Pigeon - 1. Walter's Power Plant at Waterville to Bridge at Hartford

Pigeon, Tennessee, US


1. Walter's Power Plant at Waterville to Bridge at Hartford (The Dirty Bird!)

Usual Difficulty II-III+ (for normal flows)
Length 4.2 Miles

The Dragon Baby

The Dragon Baby
Photo of Brian Nicholson by Chris Young taken Summer 2000

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03460795 300 - 4500 cfs II-III+ 00h48m 1700 cfs (running)

River Description

The Pigeon was for many years so polluted that is was biologically dead.   The river ran a coffee brown for most of the 20th century,  containing toxic chemicals such as  dioxins, furan, and chloroform -- all from the Champion paper mill in nearby Canton.   As noted by Joyce Coombs "the Pigeon River was once so polluted that North Carolina classified the best use of its waters to be for waste disposal."     In the early 1990's the trend was reversed.   The modernization of methods used at the paper mill led to significant reduction in the use and discharge of toxic chemicals.  According to "a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services ... dioxin concentrations in fish samples taken from the river have decreased 99 percent since 1990."  - Smoky Mountain News  Jan. 31 2007.   In the late 1990's snails and common mussels were reintroduced to the river - the river was again alive!    Since 2000 more than 20 species of fish have been re-introduced to the river.

Rafters, kayakers and canoeists also returned to the river.   This five mile run offers a number of big water Class 3 - 3+ rapids,   Powerhouse,  Roller Coaster,  Lost Guide,  Double Reactionary and Accelerator.   The river has a number of popular playspots,  in the first mile of the river,  Snap  Dragon, Lost Guide, below Double Reactionary.    Although the I-40 flanks the run on river right,  you are paddling through a scenic gorge that on the eastern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Pigeon tends to be quite busy on scheduled released days, especially Saturdays. The release schedules are as follows:  

*Memorial Day - Labor Day *Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 12:00pm - 6:00pm

Walter's Power Plant also releases during the winter and spring occasionally. . The number for Pigeon information is 1*800*899*4435. After Labor Day, the recording at this number is seldom, if ever, updated.The good news going forward is that if you go here https://lakes.duke-energy.com/index.html?_ga=1.186907947.209325095.1487718327#/flow and use the dropdown menu to change Catawba - Wateree to Pigeon you will get a rolling 3 day forecast of generation / releases. As of late Feb 2017 this was functionalThe water is on from "noon" to 6 pm, but the measuring point is the USGS gauge 3/4 mile downstream, so the water is on by 11:30 am. All the rafting companies have known this for years and at 11:20 am there is a line of busses waiting to unload passengers and rafts. 

Cocke county constable "Mac' McRee a long time friend of boaters retired in May of 2015.  Some new guys are there but no major changes. You still sign in so that there is an annual head count.  The more river users, the more days of releases - so sign in. There is no charge.

The "normal' release on scheduled release days is two turbines (@ ~ 625 cfs each) plus some inflow from Big Creek and the creeks feeding the dries. So on a typical summer release Saturday, you will get 1250 cfs + maybe 60 - 100 from the creeks or around 1350 cfs. Occasionally you will get a 3 turbine release and sometimes the inflow from the creeks is a little higher. The descriptions that I have written are for a 2 turbine release with ~ 100 cfs inflow, but work well from 1000 cfs to 1600 cfs. 

The parking situation at the put-in changed in spring of 2015. About 40% of the private boater parking spots were redesignated for commercial vehicles (e.g. rafting busses). So far it hasn't caused major problems. Part of the solution can be increased carpooling and / or parking at the takeouts and catching a ride to the put-in with the rafting busses. 

Parking at the takeout(s) and Shuttles

Near the first bridge that you come to in Hartford, just upstream from USA Raft, there is a large grassy field with a gravel bus path through it. This land is leased by Cocke county and you can park there. There is plenty of room for the usual number of private boaters and a few of the spots are shaded. Ultimatley the county plans to add picnic tables, changing room and a couple porta-potties.  You can also park at nearby USA raft (even in the shady spots) for $5 and you can then use their changing rooms & showers. You can ride USA Raft busses for free, waiver form is preferred. If you go further downriver, you can park at NOC ; park near the slalom poles. NOC has changing rooms and you can ride the raft buses for free (must sign a waiver). NOC gets very busy during July and August and parking gets tight. spaces will go to their customers first.  If you take out at NOC, you must use the upper ramp; the lower ramp is reserved for their rafting guests. That means if you go surf the "NOC wave", you must get out on the island, walk upstream, then put back in and ferry to the upper ramp. You can also park at  Wildwater - in the grassy area behind the "moonshine still" building, it's free. You can also use the Wildwater busses for free, waiver preferred; and you can use their changing rooms. The Wildwater buses run at 11:00 am, 12 noon, 1:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 3:15 pm, and 4:15 pm. All of the free bus rides are space available - but fortunately it usually is. With the lost parking spaces, the parking / unloading at the put-in is very tight on Saturdays and holidays so try to leave most of your vehicles at the takeouts. Charlie Williams runs a shuttle service and as of this writing charges $10 for a ride from the takeout to the put-in. His phone # is 423-608-0582. When he is not actually shuttling someone he is usually hanging around the Cocke County takeout in a pickup with a flashing light. 







StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-06-13 01:38:13


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.1PowerhouseIII+Playspot Photo
0.5Full of WaterII+Photo
0.6Razor RockII+Playspot
0.9Second HelpingII+
1.4Big BendII
1.5DragonflyIIIPlayspot Photo
2.3Lost GuideIII+Playspot Photo
2.5Hawaii 5-0II+
3.2Double ReactionaryIII+Portage Playspot Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Powerhouse (Class III+, Mile 0.1)

Tony & Pete @ Powerhouse

Tony & Pete @ Powerhouse
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 07/14/14 @ 1400 cfs

The rapid starts just  below the put in. At the start it is a wide rapid that offers lines to the left, middle and a shallow bumpy run on the right. The first half of the rapid consists of a series of shallow ledge drops. As you pass a point where there are boulders on the left and right banks, the river narrows a little and the gradient picks up. From there the center line becomes much more challenging, with big irregular wave and holes. The more conservative line is to the far right about 15 feet off the right bank. On the left you can work down the left side by eddy hopping; good eddy turn and water reading skills are needed for the left lines. 

BFR (Class II, Mile 0.4)

Hal at BFR

Hal at BFR
Photo of Hal Herzog by Lee Thonus taken 07/14/14 @ 1400 cfs

Below the pool is a house sized rock -BFR. Big "Friendly" rock, although there is another opinion as to what the "F" stands for.  You can run either to its left or right.  Behind the rock is a large eddy.   It's not much of a rapid, but has a significant visual impact.

Full of Water (Class II+, Mile 0.5)

Full of Water

Full of Water
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 08/05/14 @ 1300 cfs

Broken ledge below BFR . The right side is a wave/hole that would get an old bucket boat raft "full of water". The left side of the flow is more of a green water tongue.

Razor Rock (Class II+, Mile 0.6)

There is a flat faced "mother" rock attached to the left bank with a smaller shark fin (razor) rock about 10 ft away. You can run the more exciting line between the two or take the easier line to the right of the razor rock - this means anywhere in the center of the river. Razor Rock is one of the better (arguably the best) natural play spot on the river. Great spot for enders, cartwheels, etc. 

Vegomatic (Class II+, Mile 1.1)


Photo of Ryan J by Lee Thonus taken 08/09/14 @ 1550 cfs

Immediately after passing under the first bridge, you will come to Vegomatic. At 2 turbines the left side doesn't have enough water, the center is the easier line and the right has a couple wave/holes. At 3 turbines the left opens and the waves on the other routes get a little bigger. There are a couple large eddies at the top of Vegomatic.

Big Bend (Class II, Mile 1.4)

Just a class 2 standing wave rapid where the river bends to the right.

Dragonfly (Class III, Mile 1.5)


Photo by Lee Thonus taken 08/05/14 @ 1300 cfs

Also know as Snapdragon and Dragon Baby. There are a couple large eddies at the top on the left. There is a line that is fairly close to the left shore that goes to the left of the hole. It's easy to catch a left eddy behind one of the river left rocks from this line. Hard to describe exactly where, but further from the left shore is a punchable hole., but you have to be determined to do so . A little further right is a standing wave line, then a breaking wave hole. Fortunately, you can see the features as you approach them and a competent paddler has time to avoid the hole. I've added a photo which should help locate the hole(s).  if you click on the photo, you can see notes for that photo.

Rollercoaster (Class II+, Mile 1.8)

After Snapdragon, the gradient decreases a bit, but there are still modest standing waves. Then the gradient picks up and the waves get larger. Most boaters just run the wave train. On the left side of the river is a "slalom" route with a couple slalom moves and an optional punchable hole or two. 

Lost Guide (Class III+, Mile 2.3)

Lost Guide

Lost Guide
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 08/05/14 @ 1300 cfs

There is a class 2, mostly standing wave rapid after Roller Coaster. You will know you are at the top of lost Guide when you see a rounded pyramid shaped rock by itself in the middle of the river. This rock has a small piece of vegetation growing out of its left side and at 2 turbines sticks about 4 feet out of the water. Across from this rock near river right is a rock cluster with a 6 ft high bush growing out of the left side. There is a nice eddy to gather a group at the rock cluster with the bush. The traditional line through Lost Guide on the right, staying about 15 feet off the right bank. As you pass the first drop, IMMEDIATELY cut left to the center of the river (and to the left of a spine rock that sticks around a foot out of the water and is around 20 feet long and oriented up and downstream. If you miss this move to the center of the river and wind up on the right of the spine rock, there is a bumpy "escape hatch" at the lower end of the spine rock.  The rocks along the right side of the river seem to be firmly attached to the earth's crust and don't move from year to year. The rocks on the center and left are loose and get shifted around from year to year. Thus the left lines change from year to year.

As of 2014 - From your eddy at the rocks with the bush, you can see a huge boulder on river left with a slightly tilted flat side. There is an easy to read standing wave train to as far as this boulder and an eddy by the boulder from which you can plot your next move.   Your choices are to peel out and head down the left; this line requires accuracy or luck. You can also peel off and angle right, finishing near the pyramind rock on river right. If you are about 8-16 feet off the left bank, you will go into a nasty hole and provide entertainment to the onlookers sitting on pyramind rock or in the eddy in their boats. Once in the eddy by pyramid rock, you can check out the wave / hole on river right for surfing opportunities. 

Hawaii 5-0 (Class II+, Mile 2.5)

There is a pool after Lost Guide, then a standing wave rapid called Hawaii 5-0. Long ago and far away (as in before the flood of 2004) there was a great glassy surfing wave here. Now the best feature for most boaters is catching the eddy below the boulder on the top left. From this eddy, you can catch the glassy wave at the top if you are a left side C-1 paddler or a top notch kayaker. 

Double Reactionary (Class III+, Mile 3.2)

Double Reactionary

Double Reactionary
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 08/05/14 @ 1300 cfs

Following Hawaii 5-0 there is a pool and then a stretch of about 1/3 mile of more or less continuous class 2. At the end of the class 2, the river narrows, boulders appear in the middle of the river and the gradient picks up - you are at Double Reactionary. There are eddies on river left; a 10 boat eddy follwed by a 4-5 boat eddy. From the lower eddy you can see some of the rapid, including the crux move. At two turbines, the entire right half of the river is too low to run. At 3 turbines (or above 1600 cfs) some creeky lines open on the top right. Most boaters will find the creeky lines easier than the meaty lines on the left.

From the lower eddy, you can just see the hole (about 25 ft off the left bank). You can start by clipping the left side of the hole. Depending on how much of the hole you bite off and your boat angle one of several opportunities will happen. If you are angled a little right and bite off a good bit you will be steered into an eddy on the right. From this eddy you can go to the "creek line" on the right side of the river (for most folks this is the easiest options). You could also peel off back into the meat.

If you are relatively straight and took only a small bite of the edge of the hole, you will be looking at a flat horizon line (not very high) as you approach it you can see the left boundary of the desirable line which is a curly tubular wave (like a surfer in a pipeline). The sweet spot is 6-8 ft to the right of the tubular wave. Take a boof stroke as you go over the edge. Once you land you can catch an eddy on your right. the creek like brings you into the other side of the same eddy. The remainder of the rapid is easier and an easy read. 

Accellerator (Class III+, Mile 3.3)

Highway line in Accelerator

Highway line in Accelerator
Photo by Lee Thonus taken 07/22/14 @ 1400 cfs

There are two commonly run lines through Accelerator. The first is about 5 ft off the left bank and you just head straight. It is a ramp with a smallish wave/hole at the bottom. The other line starts on the right-center. There is a small curler wave at the top / horizon line. You want to be on the right side of this wave (about 2-3 ft from the right edge) and angled about 30 degrees to the left. This puts you on the "Highway" and you will pass (punchable) holes on your left and right.  There are shallow spots that have resulted in stitches for swimmers. The two pathways more or less converge and you get to pick your way down the rest of the standing wave with a few rocks rapid.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 13 2017 (551 days ago)
Jack GillDetails
As of 2017, there is now a shuttle service operating on the Pigeon River from May thru the middle
of Sept.. It is run by a retired gentleman named Charlie, and the service is called Charlie's
Shuttle. He generally hangs around the parking area for the general public take-out at the bottom,
just upstream of the bridge and upstream of the majority of the take-outs for the raft services in
a white pickup truck with a yellow rotating beacon. He charges $10 per person for the shuttle. If
you want to be guaranteed of meeting him, he suggests you give him a call on his cell phone
(423-608-0582) and arrange times. He will also do shuttles for the Lower Pigeon.
June 11 2015 (1314 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
6-2-15 G in octane canoe and Eli in inflatable canoe, CT and Josh in maxi me. G swam toward the
bottom of the first rapid but had good lines after that. G and Eli caught eddys and picked apart
all the rapids. Ct and Josh got a few good surfs in small hydraulics.
November 26 2010 (2972 days ago)
Andi HarbourDetails
FYI: The info line for Walter's hasn't been updated since September 5th -- No use trying to check
levels there to try and catch a winter release..... boo!
May 5 2009 (3542 days ago)
x (1)
The Pigeon Runs alot in the off season, the Key to catching it is knowing the right # to call and
how to "read" the data that you get. The number is 1-800-899-4435, you want the walters (?) lake
level and in-flow. This is posted at 8am every morning. what I was told (and seems to hold true) is
when the in-flow is over 400-500 cfs the lake fills up around a foot an hour. If the in-flow is
this high or higher and the lake is 1 to 3 ft down then they will release at least some. That said
it relates to the weather, summer dry, no rain= no release. Winter, fall or spring and rain is
forcast the you are a go. The higher the in-flow the better your chances are. I lived there for
over 2 yrs and have been skunked by looking at the take out and saying it runing lets go. They can
and will cut it off at anytime, exp. if they see you attempting a moon light run. That has been one
of the best things I have done in a boat (raft, wish I was in my Kayak). Hope this helps.
April 10 2009 (3567 days ago)
x (1)
I have worked as a commercial guide some time now, living in the southeast. I call the Pigeon River
home in the spring and summer months, and spend as much time playing on that river as working. This
spring, thankfully, we have gotten a substantial amount of rain, and it seems as though a couple
rapids have changed. The biggest change that has happened this season seems to be the bottom hole
of Lost Guide, the first class IV rapid, about 3 miles from the put in. It seems that some rocks
have moved, making the bottom of the rapid steeper, and also making the hole more of a hydraulic,
and less of a wave. This has become a GREAT surf spot, for both kayaks and rafts, with a huge eddy
on the river right side, just below the hole. Its easy to paddle into, and super easy recovery
below the rapid. This has become the best surf spot on the Pigeon by far, hope everyone enjoys!!
August 26 2006 (4525 days ago)
x (1)
Very soon, Blue Ridge papermill will be coming up for its new permit. I hope AW and any other
whitewater or outdoor enthusiast will do there part in fighting the renewal of this permit. The
Pigeon River is at stake.

an alternate line at Lost Guide is to run far right (about 10 ft from the river right bank) and
then cut left after passing the hole.

At Accelerator, start river right at a small curling wave and cut diagonally left across the rapid.
For the post about Maytag be careful running this hole. Ther is rebar in the hole and it can do
some damage. Rooster Tail does have rebar in the hole. I have been a guide on the river it is
May 25 2005 (4983 days ago)
Kevin ColburnDetails
A Report From the Pigeon:

a local rafting company manager was in a shredder yesterday with us three hardboaters and he
pointed out new rebar lying lengthwise in the playhole after LOST GUIDE RAPID. It's normally called
"ROOSTER TAIL RAPID" -- the next rapid after LOST GUIDE. I didn't know its name but he
said that's what everybody calls it. The rafting mgr said they normally allow their customers to
jump and swim this normally safe rapid but now with the rebar they can no longer do that. He
pointed out that if someone were to roll at this popular playhole it could do some serious damage
to one's head. I skirted the meat to the right yesterday and was fine. My two friends from
Knoxville ran the meat and were fine. It was about 3000 CFS so we didn't really see it but the mgr.
assures us that at regular flow it's visible and quite a problem. So, he requested that we spread
the word to all hardboaters: "Catch an eddy way before ROOSTER TAIL if you swim LOST GUIDE and
it's probably best to not play in that wonderful hole anymore." You can still run the meat of
the rapid and not get hurt --- well as long as you don't flip in the meat.

By the way, the bottom hole at the Rooster Tail rapid is still good to surf, the top hole is the
one with the rebar in it.

He also said that the river widened a bit after the floods and therefore the Pigeon holes aren't as
good as they used be.
April 1 2005 (5037 days ago)
Michael BriereDetails
This river has change since the floods of 2004, like most rivers here in the SE. Snapdragon is gone
as well as the play immediately below this. The hole at the bottom of Guide Sucker is good, not the
ledge, but the hole next to the rock. There are tons of holes to hit on the fly. The waves at
Rollercoater are gone as well. Still lots of fun but it is "The Dirty Bird!"
April 30 2004 (5373 days ago)
Travis ProffittDetails
Quite possibly one of the best river runs in the south! If you've never checked out this totally
awesome river you definitely should! Lots of fun, pillowy water that can treat you well if you give
it the respect it deserves. When you get to Hartford, don't get out! There's some fun ledges below
the traditional take out that can be a lot of fun to play on. Oh yeah, and Maytag near the lower
run's takeout! Pretty fun rapid with a pretty munchy hole! This river has improved tons in recent
years about people should support an environmental victory! If you're ever in East Tennesee you
have to get on this river and try it out! Happy paddling!
October 25 2002 (5926 days ago)
Chris GuptillDetails
One more little note about Accelerator:
It was created when the folks building
I-40 blasted out part of the river bed.
Thus, it's an unnatural rapid. being
upside down in your boat here is real
bad, as the natural angular cleavage of
the rocks in the area and the blasting
combined make for a rather chaotic
river bed. I've run the hole here a
whole lot of times (I was a guide
there), and it is frequently run by hard
boaters. But for pete's sake, hit it
straight. There are a lot of nasty little
obstacles just below. if you want to
avoid the hole, I would suggest setting
up more center. There's a green
highway that will take you straight
Oh, and at lower flows, running the
cheat line on the right in the Guide can
almost be harder and more
dangerous from a flipping stand point
in the hole. That side is real shallow,
and I've seen a number of head
injuries there from boaters who rode
down underwater. Hit the hole straight
and you're golden.
May 2 2002 (6102 days ago)
Lawrence BrewerDetails
A few additional notes on the Pigeon:
Powerhouse rapid, the first ww after the putin, is a 100 yard stretch of solid Class III. Just
after that is Full of Water, a short Class III drop that is playable.

Lost Guide is a Class III rapid with a Class IV slot (raft line middle, just left of the pourover).
I've seen kayaks and people held and recerculated in the hole and a number of commercial rafts flip
there. The hole isn't as sticky now as it once was 5-6 years ago (spring floods shifted the rocks
there) when a raft guide had to be resusitated on the rock just below the rapid.

The other 2 rapids which, along with the Guide, constitute the Big 3 on the Pigeon are Double
Reactionary and Accellerator and you'll find them around 3.5 miles down. On Double, the entire
river is pushed through a 15-20 foot slot on river left, where Tombstone rock creates a 4-5 foot
curling wave to the right. There is also a hole in the entrance that slows you down before getting
to the curler. The rapid is III+/IV depending on level.

Just after Double, on river right, is a great P&P surf spot for advanced paddlers called Super
Glue. It's very surfable, but there is great potential to smack the rock that causes the hole if
you flip...quite a few teeth have been lost there.

Accellerator is about 75 yards after Super Glue. It is a 25 yard stretch which loses 12-15 feet of
elevation, with a river wide horizon line. The kayak line is right-to-left, skirting the Class IV
President's Hole at the bottom. The raft line is to barrell over the hole. The good thing is either
way you will hit it with a lot of speed. The bad thing is it is the worst swim on the river
(Powerhouse is bad, too, but the rock aren't very sharp...Accellerator is lined with some cutters).
There is also significant foot-entrapment risk here.

Summer releases are usually between 1,000-1,200 cfs which is pretty tame. If you get the chance to
go 1,800 to 2,000, it'll be a pushy, fun ride. 2,500 and up starts washing out the drops but still
makes for a fun raft trip.

BTW, the river has really made a lot of progress returning to health in recent years. According to
TWRA it is again supporting a significant fish population and is on par with most other area rivers
as far as pollution levels (thanks for your work, AW!!!). However, it still has a brownish tinge
and some suds from the Canton, NC papermill releasing color into the water.


Calendar Control Date:
Calendar by Date by Title

August 2008

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs

Pigeon Releases
12:00 am -6:00 pm est
1200 cfs


Pigeon Releases Hartford,TN runs 04/28/08 - 08/30/08
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