Nolichucky - Poplar N.C. to Nolichucky Gorge Campground (Erwin, TN)

Nolichucky, North Carolina, US/Tennessee, US


Poplar N.C. to Nolichucky Gorge Campground (Erwin, TN)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (for normal flows)
Length 8 Miles
Avg. Gradient 31 fpm
Max Gradient 57 fpm

Tandem at Jaws

Tandem at Jaws
Photo of Ryan Petering & Gabe Hyatt by Mark Stover taken 04/10/02 @ ~1400 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03465500 500 - 3000 cfs III-IV 00h53m 631 cfs (running)

River Description

The Nolichucky is in an incredibly beautiful, deep, mountain gorge that offers lots of great play, especially within the first few miles. The Noli's punch is at the beginning, then it mellows out to a mostly class III run allowing ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The gorge is remote with the only opportunity to walk out by a railroad track that parallels the river.

Parking at the takeout:  Private boaters can park at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground for a fee (which includes a hot shower - nice on a cold winter day) or at USA Raft. Please do not park at the other rafting companies as parking is tight and the priority goes to their paying rafting customres. As of 2017 "day use", which includes  parking at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground is $4 per person (not per car) and include access to the showers and changing rooms. You can also park at USA Raft if you are using their services (e.g. shuttle).  There is also free parking about 3/4 mile downstream at the US Forest Service Chestoa day use area. It's not bad but a little less secure than USA Raft or the campground.

Shuttles The one way shuttle is around 30 mintes meaning an hour at the end of your day if you don't use a shuttle service. Given the time, gas & wear & tear on your vehicle, most boaters will choose to use a shuttle service rather than make a 2nd trip at the end of the day.  Noli Gorge Campground can arrange shuttle drivers for you for $20; their phone number is 423-743-8876. USA Raft has multiple options one is to get a shuttle driver ($25) and use your vehicle.  Another is that they can sometimes take a boat & boater to the Poplar put-in on the rafting bus for $5 if there is room available - you need to call ahead to find out when this bus leaves and to reserve a space. The can also arrange for a van or bus for larger groups - price varies with the size of group / vehicle. For example on a recent trip, we had a group of 8 split a $50 van and didn't have to use our cars. the van w/ trailer could have held 10-11.  
Call in advance if you are checking on availability of space on the rafting bus or want a van / bus for a larger group; their number is 800-872-7238.

USA Raft also has a bunkhouse where you can rent a room or the whole bunkhouse. Camping is (obviously) available at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground

For further information and the most incredibly accurate and specific shuttle directions known to the western world, see Chris Bell's excellent website

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-11-06 13:52:36


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.3Last Chance a.k.a. EntranceIII+Playspot
0.6On The RocksIII+Playspot Photo
0.7JawsIIIPlayspot Photo
1.3Quarter MileIVHazard Photo
2.1RoostertailIII+Playspot Photo
4.3Rock GardenIII
4.9Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost CoveIII
5.3Sousehole a.k.a. Maggie's RockIIIPhoto
5.8Twin EddiesIIIPlayspot
7.4Cherokee DamII
8.0Nolichucky Gorge CampgroundITakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Last Chance a.k.a. Entrance (Class III+, Mile 0.3)
Shortly after passing underneath the railroad trestle the river takes a decided hard left denoting the beginning of Entrance. Enter center or just right of center & then pick your way down depending on the water level be aware of two holes towards the bottom left. From 2000 c.f.s on up this rapid gets to be a pushy sucker. If you flip here, tuck tight & roll quick as this rapid has you moving fast and can be a bit shallow in places. Excellent recovery pool at the bottom. Alternate Lines - At flows starting around 2000 c.f.s. a nice little creeky boof move opens up on the far left - not a good place to practice boofing as there a couple large flat rocks not far away. Even farther left, not far off the bank is another creeky little line with a couple small eddies. Play factor - some. At higher flows a couple really fast, wide waves at the bottom are a ton of fun if you can catch them. At really low levels, the lowest hole on the left, known as Punk Hole, becomes a good little cartwheel spot.

On The Rocks (Class III+, Mile 0.6)

John @ On the Rocks

John @ On the Rocks
Photo of John Kreiner by Lee Thonus taken 06/28/14 @ 720 cfs

Scout from the small beach on river left. The initial 3-4' drop is run from right to left on the tongue, then immediately go left or right to avoid a large rock. Going left is usually the easier of the two. Going right there are two slots to choose from, usually the first is too hard to hit without prior knowledge of its location, so most go with the second slot which is a 2-3' drop. At EXTREMELY low levels beware of undercut hazards here; however at normal to high flows the undercuts don't pose a major problem. Also, don't run the initial drop far city. Good recovery pool at the bottom. Depending on the water level many fun waves can be found toward river right all the way to Jaws.

Jaws (Class III, Mile 0.7)

More Jaws Surfing

More Jaws Surfing
Photo of Gabe Hyatt by Ryan Petering taken 04/10/02 @ ~1400 cfs

As described by William Nealy, "a single sloping ledge terminated by a huge cresent shaped hole." That pretty much nails it. Sneak it through the small rock garden on river left, but I recommend getting a good head of steam & punching through towards the river left side of the hole..which is always the escape route. Around 2000 cfs the right side can starts to get real sticky. Jaws is a GREAT place to spend the afternoon surfing. Tuck tight when you flip upstream because the rock shelf causing the hole is never very far away no matter the's been known to munch more than a few paddles. Good eddy access from either side. At higher flows Jaws could be called III+ due to its violent sticky nature but plenty of people still like to get a chunky slice of it. If necessary, it is a short hike out to the put-in involving crossing the railroad trestle. If you choose this be forewarned, the trestle is no place to be when a train comes, which can be quite often. Also, it's not exactly legal but the train engineers don't usually hassle anyone, just be aware, quick and courteous. On that note, generally if a train or engine has recently went upstream, you can pretty much bank on one coming back down very soon - so be careful!

Quarter Mile (Class IV, Mile 1.3)

Quarter Mile

Quarter Mile
Photo by Tom O'Keefe taken 05/05/03 @ 2050 cfs

As the name implies, this is a long rapid. No one drop is terribly difficult or big but there are a lot of them. Scout from the left. It can be run a variety of ways.
Due to the floods of 2004 the top of Quartermile has a few new wrinkles. Just after the initial drop on the left one can eddy out on river right & check the new crux part of the rapid. Shortly before the hole known as Hungryjack there is now a large boulder in the center right of the main flow. At higher flows it becomes a pourover, at medium flows it is something to be avoided. Do not underestimate the force of the current here at any level, there is also a new hole just upstream of said boulder. Makes for some very funny water but is easy to scout on the left & easy to sneak by running far right of the large boulder after the first drop. The rest of the rapid consists of lots of boogie that is generally less difficult but more scrapey the further to river right you go. Swimming here is generally a full contact sport - not a good spot for random rollers either.
The last drop in Quarter Mile is a nearly river wide ledge known as Murphy's Ledge. This place has killed so use caution. Safest is to run far right or bang down the far left at higher flows. Good recovery pool.
The higher the water, the more difficult and dangerous this rapid becomes with some seriously chunky holes towards the top and river left.

Roostertail (Class III+, Mile 2.1)


Photo of Tony S by Lee Thonus taken 07/03/14 @ 1080 cfs

Identified by a large rock outcropping on river right and preceded by a good playspot on river right after a long pool. Start this rapid on far river right angling left to avoid the hole quickly downstream on the right. Eddy out on the right just past the hole and get big enders if you've got a boat with some length to it, but roll fast. From this eddy, ferry hard towards the left to cut behind a large rock located downstream left of center.

Rollercoaster (Class III, Mile 2.9)
Rollercoaster is divided into an upper and lower. They're basically super boogie water, stay just left of center and dodge a couple of holes and everything is groovy. There is brief section of slackish water separating upper and lower. At moderate water levels and up a fast wave from 2-4 feet forms at the bottom of upper Rollercoaster.

Surprise (Class III, Mile 3.8)
This ledge is more in the II+/III- range depending on your route; several of which can be taken. The straightforward route is following the main flow through some bouncy water on the river left. Route #2 is to work over to far, far river right and go through a narrow 3 ft chute. Route #3 which is the least easy to identify is to take a mini slide from right to left just to the right of an exposed rock formation found left of center.

Rock Garden (Class III, Mile 4.3)
After Surprise the river bed slowly starts getting more congested requiring one to scent out the path of least resistance. This congestion continues to build till the main flow is on river left, after about 300 yards of this, the river bends right into a mega pile of boulders requiring careful navigation to avoid busting up your boat at lower levels and to avoid an ugly broach at any level. Keep it straight throught here. I'll attempt to explain the one good marker to navigate by. Towards the center left side one can see a triangle shaped rock pointing straight up. If you can find this, things are alot easier. Turn right just about 3-5 feet upstream of this rock and pick your path down. This route usually has the cleanest line and the most water.

Railroad Wall a.k.a. Lost Cove (Class III, Mile 4.9)
This rapid is identified by a large concrete wall on river left as the river bends to the right. It begins with a section of class II offset ledges and culminates with a nearly river wide 3-4 ft offset ledge with a munchy hole. Certain parts of the ledge are munchier than others. I've seen this sneaked by banging down the far river right side. The stickiest part of the hole is river right of an exposed rock in about the center of the horizon line. If you take this line, go with plenty of speed.

Sousehole a.k.a. Maggie's Rock (Class III, Mile 5.3)


Photo by Tom O'Keefe taken 05/05/03 @ 2050 cfs

The river bends to the right after a long pool following Railroad. The pace begins to pick up as the river begins to bend back left. You'll notice a very large rock - "Maggie's Rock" in the center of the flow. Go well to the left of this rock following the main flow through a series of large standing waves. Note that there is a large, thrashy hole to the immediate left of Maggie's Rock, so give it some space.
There is a cool creek line for the skilled & adventurous. Work down the right side of the entrance water, dodge a hole or two & catch the big eddy on the right just upstream of Maggie's Rock. You'll notice a small boulder to the right of Maggies that leaves a nice, tight turning chute. Scope it for wood & boof up on the river right boulder to avoid getting slammed back into Maggies.
Some good surf waves appear at varying levels immediately downstream

Twin Eddies (Class III, Mile 5.8)
The is the last rapid of any major consequence. Identified by an unusual orange-reddish outcropping of rock on the left by the railroad track. It has a couple offset ledges with a hole or two at the bottom depending on the water level. Super deep excellent recovery pool. Offers some form of play, from hole riding to funky fast wave surfing at nearly any water level.

Cherokee Dam (Class II, Mile 7.4)
This is a rock outcropping on river right that in no way resembles a dam so I couldn't tell you about the name. It has a fun little play spot at moderate water levels and apparently a really loopalicious hole develops around 5-7,000 cfs. Usually lots of sunbathers hanging out here in the summer, some clothed & some not.

Nolichucky Gorge Campground (Class I, Mile 8.0)
Take out on river right at the set of wooden steps. The mystery spot known as Cowbell is about 300 yards downstream on the left. Alternate U.S.F.S. take out at Chestoa is about 1 mile further on the right.

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