Oconaluftee - 2. Smokemont Campground to Oconaluftee Visitor's Center

Oconaluftee, North Carolina, US


2. Smokemont Campground to Oconaluftee Visitor's Center

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Length 3.2 Miles


Photo by Steve Pack taken 01/25/12 @ 1280 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03512000 850 - 2500 cfs II-III 00h56m 727 cfs (too low)

River Description

This is an under appreciated and very scenic Class II-III run in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cherokee, NC. The shuttle logistics are easy, as the run is mostly roadside. The takeout offers bathrooms, vending and a very nice NPS Visitor Center with a wealth of local information.

Overall, the difficulty level is close to the Nantahala and more challending than the Tuckaseegee Gorge. It offers a good introduction to Smoky Mountain creeking. That being said, this reach is not paddled often and requires some additional skills. This run is prone to tree strainers and has some blind curves. The leader should be able to boat scout Class III and communicate quickly to the group hazard locations. Adequate group spacing is manadatory. Everyone in the group should be able to quickly eddy out and stop if a strainer hazard is present. It's a fun and scenic run, just be ready for hazards. If you encounter a hazard, please post to this page and/or notify the NPS at the visitor center.



Permit Information

No permit required, National Park Service jurisdiction. Downstream of the visitor center, it becomes Cherokee Indian Reservation land and paddling is not permitted.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-03-06 14:22:24


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Smokemont CampgroundN/APutin
0.2Smokemont RapidIIIPhoto
0.2Smokemont BridgeN/APutin
0.8Beck's LedgeII+
1.0Rockwall RapidIII
1.3Tow String BridgeIIAccess Playspot
1.6Elbow (Island)III
2.7Mingus Mill RapidII
3.0Job Corps BridgeIIAccess
3.2Oconaluftee Visitor's CenterN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Smokemont Campground (Class N/A)

Putting in here gives you an extra 0.2 miles of river and the rapid before Smokemont Bridge. There is only space to park 1-2 cars here, and unknown if it's acceptable during the summer season. More parking is available at the Smokemont Bridge.

Smokemont Rapid (Class III, Mile 0.2)

Smokemont Rapid

Smokemont Rapid
Photo taken 03/06/18

Easy Class III rapid with a nice boof over a decent hole. Take the right channel. Left side was woody as of 3/4/18.

Smokemont Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 0.2)

Alternate put in with more parking than at the campground. Easy access to river.

Beck's Ledge (Class II+, Mile 0.8)

As the river approachs the road there is a fun rapid with a large boof rock in the center.   

Rockwall Rapid (Class III, Mile 1.0)

Easy Class III rapid, drops over a couple small ledges. Starts just past the rockwall. As of 3/4/18 there was a treee sticking out of the right bank, easily seen and missed by angling right.

Tow String Bridge (Class II, Mile 1.3)

Tow String Bridge and Rapid. Class II with some play spots and alternate river access with parking.

Elbow (Island) (Class III, Mile 1.6)

The river divides at an island into two channels. Both are easy Class III rapids and clear of wood, as of 3/4/18. The left channel is a drop over a couple of ledges, somewhat scrapy at 1300 cfs. The right channel drops over a ledge into a nice eddy, allowing scouting of the remaining rapid. As of 3/4/18, it was clear with some low hanging branches, best down the left bank. 

Island (Class II, Mile 2.1)

Class II rapid. River splits at Island. Right channel clear 3/4/18. Nice little pourover/hole at bottom that can be surprising.

Mingus Mill Rapid (Class II, Mile 2.7)

Class II rapid near Mingus Creek .

Job Corps Bridge (Class II, Mile 3.0)

Class 2 shoals at the bridge.

Oconaluftee Visitor's Center (Class N/A, Mile 3.2)

Take out on the eddies on river right,  just below the visitors center. Follow path up to parking lot. Bathrooms and vending machines are available.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
November 13 2018 (64 days ago)
Steve PackDetails
The run was clear of dangerous wood. The only potential problem was a decent sized tree parallel to
the current, in the center of the river, under the Job Corps bridge. It has moved over the last
week or so. Watch for it, in case if becomes a river wide. issue. Other than that, only a few trees
on the edges, but easy to avoid. The level was about 1700 cfs.
November 6 2018 (71 days ago)
Steve PackDetails
No wood obvious from the road today. Running about 2000 cfs. Looked good.
March 30 2018 (292 days ago)
Steve PackDetails
I paddled this several times in March 2018 and the run is pretty clear of trees, with no riverwide
unavoidable strainers. 1000 cfs is a good minimum fun level. 1500 cfs is a nice fun level. We
watchful when the river splits into two channels, one is often more woody than the other.
May 10 2010 (3172 days ago)
Kieth CrawfordDetails
Paddled this twice in April/May 2010. I would say 1,000cfs is the minimum, 1,400-1,500 is ideal.
There were a few strainers during this time but they were very easy to avoid.
October 5 2009 (3390 days ago)
x (1)
W. Butler - Ran the section in the Park on 9/28 around 900 cfs. There is a river ride strainer
after the second bridge you pass under (Tow String Rd.) It was easy enough to make it around and
under at this level but at higher levels the water would rise above it and create a hazard. You
can't see the strainer until you paddle through the second rapid after the bridge. This run is a
great alternative/upgrade from the Tuck gorge and has some nice boogie water. Would be better above
1000+ cfs closer to 1200. It would be really bumpy at 800 cfs.
March 25 2003 (5775 days ago)
The acess issue must be lifted and would only apply to specific parts of the river. Part of this
run is owned by the NPS, part of the run is owned by the Tow Line Road Community, and finally the
last few miles are owned by the Cherokee Indians. The river sees hundreds of commercial and
semi-commercail trips from local rent a rafters and tubers all summer.
February 20 2002 (6173 days ago)
Last checked there were some access issues with this run.