Island Creek - Catoosa Bridge to Emory River

Island Creek, Tennessee, US


Catoosa Bridge to Emory River

Usual Difficulty III-IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 2 Miles

Island Creek

Island Creek
Photo of Jim Strickland by Brad Roberts taken 04/15/02 @ Moderate

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Island Creek near Nemo
virtual-10484 250 - 500 cfs III-IV+ 00h38m ~ 76.1 cfs (too low)

River Description

Island Creek has been described as "the Gem of the Cumberlands". It is certainly one of the most scenic and continuous runs on the Cumberland Plateau.

Over the last few years, we have made a concerted effort to remove the many strainers that had made the river almost unboatable. We have done this in the most unobtrusive way leaving the river aesthetics intact. However, please use utmost caution!!! Due to pine beetle and ice damage, there are numerous trees both upstream of the put-in and along the run that are awaiting their turn to become a strainer. Therefore, be very alert just after high water. There are a few logs in the creek but they are not in bad spots and no portages are required.  Over the last several years downed trees have been cut up near the end of the run where the last island is located down to the confluence with the Emory. The rapids in this lower part of the creek have historically accumulated wood.  Please use caution to look for any cut-up wood or newly downed wood that might create a safety issue.

Access for the put-in on this lower reach of Island Creek is on Catoosa Road going southeast from the game check station. While the area is controlled by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the 3/4 mile stretch of Catoosa Road to the low-water bridge put-in at Island Creek has traditionally been open to traffic during managed hunts. The regional TWRA manager for the area has said that the road would remain open to boaters accessing Island Creek during managed hunts.  The area is closed during a deer hunt on December 4-7, 2015.  The Non-quota Turkey Hunt Handout shows that Feb 1 thru March 27, 2015 is a wildlife rest period and access to the WMA is closed to all users and no vehicle access is allowed. April 10-12, 14-16, 18-19 (Young Sportsman Hunt), 21-23, 24-26, 28-30, and May 1-3, 2015 are turkey hunts. During hunting days, the Catoosa WMA access is restricted to all but hunters. There are usually signs posted during hunts and rest periods alerting you that the area and roads are closed to access. There may be a sign at the intersection warning you that the area is open only to Big Game Hunters. Traditionally, the signs have only restricted the Catoosa Road leading west of the game check station. There should only be "STOP" signs on the righthand road leading west up Island Creek towards the Daddy's Creek takeout at Devil's Breakfast Table. If you are uncertain, check at the Obed Wild and Scenic office in Wartburg or with TWRA. TWRA has fined boaters in the past for illegal access and parking at river accesses in the WMA such as the Devil's Breakfast Table parking area during restricted times. The fine has been as much as $142 per person. TWRA Contact: Jim Lane (931)456-2479. Please provide comments on any access issues you find.

The first quarter to half mile is fairly tame just stay to the river left at the islands to avoid any strainers. Work your way immediately back to the left to get back to the left side of the island. Avoid the right side of the small island as it leads into a rocky blockage. If you end up there exit the far right. The left side of this blockage is not advised as it has a 90 degree right turn that has an undercut in it. The action picks up in the next 3/4 mile with several rapids with small ledges. At about 1 1/2 miles, you will reach a horizon line as the river makes a left turn with a rock wall on the river right. This is the most difficult rapid "Compound Fracture". You can scout on the island above where the river constricts to form the rapid. If you do not feel confident, this is a good one to walk! The best portage is on the river right along the old railroad bed on the rock wall. Some of the rocks in this rapid are from the creation and demise of the old narrow-gauge railroad on river right and are jagged and spaced to thwart a clean line. Also be aware of the potential undercut at the bottom on river left; although I have never seen anyone get in trouble there. The usual run is down the right center angling right. Several fun rapids are below including "The Slide" and "Rockhouse". "Rockhouse" has one of the neatest surfing experiences in the super large undercut on river left in the semi-dark.  There is a new obstacle at the bottom of Rockhouse rapid.  A large rectangular block stone on the river right side at the bottom creates a pinning potential.  The top of the stone is near the water level so look for the telltale wave.  If the water is high enough stay left.  If not, your going to have to squeeze between the pinning block and the large boulder sticking out of the water blocking the right side.


Near the end of the run there is a large pool with an old RR bridge pier just above an island.  Either side of the island can be run depending on wood that collects here.  This rapid has been changing.  I recommend running the left side of the island at lower levels.  Near the bottom of the left-side rapid you must cut back right quickly to avoid being pushed into an undercut rock near the left bank.  The right side is open at higher levels.  The right side of the island has a shallow entrance and less water than the left side but is a fun rapid with a nice boof/slide drop.  Both sides of this island are historically very bad debris traps and more wood will collect from all the dead wood from pine beetles and weather damage.  The stretch from the last island down to the confluence with the Emory was cleared of strainers from 2007-2010 but boaters will need to pay attention for years looking for loose wood and new wood that can cause strainers.  The cut-up logs will push on to the Emory after a big rain but watch for logs particulary in the last stretch of Island Creek.


For more information please click on the link below:

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2014-12-08 02:17:50


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put-In GaugeN/APutin Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Put-In Gauge (Class N/A)

Island Creek Gauge

Island Creek Gauge
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 10/15/14

Here's how to read the Put-In Gauge.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
February 3 2014 (1807 days ago)
Alex ZendelDetails
We ran Island at 0.9' today. Two of us who have run the creek many times agreedWe ran Island at
0.9' at 5pm today. Two of us who have run the creek many times agreed that it felt higher than than
we expected at this flow. But the creek bed is probably very stable at the gauge and it doesn't
make sense to think that something has changed - it's probably our memory or perception that was
off. Wood report: most of the run was free of significant strainers except for the last rapid
that's located just as you exit the 'gorge' at the abandoned bridge pylons. The creek splits around
a small island and the first two in the group went right. The entrance was clear, but there was a
river-wide log across the top of the rapid. Another boater ran left of the island, but noticed some
small trees extending across the creek just below the surface of the water. It's probably best to
scout here. Gauge correlations: Daddy's had just peaked at 6.7 feet on the USGS gauge a couple of
hours before we put on. The UGSG CFS readings have been suspected of being off lately - but it read
3000 CFS at the peak. The Crab Orchard rain gauge received 2.37" and the rain stopped at 6 AM. The
Wartburg rain gauge got 1.74" with the rain stopping at the same time. There have been a couple of
huge rain events this winter, but the last two weeks have been pretty dry.
March 9 2011 (2869 days ago)
Alex ZendelDetails
The level today was 0.85 on the first lap and not much lower on the second lap less than an hour
later. This felt like a good medium-low level where the run felt like a creek but was scrapey in
only a few places. A sizable rain event came through four days earlier that dropped 1.6" at the
Crab Orchard rain gage and got Daddy's creek up to 4500 cfs. Today, there was 0.8" at Crab Orchard
and an even 1" at the Wartburg rain gage. The rain stopped around noon and our first lap was around
5:30pm. As we neared the put-in, we picked up some boaters that were hitch-hiking back up to their
car at teh put-in. They said that the level was just under a foot on when they put on so I assume
it was on its way down when we started our first lap.
May 5 2010 (3177 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
Here's a link to a really cool headcam video of the first three-quarters of this run. Compound
Fracture starts at 7:40 and ends at about 8:00. The paddler takes the left line at the main drop of
Compound Fracture which is a very runnable line and in my opinion the easier line. However, you'll
need around 0.8ft or more of water on the bridge gauge.
May 5 2010 (3177 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
As of 5/2/2010, the cave rapid is runnable by keeping left throughout the cave. I'm sure some of
the logs from the slide will move at some point, but the cave rapid is runnable at this time.
January 24 2010 (3279 days ago)
ksmather21 (150650)
Large Strainer at the cave rapid! As of Friday the 22nd there was a rock slide that has blocked the
entire river and was still falling somewhat when we floated up on it. The ledge is still runnable
before you get to it though. This was still a great run at 1 ft. You can easily skirt. Pictures to
be posted
April 12 2009 (3565 days ago)
Alex ZendelDetails
I finally got to experience Island with some real water in it (1.35'), today 3/25/09. All of my
previous runs had been low (0.4'-0.6'). Two people put-on about an hour before we did and reported
1.7'. They saw 1.8' before they set shuttle. Now for the correlation with the Crab Orchard rain
gauge. It has been a pretty good spring in ETN. There had been several good soakings that got many
plateau runs running, some at high levels. But there had been two weeks with little to no rain
before we put on Island today. Three quarters of an inch had fallen throughout the day yesterday,
and then another 3/4 of an inch fell between 4 and 8 am this morning. The 1.8' reading was roughly
4 pm and the we put on at about 6 pm. The Crab Orchard Rain gauge:
December 11 2008 (3687 days ago)
Alex ZendelDetails
With the expectation of having to hike out, we put on Island Creek this evening (12/11/2008) at 2.9
feet with only ~45-50 minutes of daylight left. Jim and I climbed into our drysuits and stuffed a
total of three head lamps into our dry bags. We paddled past the first rapid that usually has a
slight undercut/sieve hazard if you don't run left. Then came the first slide that harbored a
couple of big, but managable breaking wave/holes (big relative to normal flows on Island). They
weren't very alarming, but I knew that a bigger slide was just around the next bend to a left. We
eddied out on RR and wondered if this is where our expected hike out would begin. We scouted the
next slide that typically has two drops, but we only saw one drop with a bigger wave/hole in the
middle. The difficult decision to hike out was then made. If we had had more time/daylight, we
would have proceded. The view downstream was actually very inviting, but to complete the run before
dark we knew that we would have very little to no time to scout the bigger drops downstream. I was
tempted to push on, but my judgement told me that bombing into Compound Fracture and the next
several drops without scouting would be beyond reckless. If we only had more time! On our way out,
we crossed side stream dumping into Island on RR and saw a couple of fun class III slides. So we
hiked up the tiny creek and dropped somewhere around 20 vertical feet in about 30 yards. Then we
continued our hike to the put-in on the over-grown, abandoned logging road and made it to the car
just before it got dark enough to necessitate the head lamps. Daddy's was over 6000 csf and
climbing, Clear Creek at Lily was probably between 4000 and 5000 cfs and rising (the internet graph
isn't working), and the Emory was just under 20,000 cfs and rising. The Southeast had been in a
relentless drought, but the Crab Orchard rain gauge showed 3 inches of rain the morning before we
put on (yesterday) with an additional 2 inches of rain today. What's a little perplexing is that
people had run Island the day before (after 3 inches of rain) and the level was just under a foot.
But they did put on around 4 pm - about 11 hours after the rain stopped. During our drive from Oak
Ridge (via Coalfield and Wartburg), it was raining hard nearly non-stop. I guess that shows how
fast the levels on Island can rise and drop! I hope to return at 3 feet .... but with more light
and time!
March 22 2008 (3951 days ago)
Alex ZendelDetails
I'm hoping to figure out a correlation between the Crab Orchard rain guage and the Island Creek
visual gauge at the put in. I do think that Daddy's is a good indicator, but I'm guessing that
Island could be peaking when the Daddy's gauge begins to shoot upward. Also, I think that this rain
gauge could be useful when there's been rain on the plateau and you need to spring into action
before the Daddy's gauge updates. Slimerboy reported 0.3' (low but runnable) on Island on 3-20-08.
There had been just over an inch of rain 12-18 hours earlier. It had been a relatively wet spring
on the Plateau and many of the common runs had been running pretty frequently.
September 3 2007 (4152 days ago)
Kirk EddlemonDetails
I made a virtual gauge for this run. It can be found here: <a href=
"">Island Creek at Nemo</a>
February 25 2003 (5804 days ago)
Scott WillifordDetails
Ran this at 2 ft on the putin guage on 2/22/03. It is definatly a lot more pushy than at 1 ft. The
holes are much bigger, and more sticky. There were no strainers that required portaging on our run.
However, scouting Compound Fracture required several trips across flowing knee deep water. It is
definatly a good level for the creek, but is pushy, and upgrades most of the rapids a step. Still
nothing over IV+ in my opinion, but be sure to scout if you have only ran it 1-1.5 feet. There are
several blind turns that lead to surprisingly strong holes, of which each member of our party spent
at least a little time in. Who says the Blunt isn't a playboat, you should have seem my linked