Allow me to preface my comments by first stating that I have been floating along this section of the Watauga River --- more specifically, from the Wilbur Dam Put-In to the groomed Blackbottom Take-Out in Elizabethton near the Joe O'Brien baseball park --- since 1974 and that I have also previously worked for about eight seasons as a rafting guide group leader.
Wilbur Dam Put-In 36.351621, -82.132048
Blackbottom Take-Out (Elizabethton) 36.355785, -82.230753
(just north of the intersection of Ash Street and W. Riverside Drive at the Elizabethton Riverside Park)
It is an approximate two-hour trip (non-stop) from the Wilbur Dam Put-In to the Blackbottom Take-Out when the TVA is operating on a scheduled release of impounded reservoir waters.
Each of the bridges that you float under will also provide you with a really good indicator of your lapsed time and distance toward the Blackbottom Take-Out:
1st - Siam Bridge (~30 minutes on the Watauga River);
2nd- Hunter Bridge (~60 minutes on the Watauga River);
3rd - Gilbert Peters Bridge (~90 minutes on the Watauga River) and;
4th - Bristol Bridge (~120 minutes on the Watauga River).
The Elizabethton Riverside Park starts just downstream of the Bristol Bridge and the Blackbottom Take-Out itself is an additional 10 to 15 minutes downstream on the left downstream side of the Watauga River.
In previous years, the Tennessee Valley Authority would announce a summer release schedule and this agency would release impounded Wilbur and Watauga Reservoir waters beginning with a one generator release at approximately 1:00 p.m to 6:00 p.m. EST for each day, Monday through Friday. Each Saturday begins one generator release from 12:00 p.m. (noon) to 1:00 p.m. EST followed by a two generator release from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., then back to the one generator release from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.
When I was working as a Watauga River rafting guide group leader, the owners of our local rafting company would refer to a one generator release from the TVA Wilbur Reservoir as a "half-load" and to the two generator release as a "full load" --- and on occasion, you can arrive at the Wilbur Dam Put-In with the 3Gs (guides, gear, and guests) and observe additional water being released over the tops of the Wilbur Dam spillways.
You should also keep in mind that a "minimum release" is not the same volume of released water as a "one generator release", Sunday releases of impounded reservoir waters into the Watauga River are not guaranteed by the Tennessee Valley Authority and tend to be the minimum releases of impounded reservoir water at Wilbur Dam that will, more often, not provide you with an enjoyable outing on this section of the Watauga River, so you should keep that fact in mind if you are planning to drive long distances and/or shell out the big bucks for a commercial rafting trip. My advice is to stay with the Monday through Saturday schedule.
"Wilbur - Latest Operating Information", Tennessee Valley Authority.
The largest whitewater rapids are the Bee Cliff Rapids (local name) that are located at an elevation slightly below 1600 feet and found south to south-east of the Bee Cliff:
Bee Cliff Rapids (upper end, upstream) 36.351621, -82.132048
Bee Cliff Rapids (lower end, downstream) 36.351537, -82.134644
The International Scale of River Difficulty for the Bee Cliff Rapids is dependent upon how much impounded river water is being released on any given day from both the Wilbur Reservoir and the Watauga Reservoir by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but I would tend to give it a variable rating it as II+, III.
The Bee Cliff Rapids has one brief and large river hydraulic located on a 15 foot left bank line-up that we locally referred to as "The Big Hole" --- if you or your guide hits "The Big Hole" correctly with a raft, the hydraulic will catch, briefly hold, and move the direction of your raft from the left side to the right side of the "The Big Hole" before releasing your boat out closer to the center of the rapids.
One major North Carolina rafting company promotes the Bee Cliff Rapids as the "Anaconda Rapids" on its company web site all while never disclosing the fact that this section of the Watauga River is actually located well within Tennessee.
The right side on a 20-25 right bank line-up of the Bee Cliff Rapids has a series of three (as I recall) washboard shelves, and I have personally observed another company's canoes flip end-over-end when this right-side section of the Bee Cliff Rapids was visually obscured by fog during a "full load" release.
A milder course down the middle of the Bee Cliff Rapids will catch some of the right-side washboard punch.
A local landowner owns the private property on the south side (left bank downstream) of the Bee Cliff Rapids that has a maintained trail and picnic area along these rapids that allows rafting companies with purchased landing rights to circuit their rafts and guests back up the trail and relaunch their rafts immediately upstream of the Bee Cliff Rapids.
800.238.2264 - 42 for automated service
865.632.6065 day / 865.632.7063 evening, for a very helpful person
when there is a relase of signifigant quantity 3000+ squirt boaters should check out the island behind the sycamore shoals park in elizabethton. there seems to be a nice seam in the river.
real mellow run. beautiful scenery. I've been using hand paddles and a dark colored boat to quietly sneak up on the wildlife, it's fun!
This listing is slightly misleading. The stretch begins at Wilbur Dam and typically goes to the Hunter Bridge. Approx 3 miles downstream. Going on the park in Elizabethton makes for an 8 mile trip. There is a nice little hole at the B-cliff rapid approx 3/4 mile below the put-in. The whole run is roadside and a trip of any lenth can be worked out. Releases happen every weekend in the summer. Call the TVA line and enter 42 for the dam number.
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