The Guest River Gorge is the final half-dozen or so miles of the Guest River before it enters the Clinch River in the Upper Tennessee Watershed.
The Guest was originally called Guests River and is named after Christopher Gist, an early explorer in the Appalachian area.
The Gorge flows through the Guest River Gorge Recreation area, which also contains a Rails-to-trails style bike trail, which is wide and slightly sloping, and visible for much of the run. The trail is on River Left for all of the run with the exception of the first quarter mile of easy class I-II. Most of the run is visible from the trail or a short walk from it. The more difficult section (after putting in from 29 down to Whorehouse) is not visible from the trail, but can be accessed with a little bush-wacking.
FYI, there's also good rock climbing, trad and sport, on the cliffs you can see from the river/trail. Currently climbing is off limits in the summer months due to falcon nesting.
Overview of the Run:
The Guest has a “Bell Curve” style gradient: it starts out with easy class II-III rapids, moves into a consistent and sustained series of class IV rapids with one solid V, then slows back down to Class II and III rapids before hitting the flat water on the Clinch.
There is one mandatory portage on the river and wood is nearly always an issue. The run is easily navigable by experienced paddlers, just be sure to scout. It is also a great high water alternative to the Russell Fork Breaks section (about 1.5 hours away); and with a proper guide + scouting + portages, it can be a great step-up run for beginning creekers.
On the whole, the river is comparable to other river runs in the area, including the Powell and the Russell Fork. However, it is much longer and has more rapids than both of those runs put together. There is nothing quite as distinct and difficult as, say, El Horrendo or Triple Drop (on the Fork), but it is a long, chunky run with funky, creeky rapids. In general, I think it can be a mean river, especially to swimmers, and I don’t think it has completely mellowed out from when the railroad bed was blown into the river in the early 20th century. At high water, it is a formidable run with serious consequences (it is also fun as heck at those levels, just be careful).
There is a great video guide to the river on YouTube. I was not on this run, but it looks to be about 15-18 inches (450 - 600 CFS) in the video.
We are slowly compiling a correspondence between the relatively new USGS gauge and the painted gauge on the center piller of the US. 72 bridge near Coeburn, VA. Please check the level on both when you boat the Guest and post the correspondence in the comments, or email them to me. Actually, better yet, email me before you go and we'll paddle it together!
200-300 CFS = 0-6 inches on the center pillar: LOW
This is bare minimum for getting down the river. It is pretty difficult at ELF levels, and is not very fun. On a pretty summer day, though, it might be worth it.
I look at moving to the Russell Fork at these levels. If the Guest is a possibility, there should definitely be water in the Fork.
300- 400 CFS = 6-12 inches : Medium Low
These are low but still fun levels on the Guest. A good level to combine with the Russell Fork for a long but very fun day since the Fork has a probability of not being too high at these levels.
400-590 CFS = 12-18 inches: MEDIUM
These are some fun levels, and are the most typical for runs on the Guest. I will describe rapids below at this water level. Not a lot of push, but clean lines through most rapids. (*clean in terms of the Guest we should say, which is relative)
590-720 CFS : 18- 24 inches: Medium High
Very fun levels, but starting to get pushy. Pins (though always present) become less of an issue at this level, but holes start to get sticky. For an experienced, IV-V paddler with a guide and/or some lower water runs under their belt, these are GREAT levels.
720-1100 CFS : 24 – 42 inches. HIGH.
Starting to get quite pushy, and is scary in places. Holes are a big issue, and beatdowns are likely if you end up in one. A swim would totally and completely SUCK, and would be very dangerous.
That said, I’ve run it in these higher levels and it is a blast. I usually walk “28 and 1/2” at these levels, though.
Start looking for Little Stoney Creek to be a run at the mid to upper end of these levels.
1100 +: 42 inches +. VERY HIGH.
I’ve never been on the Guest at these levels, but I’ve walked down it. It looks quite scary when it gets to about 5 feet on the center pillar. I think it's somewhere around 10 feet that the sieve at 29 gets covered up.
It is definitely doable, though, for a team of solid Class V paddlers. Personally, I'd rather run Little Stoney.
Just a thought: It would be possible to set shuttle for both Little Stoney Creek and the Guest at the same time at these levels. The mouth of Little Stoney is only a few miles downstream from the Guest on the Clinch and at these very high levels, the Clinch is flat booking it so the distance between takeouts is negligible. Just watch out for floating cows, trailers, etc. on the Clinch.
The AFWS Fox Gap rain gauge has been out of service for a while and just recently came back on line. If it continues to report data then that's a good thing. An indicator of rainfall is the Divide Ridge rain gauge which is located one ridge over from the headwaters of the Guest. If it recieves a good amount of rainfall, the Guest is likely a go.
Update on comment made below. The last two times I ran the Guest (since Januaury), we could get under the log mentioned on the left side of the island. Do not go to the right of the island as mentioned previously. There is a new strainer to the right. It does not look like you can get around it. The portage around the strainer on river left is very easy on the left side of the river.
Some friends and I ran this on Thursday (6/20/03). There was a strainer across the left channel at the top of the island above 29 or Toilet Bowl. This is what I have always called the rapid where the water goes under the two rocks on the left. You have to run to the right of the island. We hit an eddy on river right just before the river curves back left above Toilet Bowl. We made the portage on river right from there. There is a slot on river right that some people may run to avoid the second part of the portage on the right. Beware, there is barbed wire across the river from the right side to a rock in the middle. Very difficult to see. We were not sure how it got there. There are also some limbs in the left side of the slot sticking out from under the rock. The level was 2.5' on the middle pylon. On the right pylon it was 1.5'.
Mark Copeland, John Heffernan and I ran it Tuesday (6/2/04). The level was 3 feet on the center pillar. The log on the left side of the island above 29 was still there. Do not run the right side of the island. There have been strainers on that side also. We could not see if they were still there yesterday. Also, there is a large hole as the river turns left on the back side of the island. It would be difficult to punch and hit the last eddy before being swept into 29. This was a fun but very pushy level. There are large holes and pour overs to avoid. Be sure to know the run and what to expect before trying it at a higher level like this.
Gerald Delong and I ran this on Monday (4/4/05). Gerald said the right gauge was 14 inches. The center gauge is difficult to read. It felt like 2.5' to me. The limbo log is still across the river left channel of the island upstream of 29. Gerald raised it with rocks so we could get under it. This probably will not be permanent. There was a new log on the right side of the 6 foot drop above 29 in the river left island channel. It is easily avoided as you normally run the left side of this drop. There are still logs in the river right channel. It looks like they have shifted downstream almost to the confluence of the two channels above 29.
When the Guest is running at a medium flow [about 1 ft on the middle pillar of the bridge], the run is continuous Class IV+, and contains a mandatory portage about 1/3 into the run. AND you better know where it is!! If you love creekin in the Appalachians, then find someone who knows the river & the lines, and you will not be disappointed. Wood is a constant issue so be very watchful. There was a massive snow storm in December 2009 that resulted in a lot of wood in the stream bed.
New AW gauge is up at the bridge on Rt 72. At 650 cfs, this translates to 2ft on the center pillar. This level is a medium/high level for most mortals.
As of today there is not Significant wood in the Guest Gorge. For the record, Even if the Gauge (powell near big stone gap) is on the downslope and only at 250cfs, the Guest is still very runnable and not low at all until the end when the river widens a bit. I was very pleasantly surprised today to find the river at 9 inches. Great run, Don't hear much about it though, wonder why that is?
I also found some Pictures of some other rapids here http://geocities.com/billh1970/pics/Guest_River/guest_river_pics_2001.html
Since 2012, there has been an USGS gauge on the river, right under the US HWY 72 Bridge. There is also a painted gauge under the bridge that paddlers who have been paddling the run for a few years will inevitably refer to.
The correspondence between the painted gauge and the online gauge is still being worked out. Please make a note when you run the Guest of both levels and post it here.
Look at moving to the Russell Fork at these levels. If the Guest is a possibility, there should definitely be water in the Fork.
That said, I’ve run it in these higher levels and it is a blast. I always walk “28 and 1/2” at these levels, though.
Start looking for Little Stoney Creek to be a run at these levels.
I’ve never been on the Guest at these levels, but I’ve walked down it. It looks quite scary when it gets to about 5 feet on the center pillar. It is definitely doable, though, for a team of solid Class V paddlers.
Just a thought: It would be possible to set shuttle for both Little Stoney Creek and the Guest at the same time at these levels. The mouth of Little Stoney is only a few miles downstream from the Guest on the Clinch and at these very high levels, the Clinch is flat booking it so the distance between takeouts is negligible. Just watch out for floating cows, etc. on the Clinch.
Permits are not required for this reach.
To the Put-In (Google Map Link):
From Coeburn: Take State Route 72 South about 5 miles or so and look for a prominent National Forest Sign that says “Guest River Gorge Recreation Area”; Take a left—the parking lot at the bottom is the trail head.
Directions to the Take-Out (Google Map Link):
From Coeburn, drive south on 72 about 15 miles, about 10 miles past the turn off to the put-in. Look for Miller’s Yard Ln road on the left BEFORE crossing the 72 Bridge over Little Stoney Creek. (if you cross the US 72 bridge over Little Stoney, turn around, and it will be the first turn off on the right after re-crossing the bridge).
Proceed out this road until it dead ends at the river (about 3 miles or so).
Whorehouse @ 1ft.
Be My Guest
Eddy above boof
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