Oconaluftee, North Carolina, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III (for normal flows)|
|OCONALUFTEE RIVER AT BIRDTOWN, NC|
|usgs-03512000||850 - 2500 cfs||II-III||00h39m||453 cfs (too low)|
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.
No permit required, National Park Service jurisdiction. Downstream of the visitor center, it becomes Cherokee Indian Reservation land and paddling is not permitted.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|1.3||Tow String Bridge||II|
|2.7||Mingus Mill Rapid||II|
|3.0||Job Corps Bridge||II|
|3.2||Oconaluftee Visitor's Center||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.
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.
Alternate put in with more parking than at the campground. Easy access to river.
As the river approachs the road there is a fun rapid with a large boof rock in the center.
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 and Rapid. Class II with some play spots and alternate river access with parking.
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.
Class II rapid. River splits at Island. Right channel clear 3/4/18. Nice little pourover/hole at bottom that can be surprising.
Class II rapid near Mingus Creek .
Class 2 shoals at the bridge.
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.