Nolichucky - Rt 197 Poplar to 19/23 near Erwin

Nolichucky, North Carolina, US


Rt 197 Poplar to 19/23 near Erwin (Nolichucky Gorge)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 8.1 Miles
Avg. Gradient 31 fpm
Max Gradient 53 fpm

Surfing Jaws

Surfing Jaws
Photo of Milton Wicker by James Woods taken 11/23/03 @ 2300 CFS

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03465500 500 - 3000 cfs III-IV 00h43m 1730 cfs (running)

River Description

For more info, check out the Noli description in the Tennessee page and the Nolichucky page.

The Nolichucky is in an incredibly beautiful, deep, mountain gorge that offers lots of great play, especially within the first few miles. The Noli's punch is at the beginning, then it mellows out to a mostly class III run allowing ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The gorge is remote with the only opportunity to walk out by a railroad track that parallels the river.

Parking at the takeout: Do NOT park at the commercial rafting companies, space is already tight & needed for rafting customers. Private boaters can park at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground for a fee (which includes a hot shower - nice on a cold winter day), the campground can also arrange shuttles. Round trip shuttle runs take up every bit of an hour. Private boater parking has created some contention in the past, just abide by the business's requests and there should be no problem. Alternate parking is available at the USFS Chestoa parking area (note: fee demo area) about 3/4 mile past the campground, the take-out is on river right.

For further information and the most incredibly accurate and specific shuttle directions known to the western world, see Chris Bell's excellent website.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2007-03-21 16:40:53


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.3Last Chance a.k.a. EntranceIII+Playspot
0.7JawsIIIPlayspot Photo
1.3Quarter MileIVHazard Photo
4.3Rock GardenIII
4.9Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost CoveIII
4.9Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost CoveIII
5.3Sousehole a.k.a. Maggie's RockIIIPhoto
5.8Twin EddiesIIIPlayspot
7.4Cherokee DamII
8.0Nolichucky Gorge CampgroundITakeout
8.0Nolichucky Gorge CampgroundITakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Last Chance a.k.a. Entrance (Class III+, Mile 0.3)
Shortly after passing underneath the railroad trestle the river takes a decided hard left denoting the beginning of Entrance. Enter center or just right of center & then pick your way down depending on the water level be aware of two holes towards the bottom left. From 2000 c.f.s on up this rapid gets to be a pushy sucker. If you flip here, tuck tight & roll quick as this rapid has you moving fast and can be a bit shallow in places. Excellent recovery pool at the bottom. Alternate Lines - At flows starting around 2000 c.f.s. a nice little creeky boof move opens up on the far left - not a good place to practice boofing as there a couple large flat rocks not far away. Even farther left, not far off the bank is another creeky little line with a couple small eddies. Play factor - some. At higher flows a couple really fast, wide waves at the bottom are a ton of fun if you can catch them. At really low levels, the lowest hole on the left, known as Punk Hole, becomes a good little cartwheel spot.

Jaws (Class III, Mile 0.7)

More Jaws Surfing

More Jaws Surfing
Photo of Gabe Hyatt by Ryan Petering taken 04/10/02 @ ~1400 cfs

As described by William Nealy, "a single sloping ledge terminated by a huge cresent shaped hole." That pretty much nails it. Sneak it through the small rock garden on river left, but I recommend getting a good head of steam & punching through towards the river left side of the hole..which is always the escape route. Around 2000 cfs the right side can starts to get real sticky. Jaws is a GREAT place to spend the afternoon surfing. Tuck tight when you flip upstream because the rock shelf causing the hole is never very far away no matter the's been known to munch more than a few paddles. Good eddy access from either side. At higher flows Jaws could be called III+ due to its violent sticky nature but plenty of people still like to get a chunky slice of it. If necessary, it is a short hike out to the put-in involving crossing the railroad trestle. If you choose this be forewarned, the trestle is no place to be when a train comes, which can be quite often. Also, it's not exactly legal but the train engineers don't usually hassle anyone, just be aware, quick and courteous. On that note, generally if a train or engine has recently went upstream, you can pretty much bank on one coming back down very soon - so be careful!

Quarter Mile (Class IV, Mile 1.3)

Quarter Mile

Quarter Mile
Photo by Tom O'Keefe taken 05/05/03 @ 2050 cfs

As the name implies, this is a long rapid. No one drop is terribly difficult or big but there are a lot of them. Scout from the left. It can be run a variety of ways. Due to the floods of 2004 the top of Quartermile has a few new wrinkles. Just after the initial drop on the left one can eddy out on river right & check the new crux part of the rapid. Shortly before the hole known as Hungryjack there is now a large boulder in the center right of the main flow. At higher flows it becomes a pourover, at medium flows it is something to be avoided. Do not underestimate the force of the current here at any level, there is also a new hole just upstream of said boulder. Makes for some very funny water but is easy to scout on the left & easy to sneak by running far right of the large boulder after the first drop. The rest of the rapid consists of lots of boogie that is generally less difficult but more scrapey the further to river right you go. Swimming here is generally a full contact sport - not a good spot for random rollers either. The last drop in Quarter Mile is a nearly river wide ledge known as Murphy's Ledge. This place has killed so use caution. Safest is to run far right or bang down the far left at higher flows. Good recovery pool. The higher the water, the more difficult and dangerous this rapid becomes with some seriously chunky holes towards the top and river left.

Roostertail (Class III+, Mile 2.1)
Identified by a large rock outcropping on river right and preceded by a good playspot on river right after a long pool. Start this rapid on far river right angling left to avoid the hole quickly downstream on the right. Eddy out on the right just past the hole and get big enders if you've got a boat with some length to it, but roll fast. From this eddy, ferry hard towards the left to cut behind a large rock located downstream left of center.

Rollercoaster (Class III, Mile 2.9)
Rollercoaster is divided into an upper and lower. They're basically super boogie water, stay just left of center and dodge a couple of holes and everything is groovy. There is brief section of slackish water separating upper and lower. At moderate water levels and up a fast wave from 2-4 feet forms at the bottom of upper Rollercoaster.

Surprise (Class III, Mile 3.8)
This ledge is more in the II+/III- range depending on your route; several of which can be taken. The straightforward route is following the main flow through some bouncy water on the river left. Route #2 is to work over to far, far river right and go through a narrow 3 ft chute. Route #3 which is the least easy to identify is to take a mini slide from right to left just to the right of an exposed rock formation found left of center.

Rock Garden (Class III, Mile 4.3)
After Surprise the river bed slowly starts getting more congested requiring one to scent out the path of least resistance. This congestion continues to build till the main flow is on river left, after about 300 yards of this, the river bends right into a mega pile of boulders requiring careful navigation to avoid busting up your boat at lower levels and to avoid an ugly broach at any level. Keep it straight throught here. I'll attempt to explain the one good marker to navigate by. Towards the center left side one can see a triangle shaped rock pointing straight up. If you can find this, things are alot easier. Turn right just about 3-5 feet upstream of this rock and pick your path down. This route usually has the cleanest line and the most water.

Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost Cove (Class III, Mile 4.9)
This rapid is identified by a large concrete wall on river left as the river bends to the right. It begins with a section of class II offset ledges and culminates with a nearly river wide 3-4 ft offset ledge with a munchy hole. Certain parts of the ledge are munchier than others. I've seen this sneaked by banging down the far river right side. The stickiest part of the hole is river right of an exposed rock in about the center of the horizon line. If you take this line, go with plenty of speed.

Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost Cove (Class III, Mile 4.9)
This rapid is identified by a large concrete wall on river left as the river bends to the right. It begins with a section of class II offset ledges and culminates with a nearly river wide 3-4 ft offset ledge with a munchy hole. Certain parts of the ledge are munchier than others. I've seen this sneaked by banging down the far river right side. The stickiest part of the hole is river right of an exposed rock in about the center of the horizon line. If you take this line, go with plenty of speed.

Sousehole a.k.a. Maggie's Rock (Class III, Mile 5.3)


Photo by Tom O'Keefe taken 05/05/03 @ 2050 cfs

The river bends to the right after a long pool following Railroad. The pace begins to pick up as the river begins to bend back left. You'll notice a very large rock - "Maggie's Rock" in the center of the flow. Go well to the left of this rock following the main flow through a series of large standing waves. Note that there is a large, thrashy hole to the immediate left of Maggie's Rock, so give it some space. There is a cool creek line for the skilled & adventurous. Work down the right side of the entrance water, dodge a hole or two & catch the big eddy on the right just upstream of Maggie's Rock. You'll notice a small boulder to the right of Maggies that leaves a nice, tight turning chute. Scope it for wood & boof up on the river right boulder to avoid getting slammed back into Maggies. Some good surf waves appear at varying levels immediately downstream

Twin Eddies (Class III, Mile 5.8)
The is the last rapid of any major consequence. Identified by an unusual orange-reddish outcropping of rock on the left by the railroad track. It has a couple offset ledges with a hole or two at the bottom depending on the water level. Super deep excellent recovery pool. Offers some form of play, from hole riding to funky fast wave surfing at nearly any water level.

Cherokee Dam (Class II, Mile 7.4)
This is a rock outcropping on river right that in no way resembles a dam so I couldn't tell you about the name. It has a fun little play spot at moderate water levels and apparently a really loopalicious hole develops around 5-7,000 cfs. Usually lots of sunbathers hanging out here in the summer, some clothed & some not.

Nolichucky Gorge Campground (Class I, Mile 8.0)
Take out on river right at the set of wooden steps. The mystery spot known as Cowbell is about 300 yards downstream on the left. Alternate U.S.F.S. take out at Chestoa is about 1 mile further on the right.

Nolichucky Gorge Campground (Class I, Mile 8.0)
Take out on river right at the set of wooden steps. The mystery spot known as Cowbell is about 300 yards downstream on the left. Alternate U.S.F.S. take out at Chestoa is about 1 mile further on the right.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 15 2009 (3417 days ago)
Josiah JohnsonDetails
No second drop is not murphys ledge its actually the second drop in what is known as S-turn and
sits right behind the Big rock known as BFR. Its right at the top of Quarter Mile. Murphys ledge is
the the last drop of Quarter Mile and would actually be like the 13th drop of Quarter mile no where
near the Second Drop as the actual drop is known.
April 28 2009 (3434 days ago)
x (1)
supposed to be an awsome play spot at second drop in quarter mile josh l I hope that your not
refering to Murphys Ledge. Several people have drown at this ledge. It should be avoided at all
levels and at all cost. Skirt far left or far right. There is a tounge right of center that can be
ran, but you dont want to be off line!
September 4 2008 (3670 days ago)
x (1)
I would object to 'on the rocks' listed as a class 3+..... I've seen one drown in the under cut a
long time ago and have seen too many close calls since. Personally pulled 3 people out when I
guided on the chuck for cherokee Adv. Two were our custies, one touron from USA..... I think it
still a class four, but I also know that two year olds are cartwheelin' down thirty footers........
August 31 2008 (3674 days ago)
x (1)
The large flow that occurred August 26, 2008, has caused a sizeable tree to migrate down to
Roostertail. It is easily seen at 1,000 cfs, sticking out of the water about 1/3 of the way down
just left of center. This is a potential strainer.
April 11 2006 (4547 days ago)
Wesley BradleyDetails
Brad Barker and I went down yesterday evening (4-10-06) to check out
July 22 2005 (4810 days ago)
William YeiserDetails
As of 7/21/05, the access on river right to the Secret Spot is temporarily closed due to
construction of a new bridge. However, if you go after 5:00 when the workers are not there, it does
not "seem" to be a problem. Supposedly there is an access on the river left but all we
found was private property signs everywhere. Also, the construction of a new pylon has rerouted
about 1,000 cfs to the wave. Therefore, at 3,000 cfs on the gauge, it is almost washed out. I would
imagine that 1500 to 2000 would be an ideal level now. Enjoy!
February 25 2003 (5688 days ago)
From Laura:
Here goes:

The first rapid is Last Chance, it will follow shortly after you cross under the RR bridge. Just
about any line can be run through here with enough H20. You will see rocks in the river on your
left side, most people start about 15' or so to the right of these rocks, pinning possibility if
you go left of these rocks unless it is high water. Once you are headed down stay leftish &
look for the eddy that is behind these rocks or you can blow past the eddy and stay left. If ya
catch the eddy the wave hole below you is fun. (Look @ the picture on AW site)

You will have a pool then On the Rocks is next. In the center of the river there is a setup eddy
behind a large rock start from here with an angle to river left, really depends on the level on how
the hole will be. If you don't angle your boat going into the drop you can get pushed up on the
rock in the bottom of this drop, hence the name. If you get pushed to the right of "the
rock" straighten your boat and look for a clean line, people pin here and some rocks are
undercut. Ideally go left of all the large rocks that will divide the river below the drop. Instead
of the drop you can also: boof on river left with enough H20, you would need to get out look @ the
rapid to get that line you can pin if you go too far left. Also there are creekin' lines to be had
on river right, it is better to follow someone who knows them or get out & look. (Look @ the
picture on AW site)

Next is Jaws, which is a awesome playspot. Starts to get munchy around 2000 cfs, especially on
river right. 1500-1800 is my favorite play level. If the weather is nice you will have locals here.
People play here then hike the tracks back out. (Look @ the picture on AW site)

You will have some class II-III type stuff then you will come up on Quarter Mile, probably the
toughest on the river, definitely the longest. You can boat scout your way through entrance to
Quarter Mile. At the start of Quarter Mile rapid you will find a large eddy on river left, plenty
of room. From here you can see down the first drop, there will be a curler wave, past that you will
see small eddies that can be caught. Hit the curler wave angled towards river right. On your left
there are some nasty pinning spots and sieves. You can easily get out of your boat in that eddy and
check out the hazards in the first drop. Catch one of the small eddies I mentioned earlier. From
here you will see a large rock on river right, peel out and head for the left side of that rock,
you want to stay pretty close to that rock 5-8' there will be a large hole on your left. Catch the
eddy behind that large rock you just passed. From here you will see a large rock kinda in the
center, on the immediate right side of that rock is Hungry Jack hole. You will want to be right of
that large rock avoiding the hole and then ferrying back left behind the large rock. DO NOT go left
of that large rock, there is a spot called No way Jose that is bad. There is a move called Tilt a
Whirl on the left of the rock, but you need to follow someone for that. From here it is boogey H20,
look for the horizon line - that will be Murphy's Ledge, almost a river wide hole. You can take a
far right or far left line, you can boat scout either side. Far left is the normal route, people
have said there is RR debris on the right. There is a fine line in the middle of the ledge, again
you should follow someone for this line.

This will get you through the toughest part of the river. Next significant rapid is Roostertail.
Start river right and angle to river left for the first drop, avoiding hole on the right. After
that you will cut behind a large rock on river left.

Rock Garden is deceiving and not easy to scout, the line is impossible to describe. The river will
bend to the right and filter down through a rock garden, keep your boat straight here, you will
broach if you get sideways, I have. You want to stay straight and bounce off the rocks.

Railroad wall rapid is indicated by a large concrete railroad wall. This is a large hole. When you
see the horizon line get to the left eddy above it. There will be a rock in the center of the river
sticking up out of the H20. Cut against the left side of this rock, you will be skirting the hole
so keep it close to the rock.

I have only described the real significant rapids, there is plenty of stuff in between the rapids I
have mentioned. Do Do Hole, Maggies, Twin Eddies (great play hole in the bottom), etc. and other
class II-III type stuff. Keep in mind you can scout almost anything on river left and carry
everything on the RR tracks. As I mentioned before, the Nolichucky is the coldest H20 I have been
in this winter, there are RR tracks but the river is remote, no hiking out to a road. Also after
last weeks flood keep your eyes open for new wood, I am sure it will be there, we came across some
last Sunday in Bama. 2000 cfs will be juicy for a first time run with no guide. Just because I have
given long descriptions does not mean that this is some kind of monster river (atleast not around
2000cfs) I am overly detailed, I guess.

I love this area Erwin is great, I have a lot of good friends in this town and the locals are
always nice. Erwin Burrito is worth checking out as well, awesome spicy chicken quesadilla and
spicy chicken sandwich.

Hope this helps, have a great time.

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