Difficulty II-III
Length 3.2 Miles
Flow Range 850 - 2500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 27 minutes ago 441 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 08/05/2019 12:53 pm

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.



Rapid Descriptions

Smokemont Campground

Class - N/A Mile - 0
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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 - 0.15

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

Beck's Ledge

Class - II+ Mile - 0.8
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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
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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
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Tow String Bridge and Rapid. Class II with some play spots and alternate river access with parking.

Elbow (Island)

Class - III Mile - 1.6
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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 Mile - 2.1
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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
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Class II rapid near Mingus Creek .

Job Corps Bridge

Class - II Mile - 3
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Class 2 shoals at the bridge.

Oconaluftee Visitor's Center

Class - N/A Mile - 3.2
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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.


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Steve Pack
1 year ago

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.

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Steve Pack
1 year ago

No wood obvious from the road today. Running about 2000 cfs. Looked good.

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Steve Pack
2 years ago

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.

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Kieth Crawford
10 years ago

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.

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17 years 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.

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18 years ago

Last checked there were some access issues with this run.

Gage Descriptions

The gauge for this reach is down stream of the confluence of the Oconaluftee and the Raven Fork, thus reflecting the flow for both streams. 1000 cfs is a good minimum fun level for this run. Below this, it gets a bit bony. 1500 cfs is a good level with more features and eddies for skills and 2200 cfs is a fun level with a bigger feel, but less eddies.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports




article main photo

A Close Look at The Cheoah River Fatalities

Charlie Walbridge

The recent death of Chris Clark at Python Rapid on North Carolina's Cheoah River is the third at this site in the last six years. In each case, the person who died was an expert paddler and their paddling partners did not see exactly what happened. Let's take a close look at the Cheoah below Bear Creek Falls and develop strategies for future runs. The river here is very fast and continuous. After a fast lead-in (Chaos), the river drops over Bear Creek Falls, a 12' drop. Below, most of the flow pushes toward the river right channel (Python). Ferrying over to the easier river left channel (the West Prong) requires careful boat control. Python itself contains several nasty holes and sieves, with a bad hole blocked by a boulder at the bottom. There is a good route through it, but paddlers need to plan their route carefully. Scouting is a good idea for first timers, although catching eddies and getting out is not  going to be easy. Groups need to stay together.. The rapid is tough enough that you can't watch your buddy all the time, but you can be ready to help if needed. Click through for links to the accident reports, photos, and comments from expert Cheoah River paddlers. (Photo above by Boyd Ruppelt)


Matt Muir


Charles Spornick


Kevin Colburn


Steve Pack


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190901 11/05/03 n/a n/a
1201016 02/06/12 Charles Spornick revised Feb. 06
1201017 02/06/12 Charles Spornick
1201020 02/07/12 Charles Spornick
1205165 08/04/15 Kevin Colburn Map accuracy
1209034 03/06/18 Steve Pack
1209035 03/06/18 Steve Pack updates to rapid locations and descriptions
1209038 03/06/18 Steve Pack
1209036 03/06/18 Steve Pack updates to descriptions
1209039 03/06/18 Steve Pack
1213450 08/05/19 Steve Pack updated image position
1200958 01/26/12 Steve Pack Revised 2-04