Difficulty IV-V at this flow (IV-V normally)
Length 4.9 Miles
Flow Range 150 - 650 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 489 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 09/26/2019 3:16 pm

River Description

Once upon a time regarded as some of the hairiest whitewater in the Southeast, the Watauga has a long standing and well regarded reputation for high quality whitewater.  Though today much more difficult runs have been established and tamed, the Watauga remains no slouch and demands respect regardless of water level.  There are a variety of pin spots, broach rocks, sieves, strainers, holes, and undercuts that require a boater to have precise boat control and excellent read and run river skills.  Such a qualified boater will find a technical playground of boofs, ferrys, holes, mazes and drops arranged in such a way as to quickly make the Watauga a favorite run.

American Whitewater purchased and manages the AW Sherwood Horine Take-out with the help of outstanding local volunteers and thanks to donations and membership of Watauga paddlers. In 2015-2016 AW assisted local paddlers and partners in purchasing a new put-in at Guy's Ford, guaranteeing public access to the Watauga! The County also purchased a river access area several miles upstream, and together we are encouraging enjoyment of this incredible river. 

See Leland Davis' North Carolina Rivers and Creeks guidebook and Chris Bell's Asheville Boating Beta page for more information about the river.

Note: Please drive slowly when using the AW take-out on Tester Rd. Our good hearted neighbors are requesting that boaters use additional caution when driving in and out of the take-out area due to children and animals on the road. Thank you.



Rapid Descriptions


Class - III+ Mile - 0.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

aka Beech Creek.  This rapid is located  just at the confluence with Beech Creek on river left.  This is a great place to warm up with some nice eddy hopping.  The main feature of this rapid is the pour over hole at the bottom of the drop.  The traditional line goes right through this hole, hit it straight and power through as there is a broach rock (one of the many rocks coming from Beech Creek) on river left just downstream of the hole.  Watch for wood here after high water events.

Bump & Grind

Class - IV Mile - 0.7

This is the first of the Watauga's taller, meatier rapids.  Generally most people enter on far river right taking advantage of a couple of eddies to see most of the rapid.  From here most take one of two routes.  1) ferry to river left and enjoy an awesome double boof with each drop about 3-4' tall.  2) go down on the right and finish up working against the current to be in the center to right.  Beware that at the bottom of this line on the left is an undercut that came into play after the 2004 hurricanes.  This rock gets covered up at around 400 cfs.

Sh%t -kicker

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.75
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

aka Pinball.  Sh#t-kicker is a significant boulder garden style rapid with a pin slot at the bottom.  Just for good measure the large boulder rock to the immediate right (about river center) of the pin spot is sieved out as well.  Generally the line is from extreme river right, then hauling tush towards river left. The current towards the end is deceptively strong and wants to push the unwary boater left to right straight towards the pin slot/sievey boulder.  If this happens,  you can act quickly and boogie over to far river right to avoid the pin spot and bang down some easier stuff.


Class - 5.0 Mile - 1
Hydro is a complex rapid full of sticky spots, funky water, and broachy rocks that culminates with a drop into a whopper of a hole. Scout or easy portage on river left. If you portage, beware that the river left eddy at the bottom strongly recirculates into the hole so paddle like you mean it.

Split Decision

Class - IV Mile - 1.3

Good boof rapid.  Punch the top hole then quickly decide left or right.  The standard line is to punch the hole, go left and boof, land, boogie, then boof left again at the bottom.  The right line involves paddling around a sieve area that demands close attention.

Vernon's Folly

Class - IV Mile - 1.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Typical Watauga rapid with left to right to left ferrying and eddy work in strong current while dodging a big hole or two.

Edge of the World

Class - IV Mile - 2.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This is a rapid in many acts.  Start with narrow slots, then add some great ferry work, mix in some super boofs and a few very serious holes then shake and serve.  Multiple lines and entertaining activities can be found here - for instance, at lower levels you can ferry Around the World by ferrying and attaining around the large rock just up stream of a signifcant ledge hole - don't mess with this move at higher flows as the hole becomes very mean and unforgiving should you fall off the world into it.

Blow Job

Class - III+ Mile - 2.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

BJ is identified as two slots on river right.  The true BJ line is to take the left slot between a very large boulder and another smaller rock on the right.  This is a relatively thin line through the slot driving left to right to avoid a large undercut rock downstream on the left. Also there is a tree wedged just under water into the left side boulder.  It usually doesn't come into play but it's disconcerting to see halfway down nonetheless.  It can be sneaked by going down the straight forward slot all the way on river right.  A couple of notes here.  1)  There is a tree hanging down into the river on far river right, it's easily seen from the top of the rapid and at higher flows (375 & up) it can certainly come into play if running either of the lines described above.  Not a deal breaker but something to definitely be aware of.   2)  There is a deceptively sticky hole in the run out of both these lines - punch it on the right.  Other very entertaining lines that demand much more attention can be found on far river left as well.

Heavy Water

Class - IV+ Mile - 3

aka Anaconda.  Identify this one by noting a large expanse of rock on river right and a sharp bend in the river to the right around this rock outcrop. This is the most continuous and longest rapid of the harder ones on the Watauga. There are multiple eddies that can be used to break it up. The top half is before it bends right around the rock and is fairly straightforward. From the top of the rapid, a fairly large eddy on river left can be seen about halfway down as soon as the river bends right. The eddy can hold several boats BUT the entrance is heavily guarded by one or two rocks that can be deceptively hard to see level depending. Hitting these rocks will likely result in 1) missing the eddy and 2) a botched line into the meatier part of the rapid. From the eddy, one can take in another eddy next to the really big rock on river right - it is best approached by ferrying/surfing the nasty looking hole across to it. If the eddy doesn't look good or you blow the ferry, then begin working right to avoid the significant pourover holes downstream. The rapid ends with another sharp cut back to the left.


Class - IV Mile - 3.6

Fairly straightforward drop for the Watauga if it wasn't for the high pin potential. The standard line is to start center heading left, punch a small hole just to the right of the left bank.  There's an eddy just to the left of this hole that sometimes autoeddys you if go way left too soon, this oftentimes leads to backwards runs of the main drop, usually in the right spot but nervewracking and not recommend at all.  After punching the hole, head left looking for a small flake of rock on the left that sails you over a shallow landing, that's the line to hit. Being off line by a foot or two can land you in the right side of the drop which has high vertical pin potential. Like Watauga Falls, Knuckles gets more ugly & consequential as the water drops.

Diana's Ledge

Class - III+ Mile - 3.7
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Diana's Ledge is wide 3-4 foot ledge that can be quite retentive, see Chris Bell's account by clicking the Boating Beta link on the main page to learn how the rapid got its name and the lessons of coldwater drowning. The hole can be mostly skirted by taking the sloping left to right narrow tongue found on river left.   There is a complete sneak on far river left when flows get up around 300cfs.

Stateline Falls

Class - 5.0 Mile - 4

aka Watauga Falls.  Stateline is always a crowd pleaser. To scout, be on the lookout for a small beachy area (level depending) on the left shortly downstream of Diana's Ledge. The lead in to Stateline is one of the trickier parts of this rapid knowing there is a 16ft drop looming downstream if a mistake is not quickly corrected. The lead in begins river center and proceeds left punching or skirting some good holes before 1) running the falls direct or 2) catching the large Chapel Eddy to the right of the main drop. Once in Chapel one can get out on the large rocks to the right of the drop but no clear view of the main line is possible. Alternately, a super fun seal launch that is actually taller than the Falls can be had into the big eddy at the base of the rapid if common sense takes hold before you can run it. One wants to start and land the falls angled right and on the right to avoid the large shallow rock on the left. The rock on the left becomes much more consequential the lower the level. The line becomes much more narrow so don't dry out from running too far up on the right side of the chute lest you get redirected left; be absolutely sure of your line and your boof at all levels but particularly once the levels gets below around 200.  If needed, there is a trail on river left that will take you up to hwy 321.

Boof Falls

Class - III Mile - 4.2
This is a fun, stress free sliding drop after the juice of Stateline Falls. First timers often run it backwards as a modern alternative to Rewind which has a really fun boof in its own right.

Last Hair

Class - IV Mile - 4.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

aka Brown's Ferry.  By this time, this rapid will stand out as standard Watauga fare.  Start left and ferry across hole above pin spots and nasty broach rock to river right then punch holes finishing back to center left.


Class - III Mile - 4.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Your last opportunity for an awesome 5' boof going off the left side of the rock midstream. 

Watson Island

Class - I Mile - 4.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Go left of the island to reach the takeout shortly downstream on the left.  Look for a set of wooden stairs, these take you to a short trail back to the parking area.  Don't miss it or you'll end up with a long lake paddle.


default user thumbnail
Wade Harrison
7 years ago

We put on at about 300cfs here is some of the lines at that level no wood everything was clean as of this day.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnlE-SDLmx0&feature=plcp

default user thumbnail
11 years ago

I learned that rapid as "Last Hair".

default user thumbnail
11 years ago

I believe the rapid that you are speaking of is called Browns ferry. I could be wrong but I have heard it called by that name. Does anyone know is this the actual name?

default user thumbnail
tucker deloach
11 years ago

No the pin spot hes talking about is right above rewind. Its normally run as an s-turn on the right side. He ran the middle line which at 250 and below is manky and has several pin spots and even a good line would result in some boat abuse. So to clarify the pin spot is below stateline AND boof falls.

default user thumbnail
11 years ago

I believe the rapid you are talking about is the seive rapid on the left side right beneath the shoals. While you can run this rapid as I have done once and never again, the safer route is off to the right of the big rock in the middle. You will bump down a small, scrapy double drop then drop off the legde right next to the large rock in the middle. Stress free and easy. Go off it backwards. If this is indeed the rapid where he somehow pinned his boat, then he needs take a step down to easier stuff for awhile.

default user thumbnail
12 years ago

the road from hwy 321 down to Guy's Ford will ice over quick in cold weather. So be aware of that.

default user thumbnail
Robert Farmer
14 years ago

Because I didn't see it mentioned anywhere else, I just want to say that the Watauga is one of the very best rivers on the east coast, and does not nearly get the attention that it deserves! It's an amazing run through beautiful scenery and should be on anyone's short list of rivers to do.

default user thumbnail
Chuck Estes
15 years ago

Please keep your speed down on Tester Road (take-out road)!!! A group of us had a very nasty encounter with Karl Livingston (local homeowner) at the AW take-out parking area. Mr. Livingston was furious (cussing us and almost out of control) because he felt boaters were continuously speeding down the road past his house. He says he has repeatedly told boaters to slow down and he was fed up. He has a 3-year old and he says he is concerned for her safety. When I had come by earlier behind some other vehicles he acted like he was going to throw a rock down on my truck. Mr. Livingston says he wants boaters to not exceed 10 mph in the area of the houses on Tester Road. Mr. Livingston's house is a two story house up hill on the right-side going down Tester Road (~1/3 way down)to the take-out. Joel Northen of Boone and I tried to reason with him but he was livid. A couple of us thought we saw a gun while he was talking to us in his truck but he never raised it. He made threats of getting the Sheriff to haul-off cars that were not AW members. I explained that AW does not restrict non-AW members from using the take-out. AW maintains the access for all boaters' use. We discussed that there are no signs on the road to alert drivers that a low speed is desired by the local landowners. Joel volunteered to make some signs for Tester Road. Mr. Livingston agreed to put them up.

Please slow down on Tester Road. While Mr. Livingston's actions were way over-the-top, we do need to respect the landowners/homeowners and slow down.

default user thumbnail
John Heffernan
15 years ago

The recent storms seem to have changed the river profile for the Watauga R Gauge at Sugar Grove, NC. We ran it 9/23/04. The gauge said it was running 300 cfs. It felt more like 200 cfs. The approach to the Guys Ford bridge is washed out.

default user thumbnail
Max Jones
16 years ago

The directions to the take out are WRONG. The road is called Tester, not Stansberry or Watson Island (I know the area at the take out is Watson Island). I took Stansberry which resulted in my four-wheeling through private property for almost an hour. If you take Stansberry and follow the directions on this page you come up a hill and into a set of trees with a hidden 1/2" steel cable tied across at the perfect level to completely rip off and destroy a rack as I found out. As far as I can tell, there was no other reason for the cable and that the landowner must be sick of lost kayakers driving through his property so he set up a trap. Be warned, do not take Stansberry Rd, it cost me a $300 rack and messed my car up. I'll end my rant now, but you'd think AW would have good directions to their own property.

default user thumbnail
Chris Bell
16 years ago

The bridge didn't wash away, it was removed and is being re-built! Brad is right, though, the old bridge is gone and so is the traditional painted gauge. The road to the put-in may be closed; park on the main road and take the short walk down to site of the once and future Guy's Ford Bridge.

default user thumbnail
16 years ago

There were reports on boatertalk that the put-in bridge washed away in the high water (15,500 cfs peak) of Nov 19, 2003. As we all know, the middle piling of the bridge had been the unofficial put-in gauge for years. Keep your eyes out for where the bridge debris wound up.

Gage Descriptions

Runnable as low as 100 cfs but you gotta be really hardup. Ideal is from 250-400 cfs. The Watauga gets harder and harder the higher the flow. There aren't many boaters willing to run it over 650 cfs and those that do often portage some of drops (especially Hydro). The exception to this general rule is Stateline Falls, which is actually harder at very low levels than it is at moderate levels because the ankle-breaking rock just to the left of the landing zone becomes less padded. To find out what the Watauga is running, call the TVA at 800-238-2264 and press 3 or online at Boating Beta - My Flows or here. Note the Sugargrove gauge is upstream of the Gorge itself and can sometimes read low compared to actual conditions in the gorge due to feeder creeks downstream of the gauge.

IV to IV+(V-) (fun in a drought low) 100-150 cfs

IV to V- (low) 150-250 cfs
IV to V- (ideal) 250-400 cfs
IV+ to V (pushy) 400-650 cfs
V (screaming) over 650 cfs

Directions Description

Sherwood Horine Watauga River Access
The take-out is dedicated to the memory of Sherwood Horine. Sherwood was a long-time AW member who was instrumental in acquiring this river site for the public. Sherwood passed away in an unfortunate mountain biking accident shortly before the site was opened for the public in 1998. He remains in our hearts, and we honor his memory by naming this site after him on the river he loved so dearly.

Directions to the Watauga River Gorge Put-in
The put-in is 15 miles West of Boone, NC on Highway 321 at the junction with Guy Ford Road (SR 1200). There is parking on the upstream side of the bridge on Guy Ford Road. This parking is provided by the Will Trivette, the gas station market owner at the top of the hill. Please be sure to stop in and thank the family with your business when you're in the neighborhood.

Directions to American Whitewater's Watauga River Take-Out
Drive 5 miles North on Highway 321 from the put-in.

Take a right on Tester Road. The road sign is missing. Turn right on the first “true” gravel road 2 miles after you cross the state line into Tennessee from the Put In.

Wind SLOWLY downhill on the dirt road past some houses/trailers. Please be respectful of the residents. When in doubt bear right. The gravel and grass parking area along the tall wooden fence is marked with an American Whitewater Sign.

When changing clothes, use the changing screen and BE DISCRETE. Be courteous to others and help maintain good relations with the neighbors.

No dogs.
No nudity
No camping

Finding the Take-out From the River
When you get near the end of the whitewater, you will get to Watson Island. Take the smaller RIVER LEFT channel. Look for the staircase. Pull to shore near the end of the island, walk up the steps, then straight up the hill to the American Whitewater parking area.

Sherwood Horine Memorial Access Fund
American Whitewater purchased this site with donations from boaters like yourself. The property cost almost $30,000 to purchase and develop; and continues to cost us about $500 a year to maintain. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Sherwood Horine Memorial Access Fund to help us defray expenses.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2009-04-05 Medium Near Miss/Rescue Other Read More




article main photo

A Close Look at 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)

article main photo

Volunteer of the Month: Edgar Peck!

Kevin Colburn

We are pleased to recognize Edgar Peck as the Volunteer of the Month for February.  Edgar facilitated a successful effort to buy a new put-in on the classic Watauga River near Boone, North Carolina. Together with the take-out AW owns, the public is now guaranteed permanent access to the outstanding Watauga River. 


Open -- Please contact SE Regional SK if you'd l


Paul Martzen


Mark Singleton


Jeff Paine


Kevin Colburn


Thomas O'Keefe


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1190937 04/08/09 Open -- Please contact SE Regional SK if you'd l n/a
1196513 04/12/11 Paul Martzen minor edits and map changes
1201774 06/04/13 Mark Singleton slow down note
1203152 03/10/14 Jeff Paine Updated per request from Edgar Peck
1207025 12/02/16 Kevin Colburn access update
1207026 12/02/16 Kevin Colburn access update
1207126 01/05/17 Thomas O'Keefe abstract added
1212092 04/30/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212107 05/03/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212235 05/08/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212308 05/12/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213733 09/26/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position