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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a class 2 standing wave rapid where the river bends to the right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought I'd have to read a book for a disvcoery like this!
AKAIK you've got the anewsr in one!
I hate my life but at least this makes it bebarlae.
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!
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.
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!!
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 there.
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.
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!"
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!
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.
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.
Boatable releases occur on the Pigeon most of the year. In addition to the releases whose main purpose is to generate power, Progress Energy is required to provide recreational releases from 12noon to 6pm (as recorded at a brige one mile downstream from the put-in) every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. They are also required to provide recreational releases from 2pm to 6pm (as recorded at the brige) three weekdays a week for each of the four weeks preceeding Memorial Day weekend.
Call 1-800-899-4435 to hear a recorded message announcing the anticipated release dates for the coming week. The message is updated every Friday year round. For current Pigeon River Gorge levels, consult the boatingbeta MyFlows page. The minimum recreational release is 1200 cfs.
We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is
gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If
you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.
The gauge is located in Tennessee about 1/2 mile below Walter's power plant. 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 functional.
Minimum runnable flow for hard boats (kayaks, C-1's, etc) is about 300 cfs. You'd probably want 600 to take a raft down. Each of the 3 turbines from the power station puts out slightly over 600 cfs at full flow. The scheduled releases are almost always 2 turbines plus the flow from Big Creek and the creeks in the "Drys" between the dam and the power station. Thus you normally see around 1300-1400 cfs on release days.
With Dukes rolling 3-day generation forecast the next section of text is probably no longer necessary but I'll leave it up for a while. **If you are trying to figure out how likely power generation (and thus boatable flows) will be on a given day look at a lake level, inflow, and likely power needs. The lake level can be obtained herehttps://lakes.duke-energy.com/index.html#/lakes You will have to use the dropdown menu to get to Waterville lake The top of the reservoir is 100. It seems to rarely go below 70. If the reservoir is above 90 Progress Energy/ Duke has plenty of water. Your next step is to look at the USGS surface water data for North Carolina and the Pigeon at Hepco and Jonathan Creek gauges. http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nc/nwis/current/?type=flow They are the two measured inputs to the lake. The higher the inflow the more likely generation is. Electrical power has a value in dollars per megawatt hours that varies with power demand. The higher the demand, the higher the price . It's fairly obvious that a power company would like ot get as much money as they can from a hydro plant which is 'fuel' (i.e. water) limited.. Power demand is very low from midnight to around 6 or 7 am so you will rarely see hydro generation at that time, except during the winter months. During winter months, power demand is often driven by electric heating (including heat pumps). You will often see power generation on cold nights during the winter months. In general, power demand is highest on Mon - Fri, less on Sat, even less on Sunday. If it is a hot day lots of air conditioners will be running - and the hydro plants likel will be on in the afternoon. You can also go to the USGS streamflow page and look at what the recent pattern has been.
For those willing to do a little math. Take the sum of the flows for the Pigeon at Hepco and Jonathan Cr and add 10% (to account for the unmonitored flows into the lake) - that will be your inflow. I will use an example - if the Pigeon @ Hepco is 500 cfs and Jonathan Cr is 50 cfs, the sum is 550. adding 10% (55) gives me an inflow of 605 cfs. This 605 cfs is about one turbine ... so Duke / Progress could run one turbine 24 hours a day or all 3 units for 8 hours. They would almost always choose something like the 3 turbine scenario as making electricity at 2 am with the one turbine gets them very little $$$. If your inflow anaylsis was half of the above example (i.e. 300 cfs coming in to the lake) they could run one turbine for 12 hours, 2 turbines for 6 hours, or 3 turbines for 4 hours. In this case the 2 and 3 turbine (or a 2 1/2 turbine release) is much more likely than one turbine since they can concentrate on peak demand and thus peak price. You should also go to the USGS NC page and click on the gauge number for Pigeon R Bl Power Plant. This will bring up a graph of the last 7 days and you can see what the recent pattern has been. This same graph is on the AWA page.
With these tools you can usually guess with around 80-90% accuracy whether or not there will be generation, about what time of day... and even how many units.
Permits are not required for this reach.
To get to the put-in take I-40 exit 451 in Tennessee, cross the bridge and turn upstream (left). In about a mile you will come to the parking area at the put-in. To get to the takeout, go back to I-40 and head west to exit 447. At the end of that ramp, turn left and cross under I-40 and you will come to a 3 way stop sign.
If you turn left (upstream) in about 1/4 mile you will come to where there is a bridge across the Pigeon. There is a small gravel parking area and turnaround next to a large open field where you can park. the large open field is leased by Cocke County.
If you turn right at the stop sign, you can travel downstream to the fairly well marked NOC outpost. There is parking for about 25 private boater's vehicles there next to the slalom poles.
If you are arriving at the takeout first and coming from the west (Knoxville) the end of the ramp leaves you between NOC and the stop sign, but much closer to the stop sign.
May 2017 Charlie's Shuttle Service, run by the "retired" former owner of Rip Roaring Adventures, is now offering shuttle service from the public takeout at the Hartford bridge up to the power plant. He has a 12 passenger van and a utility trailer than can hold 4-6 kayaks or more. He plans to hang out at the take out, arriving a little before the generators start releasing, and stay there most of the day. Call Charlie at 423-608-0582. Price in early May 2017 was very, very reasonable.
Car in Pigeon
Highway line in Accelerator
Double Reactionary Upper Hole
Full of Water
Tony & Pete @ Powerhouse
Hal at BFR
BIG F$#&@*& ROCK
Lost Guide (Kayak Sneak)
Lost Guide (Lower Section)
Lost Guide (Raft/Meat Line)
Walters Dam Powerhouse
Christy looking mean at Double Reactionary
Jeff looking down at Double Reactionary
(MN) The ultimate shuttle vehicle.. when its not broken down
VCC on Pigeon
VCC Surfing on Pigeon
The Dragon Baby
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