Little Pigeon, West Prong - 1. Chimneys Trailhead to Chimneys Picnic Area

Little Pigeon, West Prong, Tennessee, US


1. Chimneys Trailhead to Chimneys Picnic Area (Trailhead)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 1.8 Miles
Avg. Gradient 380 fpm
Max Gradient 520 fpm

West Prong

West Prong
Photo of Ross Whitaker by Alex Harvey

River Description

Ah. The West Prong. No other place in Tennessee brings chill bumps quite like this one. Way back in the day, the West Prong was the hot spot for Knoxville, TN boaters and to this day remains one of many in the Smokies to spark both love and fear. You've heard of people doing laps on it. You've heard of people getting trashed on it. But most importantly, you've heard of people having all-out-good-boofin'-fun on it.

The put in is at the confluence of Road and Walker Camp Prongs at the Chimney's trailhead. Walk across the bridge and put in on river left to run the first 5ft. slot just below the bridge. Or, to skip this drop, put in on river right just below the bridge.

The next mile is jam packed full of class IV-IV+ complex drops. Most rapids are best run where most of the water is! Just go with the flow. Perhaps that's a given, but be prepaired for lots of boat scouting/scouting and small eddy hoping if no one in your group is familiar with the territory. Within this mile is the first named rapid, Picture Perfect Boof. There may be other names, but this is what I have always heard. This will be the first big horizon line that you come to and also, the last place to get out of the gorge (of ease) if anyone is shaken up. The river takes a left turn and the road can be seen 75-100yrds above. The boof is located pretty much in the center of the river and with water levels of .8-1.2ft, roughly, it is noted by a small triangular rock sticking out of the water. The slot is only 2-3ft. wide and about 8 feet tall. Boof straight and hard as you enter several holes and curlers following. Large eddy on river left just below this series of rapids.

Soon, you'll come upon the steepest section of the Trailhead, noted by a river wide 5ft. ledge that should be run river left with low water and river right with high water. A large pool is below. Hit the eddy and beach on river right to scout Dinosaur. The first two drops each have eddys on river left just after them. It is best to catch the second eddy to set up properly for the final drop as seen in the video and pictures. At higher water, many like to take the far river right line, a 3ft boof, just above the big one to maintain the far right line on the final drop. At low water, from the eddy, you will have to work river left of this boof and then cut back river right for the final drop. Of course, always watch out for the bitch rock located 2-3 feet above the big one ready to screw you over. Catch the eddy on river right just below the drop, get some points with the splat straight ahead, or make a quick turn to the left through the shallows. Avoid running river left down the final drop as it leads to a uncomfortable pillow eddy that continually feeds back into the hole.

Just below Dinosaur there are several slots to choose from. Run the far right 4 foot slot with higher water levels, but watch out for the nasty rock you might hit. The left slot was pioneered by Travis from Knoxville and is a low water alternative to the right side. After this drop, work your way to river left through several more drops. The river will start turning to the left somewhat and notice a silver box in a small eddy. "The Box" is a 7' tall 2' wide slot that should be run on far river left just below the box. River right of this drop is one of the places to avoid on the leads to sieves and lots of wood that continually collects there.

The next drop, which I don't know the name of, is pretty steep and trashy, probably droping around 15 ft total. Keep your gaurd up on this one and your paddle well-gripped. It tends to snatch paddles. Below this are several s-turn drops, working river left and then back right over a course of 25-30 yards.

The next two are double drops, quite shallow, and super-tight. The first one is the drop above "Big Tree" and has a noticable line and some great boofs. Collect in the eddy below and scout, if possible, "Big Tree". This double drop is on far river right with a very definate horizon line and a shallow, shelf- like entrance. The first drop is 5-6 feet straight onto a rock, then straight into a 9-10 footer that lands in a mini-canyon some 4-5 feet wide. Catch the eddy if you can, or go straight into the 7foot slot below.

Big tree is a wonderful ending to the Class V and marks the beginning of lots of shallow class III-III+. The picnic area begins here along with several islands and lasts for a 1/2mile. With low water, don't bother paddling this. Higher up, the shallows ain't so bad.

Overall, the Trailhead is a wonderful section of the West Prong that should not be taken lightly. It drops close to 650ft from the trailhead bridge to the highway 441 bridge, with mad gradient from Dinosaur on. So, if you are not comfortable with the section above Picture Perfect Boof please get out! Few accidents have ever happened on this river and we need to keep it this way. Know your limits. This is non-stop, boat-meeting-rock whitewater.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-05-28 15:51:10


Rapid Descriptions

icon of message No rapids entered. If you know names, and locations of the rapids please contact and advise the StreamTeam member for this run.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
March 26 2011 (2857 days ago)
bridgepaddler (152902)
I've looked at this run a bunch of times but never been able to get on it , but while in town with
the parents and hiking around I walked up from the chimney tops campground/ picnic area today to a
spot bout a quarter of a mile from the campground area and noticed a huge hemlock had fallen across
the whole creek. Looks like all lines lead into the mess of trees and Its at the base of a pretty
steep drop. It may not be noticeable from boat scouting and It looks like it would skewer anyone
coming towards it due to the broken branches. Looks like rain in the forecast and just didn't want
anyone to have a big surprise. Sorry don't know the name of the rapid but there it a big log
perched on a rock in the center of the river before the main entrance to the drop. Just keep a
heads up!
July 1 2009 (3490 days ago)
Mark SingletonDetails
Park Dispatch Office number (865) 436-1230 See BoaterTalk post: June 25, 2009 - If you didn't catch it, an
overturned kayak was found just outside of the Smokies on the MP of the Little Pigeon. It spurred a
search and rescue scenario that was serious enough for it to be reported to local TV stations. Not
sure of the outcome and I hope everyone is OK. But this did raise a very significant question. Who
do we notify when we a boat gets pinned or gets out of our control in the Smokies and darkness or
other circumstances force us to abandon it for any period of time? My friend Russell asked this
question and this was his post on a local paddling list serve. I asked the GSMNP folks what would
be the best way to report a lost boat.Here is their reply: Hello, If there is a report of an
accident or missing person, the park responds and/or conducts a search, but just finding an empty
kayak in the water would not necessarily result in a full-fledged search and rescue effort as the
town of Pittman Center launched during the recent incident. If one of your club members loses a
boat, but is otherwise okay, please call the park's Dispatch Office at (865) 436-1230 to let them
know that an empty boat may be found and it is not an emergency situation. This is a non-emergency
line which is staffed from 6:00 a.m. - midnight, but if a serious accident or other emergency has
occurred in the park, sometimes all available dispatchers have to concentrate on radio
communications among responding units and don't answer the line. If there is an accident with a
serious injury or a member of your party is known to be missing, please call 911. Best regards,C.
BloomGreat Smoky Mountains National Park
August 28 2008 (3797 days ago)
x (1)
I regret to inform this community that on tuesday evening we lost a very special person to the
boating community to this river. Issac Ludwig was an amazing person and lived for boating, He
taught me and others soo much and could have taught us so much more. this week of rain has brought
great joy and even greater sadness to all of us. I want dedicate this weekend of boating to an
amazing boater and great friend, Issac we all will miss you so much brother...
March 8 2004 (5431 days ago)
From Boatertalk:
Forum: BoaterTalk
Re: Altitude confirmation needed. Attn Bradley LVM New
Date: Mar 08 2004, 14:23 GMT
From: deluge

Road prong is 1100ft (1.9 miles) from putin 1/4 mile above greenlight falls. If you go from here
and do west prong all the way down to last take out (below in a hurry) that is just about 3000 feet
of drop with no portages (unless you want). If you did road prong from third bridge it is .6 miles
and about 300-350 feet. upper west prong is 700 feet (1.7 miles) from foot bridge to 441 bridge.
441 brige to last take out is 3.3-3.5 miles and a little over 1100 feet. Campbell over is a mile
less.- howard
September 22 2003 (5599 days ago)
Newest reports have 1.5 being the high water cut off.
May 13 2003 (5731 days ago)
The W. Prong guage has changed. It now reads around
1/3' lower. So now I guess 1 1/2- 1 3/4 is my high
water cut off for the lower (it was done wensday at 1
3/4) and 1/2' is the low h2o cutoff. No new bad trees
and no major changes with alot aoff small ones.
hope it rains more- Howard