Difficulty III-IV
Length 8 Miles
Flow Range 500 - 4500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 52 minutes ago 2310 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 08/14/2019 5:19 pm

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: 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 / Mountain River Guides. As of 2018 "day use", which includes  parking at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground is $4 per person (not per car) and includes access to the showers and changing rooms. You can also park at USA Raft; it is $5/day per vehicle (not per person). Free parking is available 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.

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

Shuttle Information / Shuttles The one-way shuttle takes about 30 minutes meaning an hour at the end of your day if you don't use a shuttle service. Given the time, gas, and wear & tear on your vehicle, most boaters choose to use a shuttle service rather than make a 2nd trip at the end of the day. You pick up a pre-arranged shuttle driver at the takeout, then you drive to the put-in with the driver. While you are on the river, the driver drops your vehicle off at the takeout. There are other options, described below where you don't use your own vehicle. For all the shuttle services, give them some advance notice--like when you leave you house in the am and on busy weekends the day before. 

USA Raft / Mountain River Guides  offers a variety of options. First is getting a shuttle driver for $25 and a $5 parking fee for each car left at the USA Raft takeout. Another option for larger groups is to use their driver and van (for up to 13 people) for $70. Other options are a 7 passenger truck & trailer for $50 and a 42 passenger bus for $150. The options where USA provides the vehicle are by reservation only. Their phone is 800-872-7238 or http://www.usaraft.com/ . If you park there or use their shulle vehicle, you can use their changing room, showers, and hot tub. They also have a variety of camping / lodging options. 

Uncle Johnny's Hostel - has shuttle drivers for the same $25. You can park at the Hostel or at Chestoa (preferred). Phone - 423-735-0548. E-mail  Unclejohnnys2000@yahoo.com 

Private Shuttle Drivers -  So far I have Jan & Matt Buzan, who live at the takeout. They have day jobs and are not always available but usually one of them is available.phone 386-801-0331. Hoping to expand the list of private shuttle drivers over time.

Rapid Descriptions

Last Chance a.k.a. Entrance

Class - III+ Mile - 0.3
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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

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 left...pin 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.


Class - III Mile - 0.7
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 level...it'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
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.


Class - III+ Mile - 2.1

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.


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.


Class - III Mile - 3.8
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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
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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
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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
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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
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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Harrison Metzger
1 year ago

The rapids in the description above are out of order. On the Rocks is the second major rapid after Railroad (called Entrance here.) Roostertail and Roallercoaster are below Quarter Mile.

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ben milner
8 years ago

I went for my first kayak run today and lost a left chaco, blue, mens 13 in quarter mile. If you find it please leave it at the hostel or find a High Mtn Expeditions van and throw it in there. I have learned my lesson to always stap things in my boat.

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Kyle Ho
8 years ago

The log that was in between 3rd and 4th drops has been removed.

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Austin Ward
9 years ago

The campground that is currently listed as the take out charges money to use their area. We took out and while waiting for our shuttle, the owner came and asked for $3 per person. We payed, but I think it is worth noting that there is a forest service take out not far down that is free.

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david blumberg
15 years ago


yesterday I ran the Nolichucky for the first time since the last round of floods. (1300cfs)

one area of note is the first ledge in Quartermile, the one above Hungry Jack. This has changed radically from the way it used to be. There is now a LARGE boulder in the middle of the channel (about where the old railroad barrel used to be), but it is not the main hazard. There is now a very sticky hole associated with this ledge. The old move of catching the eddy below the Big Rock on the left of the ledge now has consequences. whereas before, if you blew the ferry you could just go on down and run Hungry Jack, now you are likely to wash into this hole. I saw it briefly stop a raft yesterday, and pull boats back into it that got too close. Further, there is now a VERY BAD pinning rock on the left end of Hungry Jack with current running onto it. several people I saw had close encounters with this rock.

Scouting is easy, and hightly recommended. Portaging that first drop is also very easy, and IMO should be considered unless you are very confident you can make the required moves. you can also sneak Hungry Jack thru a small slot on the left if you carry the first drop...

have fun, be safe!


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Mike Morrow
16 years ago

A few changes after the recent floods: A group of us ran the Nolichucky Gorge Saturday (myself, Jason Weems, Caleb Paquette, Ashley Strickland, Bill Schooley, Hank Mullins and Spanker). The level at Embreeville was 2150 at 6am Saturday. There are some changes in the Gorge to be aware of due to the recent floods. I have a feeling the gauge is out of calibration. It felt pushy to me for 2150. I thought things looked to be 2.8 to 3.0 feet which would correlate to 2500 to 2800. The only thing that bugs me a bit about this is that the difference between the gauge in Greenville and Embreeville seems correct. I doubt both of them are out of calibration the same way. It may be that the rate of decline is so slow that the level at the gauge is closer to the level in the gorge than what normally occurrs with a faster decline. Others in our group felt the same as I about the level. So take the gauge change for what it is worth. There is a large rock splitting the channel above Hungry Jack in Quarter Mile. You have to go right or left. The rock is easily visible from the eddy at ducky beach. There are some other rocks in the eddy formed by the new rock. They were just below the surface. Be careful if you decide to eddy hop. In my humble opinion, the new rock makes this part of Quarter Mile more difficult to run. The rock is going to give rafts a hard time next spring. I have never guided rafts but it looks to me that there is enough room for them to go right of the rock. There is another rock on the river left side of Hungry Jack. The most impressive change is at the perfect wave. Some of the large flat rocks have been moved about 20 feet downstream making a bowl eddy at the wave. It appeared to me the wave is a little more perpendicular to the current. It also appears that the eddy line is not as good as it used to be.

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17 years ago

From Laura:

Here goes:

The first rapid is Last Chance, it will follow shortly after you cross under the RR bridge. Just about any line can be run through here with enough H20. You will see rocks in the river on your left side, most people start about 15' or so to the right of these rocks, pinning possibility if you go left of these rocks unless it is high water. Once you are headed down stay leftish & look for the eddy that is behind these rocks or you can blow past the eddy and stay left. If ya catch the eddy the wave hole below you is fun. (Look @ the picture on AW site)

You will have a pool then On the Rocks is next. In the center of the river there is a setup eddy behind a large rock start from here with an angle to river left, really depends on the level on how the hole will be. If you don't angle your boat going into the drop you can get pushed up on the rock in the bottom of this drop, hence the name. If you get pushed to the right of "the rock" straighten your boat and look for a clean line, people pin here and some rocks are undercut. Ideally go left of all the large rocks that will divide the river below the drop. Instead of the drop you can also: boof on river left with enough H20, you would need to get out look @ the rapid to get that line you can pin if you go too far left. Also there are creekin' lines to be had on river right, it is better to follow someone who knows them or get out & look. (Look @ the picture on AW site)

Next is Jaws, which is a awesome playspot. Starts to get munchy around 2000 cfs, especially on river right. 1500-1800 is my favorite play level. If the weather is nice you will have locals here. People play here then hike the tracks back out. (Look @ the picture on AW site)

You will have some class II-III type stuff then you will come up on Quarter Mile, probably the toughest on the river, definitely the longest. You can boat scout your way through entrance to Quarter Mile. At the start of Quarter Mile rapid you will find a large eddy on river left, plenty of room. From here you can see down the first drop, there will be a curler wave, past that you will see small eddies that can be caught. Hit the curler wave angled towards river right. On your left there are some nasty pinning spots and sieves. You can easily get out of your boat in that eddy and check out the hazards in the first drop. Catch one of the small eddies I mentioned earlier. From here you will see a large rock on river right, peel out and head for the left side of that rock, you want to stay pretty close to that rock 5-8' there will be a large hole on your left. Catch the eddy behind that large rock you just passed. From here you will see a large rock kinda in the center, on the immediate right side of that rock is Hungry Jack hole. You will want to be right of that large rock avoiding the hole and then ferrying back left behind the large rock. DO NOT go left of that large rock, there is a spot called No way Jose that is bad. There is a move called Tilt a Whirl on the left of the rock, but you need to follow someone for that. From here it is boogey H20, look for the horizon line - that will be Murphy's Ledge, almost a river wide hole. You can take a far right or far left line, you can boat scout either side. Far left is the normal route, people have said there is RR debris on the right. There is a fine line in the middle of the ledge, again you should follow someone for this line.

This will get you through the toughest part of the river. Next significant rapid is Roostertail. Start river right and angle to river left for the first drop, avoiding hole on the right. After that you will cut behind a large rock on river left.

Rock Garden is deceiving and not easy to scout, the line is impossible to describe. The river will bend to the right and filter down through a rock garden, keep your boat straight here, you will broach if you get sideways, I have. You want to stay straight and bounce off the rocks.

Railroad wall rapid is indicated by a large concrete railroad wall. This is a large hole. When you see the horizon line get to the left eddy above it. There will be a rock in the center of the river sticking up out of the H20. Cut against the left side of this rock, you will be skirting the hole so keep it close to the rock.

I have only described the real significant rapids, there is plenty of stuff in between the rapids I have mentioned. Do Do Hole, Maggies, Twin Eddies (great play hole in the bottom), etc. and other class II-III type stuff. Keep in mind you can scout almost anything on river left and carry everything on the RR tracks. As I mentioned before, the Nolichucky is the coldest H20 I have been in this winter, there are RR tracks but the river is remote, no hiking out to a road. Also after last weeks flood keep your eyes open for new wood, I am sure it will be there, we came across some last Sunday in Bama. 2000 cfs will be juicy for a first time run with no guide. Just because I have given long descriptions does not mean that this is some kind of monster river (atleast not around 2000cfs) I am overly detailed, I guess.

I love this area Erwin is great, I have a lot of good friends in this town and the locals are always nice. Erwin Burrito is worth checking out as well, awesome spicy chicken quesadilla and spicy chicken sandwich.

Hope this helps, have a great time.

Gage Descriptions

Runnable down to around 500 cfs but VERY scrapy--go find some dam release or borrow a boat. Around 1000-2000 cfs is ideal. The 500-1000 cfs range keeps everything around "easy" class III. However, much above 3000 cfs and the run is class IV during the first several miles before cooling off to III-III+.

Although some rapids begin to wash out at higher flows, most get much more difficult, with REALLY big waves and Gauleyesque type holes. The Nolichucky gets run at much higher levels (squirted as high as 16,000 cfs or so - definitely NOT recommended), but much above 3000 cfs and the river begins to change character dramatically; swims can potentially be quite long and dangerous. Many don't paddle it over 3000, while some don't even show up until then. Most call it a day unless they're quite familiar with the run and ready for some seriously fast pushy water and munchy holes around 5-6000 cfs. Usually when the Nolichucky is running that high, plenty of other nearby runs like the Doe or Watauga are likely running too. The last few miles can be anticlimatic when the water gets low (say 1200 cfs or less), but look at as a chance to take in the fantastic scenery more easily.

As you probably guessed by now the Nolichucky can vary quite a bit in its tone depending on the water level and it can carry a whole lotta water. Bear in mind the gauge is well downstream of the take-out so it is not the most accurate indicator of water levels in the gorge.

For the TVA gauge reading call 800-238-2264 & press 3; Nolichucky @ Embreeville is the first reading.

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.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2020-09-13 High Fatality Other Read More
2018-08-11 High Fatality Read More
2015-12-18 High Fatality Cold Water Read More
2001-08-08 Medium Fatality Other Read More
2000-05-10 n/a Injury 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)


Thomas O'Keefe


Matt Muir


Lee H Thonus


David Bazemore


Mark Stover


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1211554 03/29/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213491 08/14/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213492 08/14/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213493 08/14/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1198635 11/10/10 Matt Muir Added 2nd state (NC).
1203560 07/14/14 Lee H Thonus parking changes add photos
1207745 06/19/17 Lee H Thonus minor Phone, shuttle optinos
1208419 11/06/17 Lee H Thonus USA Shuttle fee update
1203561 07/15/14 Lee H Thonus typo correction
1207720 06/13/17 Lee H Thonus parking fee update
1207721 06/13/17 Lee H Thonus minor change to parking
1210249 08/18/18 David Bazemore noli campground does not shuttle
1210321 09/10/18 Lee H Thonus shuttle update
1210341 09/15/18 Lee H Thonus parking & shuttle update
1210519 11/14/18 Thomas O'Keefe Photo added
1210921 01/25/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212176 05/07/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212320 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212321 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212322 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1212323 05/13/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1213286 07/11/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1191560 10/06/03 Mark Stover n/a