safe to say that more beginners have swum while learning on this river than most others.
The majority of the run is cold, splashy class two water. Nantahala falls is the class three exception to the rule. Pattons Run, the first rapid just around the corner from the put-in, sometimes gives beginners a hard time.
The Nantahala's most notable feature is its dam-controlled, cold water. Figure about 45 degrees. The 3-day release forecast is the best source of information on planned releases (select "Nantahala Area" from the dropdown menu), and you can also check out the annual release calendar on that same webpage.
The river is completely roadside along US 19 and US 74 about an hour west of Asheville, between Bryson City and Andrews, North Carolina. The Forest Service maintains the put-in. The take-out is behind the Nantahala Outdoor Center on river left. NOC maintains a large parking area.
For the Best Info on the Nantahala check out Chris Bell's Asheville Area Boating Beta page.
Also check out the Forest Service site.
The following description is courtesy of The Asheville Area Boating Beta Page (boatingbeta.com). To view it in a new window, click here.
Don't forget to pay the USFS use fee: $1 for daily use or $5 for a season's pass. Among other places, you can pay your fees at the NOC rental building or at the NOC Outfitter's Store.
Everyman's Riverby Amy Walker
On any day in the height of summer on the dam-controlled Nantahala River in Western North Carolina, you'll see a colorful parade of rafts, kayaks, canoes and inflatable kayaks ("duckies") floating downstream. Rafting outfitters began to offer commercial trips during the early 1970's. Today, even with U.S. Forest Service permit restrictions, it's estimated that as many as 160,000 individuals float the river in rafts alone. The Nantahala as we now know it, from its headwaters at Standing Indian Mountain on the Georgia state line to its mouth at Fontana Lake, is a nationally-recognized river of recreation, a river of play and sport.
The Nantahala, a Class II-III river, is considered ideal for both the first-timer and experienced rafter, as well as for private boaters of any skill level (novice to advanced). With a wealth of rapids running the length of river, there's plenty of fun for rafters, kayakers, and canoeists alike. Families particularly like this river since USFS regulations stipulate that participants can weigh as little as 60 pounds, enabling many children to participate. Outfitters provide the equipment and safety gear needed for the trip down the river (lifejacket, splash pants, etc) and many also offer rental rafts or "ducky" trips, depending on water levels.
From put-in to take-out, the rafting stretch is eight-and-a-half miles, lasting about two-and-a-half hours on the water for a commercial trip. Private boaters also use the Forest Service's commercial put-in and must pay a $1 fee for daily use or $5 for a season's permit. The put-in is just downstream of a power plant, where a feeder pipe brings water from Nantahala Lake, high above the river corridor, down to the generator. During power production, the discharge from the Nantahala plant, at 586 cubic feet per second, fills the Lower Nantahala Gorge and enables it to play host to fishermen and whitewater enthusiasts alike.
Downstream of the put-in, there's a historical plaque commemorating the botanist William Bartram, who traveled the area in the spring of 1776. The tree-covered ridges of the Gorge are home to evergreens such as white and pine, and hemlock: along the river are larger deciduous trees such as tulip, poplar, sycamore and beech. Among the wildlife are black bear, wild turkeys, deer, kingfishers, cardinals and wrens, to name a few. There are places along the Nantahala where high cliffs continue to shut out the direct sunlight until nearly noon, making the name "Nantahala" appropriate as a version of the Cherokee "Nundayeli", meaning "middle sun" or "midday sun."
With over 20 named rapids, the Nantahala has plenty of exciting fun for boaters, and calmer areas for simply floating and quietly appreciating the natural beauty of the river. The fun begins with Class III Patton's Run followed immediately by Class II+ Tumble Dry. Downstream of Ferebee Park is the well-known Delabar's Rock, featuring two Volkswagen sized rocks on river left, one after the other, and Delabar's Rock on river right, a diamond-shaped rock known for flipping rafts!
Whirlpool Rapid is marked by a large slanted rock on river left, behind which is the infamous whirlpool -- a powerful eddy known to many boaters. Kayakers and canoeists can be seen surfing the wave that furls off the rock or getting enders if their playboats are small enough. This is a huge mass of surging, squirrelly water, great for kayaker's squirts and play moves. Seasoned raft guides sometimes take delight in playing here, using the eddy's powerful line to catch a corner of the raft and create some fast spins. If a rafter falls in, they may take a few turns before the next boat picks them up!
A fitting climax to the run, Nantahala Falls is just above the usual take-out. Some kayakers and canoeists prefer to break the Falls down into a few steps, eddy-hopping their way down using Truck Stop eddy and others. At the base of the Falls is the area where kayakers and canoeists may spend much of their time perfecting play moves or practicing ferrying techniques.
A spectator's area on river right ensures that the Falls is a social spot where folks congregate to watch the action from above. Outfitter photographers also set up their equipment here beneath brightly colored umbrellas, capturing the most intense action of the day. For those who didn't successfully run Nantahala Falls, it is a short easy walk upstream to the top of the rapid, for another attempt!
Amy Walker (used with permission)
North Carolina's Nantahala: A River of Richesby Amy Walker
On any whitewater adventure down the Nantahala, there's ample opportunity to float on flatwater and gaze at the wealth of botanical wonders that line the river corridor. Downstream of Patton's Run rapid near Tumble Dry, on the highway on river left, there's a historical plaque commemorating the botanist William Bartram. Bartram spent the spring of 1776 traveling through the Southern Appalachians in pursuit of new plants and traced the Savannah River to the Little Tennessee and then on to the Nantahala, encountering a forest of fast-growing evergreen species, black spruce and balsam fir, along with alder and birch.
In addition to Bartram's findings, botanists have since identified 1500 to 2000 species of plant life. Today we continue to appreciate azalea and laurel in early summer, rhododendron in June and treasures such as wild tiger lilies in August. Add to that floral palette daffodils, trillium and even kudzu! From the vantage point of the water, trees dominate the steep ridges that create the Gorge -- evergreens like white pine, hemlock and yellow pine, while tulip, poplar, sycamore and beech are the larger trees directly along the river banks.
There are many ideal points while on the river to look up to the sky beyond the steep ridges that are characteristic of the area. So steep are the ridges, anthropologist James Mooney writes, that the noted hunter Tsasta'wi would stand on a bluff overlooking his settlement and throw the liver of a freshly-killed deer down onto his roof. Supposedly his wife would have it prepared for him by the time he descended the mountain! Nantahala Lake and the surrounding area were home to the Cherokee one thousand years ago and there is evidence of settlers ten thousand years ago.
The geology of the Southern Appalachian mountain system is such that the terrain does not have the natural storehouses that are typical of the northern system -- lakes and glacial deposits. Sudden rainfalls bring rapid rises and falls to the Southern Appalachian stream flows. With the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933, a system of dams and lakes were created to harness flood conditions and use Appalachian water power to produce electrical power.
On the approach to the put-in by road, the power plant comes into view, an imposing cage of steel and wire, as well as the feeder pipe that brings water to the plant from the Nantahala Lake high above the river corridor. The Nantahala Hydroelectric Project -- Nantahala Lake (reservoir), pipeline and tunnels -- completed in 1942, today serves 50,000 customers in five Western North Carolina counties (Swain, Macon, Jackson, Graham and Cherokee). As much as the Nantahala's known for recreation, it's also a river of utility. Literally, a river of power.
Among the many unique natural features of the Gorge is below Patton's Run rapid, where the river surprisingly takes a 90 degree bend to the right. Writing for the Asheville Citizen-Times in 1992, Bryson City, NC-based writer George Ellison wrote "Few of the thousands of whitewater enthusiasts who set off from this area...realize that it's one of the most significant geological sites in the southern mountains." It was proposed by geologist Arthur Keith that the river originally ran northwards from Georgia, but was hijacked by a resolute limestone strata and made to run in the easterly direction it follows today. Put forth by Keith early this century, the theory continues to hold.
While the Nantahala is dam-controlled and it flows at the whim of a switch, it is by no means benign. Its character can change swiftly, thanks to the heavy rains that grip the area from time to time. Take, for example, the year 1990. During the Nantahala '90 International Raft Rally, the river reached 10 feet in flood stage -- quite a departure from the typical 3.5 ft. The river was transformed into a raging torrent with well-known features blown out, race gates washed away, and the assembly area drowned. A relief operation of dozers, gravel and whitewater enthusiasts kept the raft races on schedule as competitors from all over the world met the mighty(!) Nantahala, many for the first time. Without question, a river of play!
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This one gives novices, beginners and rafters the most trouble. Hug the inside of the curve and stay off of the rock on the outside of the bend. After that splash thru the waves at the bottom.
Safest route is to the right of the big rock all the current is slamming into.
The river will come to a right hand bend then curve back to the left. As you go around the bend the gradient will start to pick up. There will be a couple of waves then a good play hole with eddys on both sides of the river. Loops, Blunts, Cartwheels, have fun.
A fun little surf wave with some really squirly strange water behind it.
A long rapid with two bends in it leading up to the falls. There are some easy to avoid holes in the approach, then eddys on both sides of the river. From there the standard route is left to right following the tongue thru the holes.
The constantly evolving wave behind NOC. The locals are constantly shifting the rocks around to tweek the wave. Nice surf tho.
Big slide type rapid created when the railroad relocated the riverbed. Lots of sharp rock, and a fairly substanstial hole at the bottom.
As of the high water from a rainy winter, Surfers is pretty much washed out as of May 9th 2016. Aside from that its business as usual on the lower.
4/28/15 after running parts of the upper nanti we did farabee to the ledges. G in octane, eli in spanish fly, CT in ducky, John h and caroline in mini me. Trip went fast, maybe go down to surfers rapid next time. G ran through the meat of quarry hole and did great. G also had lots of good surfs at the 3 sisters wave just before the ledges takeout.
July 6th: Nantahala. Farabee park to the falls. (normal flow) "Everyone's favorite run on the trip." the NantaHELL-YEAH. The cold is manageable with gear and good planning. G did most of the rapids in the canoe. He had good lines and excellent surfing. We ate lunch at surfers rapid. Models swam a bunch; G and J were sabotaged by models at falls which caused chaos. S.W. had a medical emergency.
The fee is currently $1 for a day permit or $5 for a season permit. Worser Wesser has been run, but it's pretty dangerous. The rapid was created by blasting and is full of jagged rocks.
Anyone have any beta on running worser wesser?
It looks pretty runnable but I have a guide that lists it as a class 6 unrunnable rapid? There are literally a skull and cross bones...
I think the cost has changed for permits.
NOC wave is huge...its a river wide hole now. It may be a class III now...if only because of the carnage it would do to a non-WW canoe and the fact that a swamped canoe will probably make it to the falls below.
Patton's Run - Check out this blog entry for a suggestion for intermediate paddlers to make Patton's a little more challenging.
Whirlpool Rapid is (i think) and underrated playspot. So many people flock to quarry hole(that's a nice hole too) that it's nice to have whirlpool all by myself. There is good eddy access(even though it is a whirlpool eddy).
There is also a rapid that we call Root Canal because the water flows over roots sticking out of the water on river left and creates a nice wave train. Root Canal is right after Quarry.
Nantahala Falls can also be run on the right side. Most people go to the left of the top hole- but lemme tell you, the right side of the top hole, if you know where you're going, is a smooth ride.
NOC wave is still out to the best of my knowledge due to road construction but once there done it will be rebuilt supposedly and also last i knew quarry was flushed out in flooding again but hopefully it will get tweaked soon too
5 Aug 03: The Nanatahala is always fun! My daughters soloed the falls for the first time (one in an open boat, and the other in her little Dagger kayak. The kayak got eaten in the bottom of the falls, and the open boat slid through sideways, but right side up! A great experience for both girls. Truly a challenging but forgiving river. A "must" run for those who want to learn river running (just watch out for the "clown mobiles", otherwise known as rafts!
Quarry hole has become quite a popular park and play spot. Beware the poison ivey as you walk down the trail to the hole, and be careful of the speeding 18 wheelers as you unload your boats. Quarry sees even more crowds on the days the ocoee is not running
Sign up to join the Sultan River (WA) working group and stay informed on issues related to improving flows through hydropower relicensing.
The calendars below describe the "recreational releases" tentatively scheduled for the Nantahala River below Nantahala Power Plant in 2008. Note that by passing your cursor over the colored calendar cells the release information will appear in a pop-up text window. Note too that the schedule below is indeed tentative. Under drought conditions the releases can start later and end earlier than stated below. Confirm the current three-day generation schedule before leaving for the river!
Unscheduled releases occur year round. For an estimate of the current flow at Ferebee Park, go to the USGS's Nantahala at Hewitt real time flow page. For an archive of actual past releases go to the boatingbeta.com Nantahala flows page. The water reaches the put-in almost immediately after the release begins; it reaches the Nanatahala Outdoor Center (NOC) take-out approximately 3 hours later. Except during periods of very heavy rain the river is either "on" or "off." When it is "on" the flow is approximately 800 cfs; when it is "off" the flow is approximately 60 cfs.
The USFS charges a $1 daily fee to paddle the Nantahala River. Daily USFS passes can be purchased at the NOC Rentals Counter and at the put-in (most likely other places too -- email me if you know of others); $5 season passes can be purchased at the NOC Outfitter Store.
The NOC runs shuttles at 11am, 12noon, and 1pm during off peak times. As business picks up the shuttle runs more frequently, gradually increasing to as often as every 20 minutes and as late as 3-4pm during the peak summer season. Shuttles cost $5/day or $30/season. Both daily and season shuttle passes can be purchased from the Rentals Counter in the NOC Main Parking Lot.
We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is
gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If
you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.
Visit Duke Energy's Recreation Release Forecast Page and select "Nantahala Area" from the dropdown menu to see the planned releases for the next 3 days. You can also check out the annual release calendar in a link on the right side of that same webpage.
There is a new gage for the Nantahala that was negotiated by American Whitewater and is provided by Duke Power. The gage is below the powerhouse so it will be influenced by power generation. Power generation is typically around 700 cfs, and has a very blocky pattern on the hydrograph. Any additional flow is almost definately coming from the cascades reach. This is a new gage and we'll figure out a system for predicting flows soon.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
on Nantahala @3. Power Plant to Wesser
Big Wesser 2008
Carnage at the Falls
High times on the Nanty
Nantahala Outdoor Center
Ferebee River Access
Doug Worful - Nantahala Gorge
Schredder Oar Rig and Doug
Schredder oar rig
Kayaker entering the falls
Hugh's first day on the river
Lori's new Star
Lori winning Nationals
Carnage at Patton's Run
Combat Roll Nantahala falls
Combat roll Nantahala river
Nantahala River combatroll
Millard on the Nanty
punching the hole above wesser
Hole @ NOC3
Hole @ NOC2
Hole @ NOC1
Hole @ NOC
Nanty Falls 2
Upside down at Lesser Wesser
Playing on Lesser Wesser
Becca vs Nanty Falls
Brad's Third Nanty Falls Run
Brad's Second Run of Nanty Falls
Brad's First Nanty Falls Run
Heather at the Falls
Timmee & Heather
Shredding the falls
Raging Lesser Wesser
Nanty slalom practice 1975
Nanty slalom race 1975
Rachel @ Lunchtime (Roll practice)
Howie @ Lunchtime
Mike @ Lunchtime
Haleigh Byrd runs Lesser Wesser
Gordon Byrd at Lesser Wesser Falls
Macy Rushing at the Nanty
Haleigh Byrd and Jake Miller surfing on the Nantahala
Rafting down Nantahala Falls
(RM) Surfing Rapid
(RM) Quary Rapid
(RM) Pattons Run
(RM) NOC Wave
(RM) Nantahala Falls Landing
(RM) Nantahala Zoo
(RM) Nantahala Falls OC2
(RM) Nantahala Falls OC1
(RM) The Bump & Sign
(RM) Getting Bumped
Not the best line...
hitting my boof on the second drop
High times on the Nanty
David getting verticle at Quarry Rapid
Playing at Quarry Rapid
RR Seal Launch
Squirt Boating at Whirpool
SEMI CLEAN RUN
Little Wesser at High water
Surfin' at Whirlpool
Carnage at Lesser Wesser
Haleigh Byrd at Lesser Wesser Falls
Gordon aka "Mickey Mouse" runs Lesser Wesser Falls
Matt Byrd running Lesser Wesser Falls on the Nantahala River
Haleigh Byrd's first run down Lesser Wesser Falls.
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new 30-year license for the Nantahala Hydroelectric Project in Western North Carolina. The new license confirms many elements of a 2003 collaborative settlement agreement developed by Duke Energy, American Whitewater, state and federal resource agencies, and many other stakeholders. Included in the new license are flow releases that treat over 250,000 people each year to whitewater paddling on the Nantahala River.
We are pleased to announce that Duke Energy recently received their new state water quality certificates for their dams on the Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers. These certificates were the final remaining documents that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission needs to issue new federal licenses for the dams. The dams are expected to be licensed before the end of 2010.
A group of ladies started a discussion about the need for an all women's paddling event. Plans progressed and the Boater Chick Festival benefiting American Whitewater was born. This first annual festival is a gathering of female boaters in the class II-V whitewater range. The location will be at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, North Carolina on Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th. The hope is to encourage women in boating to get more involved, show off, improve their skills, meet other women in boating, paddle together, compete, and celebrate.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!