The Cheoah River is located in the extreme southwestern corner of NC, near Robbinsville. For 77 years the nine-mile section between the Santeetlah Dam and Lake Calderwood was dewatered. American Whitewater along with the Western North Carolina Paddlers advocated for releases for over 6 years. Whitewater releases on the Cheoah began in the fall of 2005. Each year there are at least 18 releases for paddlers to enjoy for the next 40 years.
The Cheoah is unusual for rivers of its volume in the Southeast in that its gradient is relatively constant. This means that with the exception of 2 or 3 half mile or so sections, it is unusually continuous, more so than anything else with a similar volume of water in the Southeast. Some call it "warm western-style paddling;" those paddling it at the higher winter 2002 flows continued the Western analogies, comparing it to Pine Creek on the Arkansas and the Lochsa at high water. No doubt contributing to the analogies was the water quality, which was crystal clear during the winter flows. It has become a classic southeastern run.
The portion of the Cheoah from Outland Gas and Grocery to Lake Calderwood can be broken into three sections: a 1.5 mile brushy and tree-clogged upper section with a number of sticky holes and a potentially troublesome river-wide ledge a bit downstream of the hydroelectric bypass pipe, a 4 mile relatively open and mild middle section that features some nice wave trains at higher water levels, and a 1.5 mile lower section with the most gradient and the best defined drops. Efforts have been made to clear channels in the upper sections of the river, however there are large root balls scattered throughout the stream bed and swimmers should be extremely careful.
At flows of about 1000 cfs or under, the upper section is about a half grade and the middle section a full grade easier than the lower section, with the first two sections similar in difficulty to the Ocoee. The risks are greater, however, as much of the channel is heavily lined with trees and brush, giving the run a nature akin to paddling during a flood. The main technical challenge is presented by the frequent series of offset holes. Because of the trees and brush, it is not a good place to paddle if you don't have a rock-solid roll and the ability to read water well on the fly (bank scouting would not be fun).
The lower section is the best defined, with a number of classic drops. It begins at the bridge on which the Bearpen Gap gauge is located. My favorites were the sequence of four drops with the biggest single drop on the river (a ledge about 8 feet high) being the third and the drop beginning at the bridge downstream of the Tapoco Lodge. There were many, many waves to surf and a number of very playable holes, including two potential rodeo sites: one at Tapoco Lodge and one at the end of the drop beginning at the bridge downstream of the Lodge.
At the highest level paddled during the summer test releases (4.7 feet / 1,130 cfs), the upper and lower sections were much closer in difficulty as the offset holes were beginning to get sticky. The hole below the river-wide ledge was beginning to look scary at this level; recovery after a swim would be challenging due to the thickets of trees growing in the water and on both banks for a considerable distance downstream. The lower section didn't change much, so the result was a run that was a lot more fun but not any scarier (assuming strong class IV skills, and keeping in mind that the Ocoee only requires strong class III skills). If more of the trees and brush were removed, the upper run would almost certainly get easier at every level as paddlers wouldn't be forced to run through the meat of the holes and the entrapment danger would be lower.
For the upcoming schedule of releases see: http://www.smokymountainhydro.com/content/about/santeetlah-35694.html.
Be sure to stop by the store near the put in and buy a US Forest Service wrist band for each day you paddle.
See also Chris Bell's Asheville-Area Boating Beta Page.
4.15' / 670 cfs
4.50' / 950 cfs
4.55' / 1010 cfs
4.70' / 1130 cfs
5.3' / 1840 cfs?
6.8' / 4000 cfs?
Video Podcast about the Cheoah Relicensing
AW's Kevin Colburn and Jeff Paine talk with John Grace of Lunch Video Magazine about the Cheoah relicensing project.
LVMTV :: Monday Morning Madhouse 3/16; American Whitewater's successes with Cheoah Releases from Lunch Video Magazine on Vimeo.
Updated Rapid names.....
Craik's Ledge, III mile 8.5
Southern Revival, III+, mile 6.4 (first long rapids below the store) Pipewalk, III+ mile 6.3 God's Dam, IV mile 6.2 Jeff's Wood, Class III (rapid below God's Dam) Takeout, IV(IV+)mile 6.1
The lines from right to left...
The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly Hancock's Ledge, III+(IV) mile 5.6 Yellow Creek Rapid, III+(IV) mile 5.1
Land of 1000 Holes, IV Mile 4.6 The Dead Sea, mile 3.7 Forest Service Bridge mile 1.9 Rod's Hole, III, mile 1.8 Fear Factor IV+ mile 1.5 (Entrance to Bear Creek Rapid), Bear Creek Falls, IV+ mile 1.1 Tail of the Dragon(River Right), IV mile 0.7 West Prong Line(River Left), IV+ mile 0.7 Tapoco Lodge Rapid, IV mile 0.5 Yard Sale,The Holes...
(Cupcake, Beefcake,& Shitcake)IV+ mile 0.4 Fugitive, Class III mile 0.1
The Cheoah got paddled on january 25th, 26th,and 27th at flows ranging from well over 2500 cfs down to 1000 cfs. higher flows were NOT compared to the ocoee, they were compared to the Arkansas Numbers with Pine Creek Rapid at the bottom, like the Lower 5 of the North Fork of the Payette, and like a continuous Lochsa. Even the lower flows were awesome and challenging and aesthetic. The water was clear/blue, the air was 60-70 degrees, the locals were curious and enjoyable to chat with, and the river was incomparable. There is nothing like it left in the Southeast, It is Incredible.
After a 12,000 cfs spill on 5/7/03 big chunks of the road (129) are gone. So while the Cheoah is running 2G and holding (a VERY GOOD LEVEL), there is really no way to access it that i know of unless you feel like running a 200+ mile shuttle! Call DOT before heading out there. It is possible you could run part of the River but just not the whole thing...
Check out a photo... Notice the debris on the road that shows that there were several more feet of water in the river....
Here's a video of the last 2 miles of the run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMbbh7QwIPk&t=1s
Myself and Craig rowed 13 foot catarafts down the Cheoah this past weekend at 1000cfs. The upper section was a little tight with the brush but half way down it opened up nicely. Craig ran 9 foot oars, l ran 8 footers. Had an awesome time.
It is not yet known how he is doing, but thanks to Shayne he was revived and air lifted to Knoxville. If anyone has any more information please post it as it helps us all paddle safer.
Great River! No serious obstructions during the latest release.
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To see some cool pictures of this section, check out my friend Woody DuBois's photos and videos http://picasaweb.google.com/tm.dubois/20090621Cheoah# . These were taken in 2009. P.S. I'm in the blue Prijon Boxer, number 10 frame.
Some email reports just in over the
weekend. Thought I'd share with the
Geoff Kohl comments-
Just ran Cheoah with some other
first-timers on Saturday, January 26,
2002, at around six feet, a level we guess
that would equate to something like 2,700
cfs (it dropped to about 5.4 while we were
on the river). It was big, pushy and
thrilling. The Cheoah is definitely an
instant southeastern whitewater classic.
The big ledge and the area immediately
downstream on the right are the only parts
that seem to start to get troubling due to
the nature of some huge offset holes. The
rapid below Tapoco Lodge (past the bridge)
is worth remembering, well-defined lines
with huge hidden holes at five-and-a-half
It could definitely go higher than this,
but I don't think any of these rapids will
wash out--they'll just create more monster
There is one hazard I'd mention, and that
is a set of cables that are in the river
just upstream of the power house (and just
downstream of the below-the-bridge rapid).
Even though I saw them while in an
upstream eddy, I lost track of one
silverish cable and came quite close to it
while paddling downstream. My friend said
he saw black cables in the water too. This
is quite close to the upstream IV rapid
when the water is up, and a paddler in our
group swam just above the cabled section.
Had he not found an eddy, it could have
been a scary situation.
Scott Hanshaw comments-
Ran it on Sat, Jan 26, 2002. Level was
around 5.5 on the USGS gauge. This
was an unbelievable run! This level is
higher than the test releases, which
made for an incredibly wild ride, But I
can see that at the higher end of
the test levels (900+) This would still be
a great run. A group of us
paddlers from Arkansas would usually make
4+ trips a summer, out east, to
the Ocoee. We have slowed down some in the
last few years because the Ocoee
has lost its "zip". If regularly scheduled
releases were set up on this
river, I'm certain we would be road
tripping often. At the release levels
I'm guessing that the play potential would
be excellent. At this level it
was "hang on to your hat and look out for
the monster holes". Very Sweet!
I will defiantly be watching the gauges
and when it runs again on a weekend
I will be loading up for a road trip!
Keep the rivers flowin'
Don Kinser comments-
Ran the Cheoah yesterday at 5.34 feet on
the Bear Pen Gauge (CFS not
available). It was big. There is no way in
hell the section below the bridge
just above the lodge is class 4 at this
level. Much more like class 5+.
Reminded me of Pine Creek on the Arkansas.
It is big, continuous and
unrelenting. Once you went under that
bridge you were committed.
The section above from the little store to
the bridge was outstanding and
totally continuous. Big waves, big holes,
There were many people on the river and it
had come down to 5.34 feet from
almost 7 the day before.
Keep up the good work.
Per new water certificate, flows on Sunday releases are now at 1000cfs.
I'd have to call the approach, the falls, and the runout three seperate rapids. With bear creek being the stuff below the falls.
3 months ago
by Joel Welsh
7 years ago
8 years ago
9 years ago
Spreadsheet of the Cheoah River release hours under the new (starting in 2016) schedule.
Description of the hours of release for the Cheoah River under the new (in 2016) schedule.
The Cheoah River near Bearpen Gap near Tapoco, NC gauge is located at the bridge that marks the beginning of the lower section of the run.
Releases should range from 850 CFS to 1000 CFS but are often higher than the required amounts.
The river can be run at 4.15' / 670 cfs, but I would need at least 800 cfs to be willing to make the two hour drive from Asheville. As reflected in the ratings, the Cheoah gets harder as it rises.
5.0'/1500 cfs is a very exciting, challenging level providing a thrilling ride unlike anything else to be found in the Eastern US.
Levels over 6'/2800 cfs are probably too high for mere mortals on all but the middle section. These ratings are based on the river's current tree and brush-clogged status. If at some point some of these trees and brush are removed, easier lines will open up and the penalty for mistakes will be lower.
The upper section is reported to be very dangerous by a group that attempted a run at 6.8'/4000 cfs.
Directions from Asheville: Take I-40 West to Exit 27 (US 19 /23/74/Great Smoky Mountains Expressway). Take US 74 West 46 miles to the point NC 28 splits off to the right toward Almond and Robbinsville and US 74 continues on to the Nantahala Gorge. Take NC 28 11.5 miles to the left onto NC 143. Follow NC 143 8.7 miles to Robbinsville. In Robbinsville turn right onto US 129, following it 16 miles to the take-out at the boat ramp at the end of the little road off US 129 on the far side of the bridge over the Little Tennessee at its confluence with the Cheoah. The river you'll be following the last 9 miles or so of your drive will be the Cheoah.
Shuttle: The run is road side so the shuttle is self explanatory.
Parking: There is a new parking area at the put-in for the run that is owned by the USFS. There are other parking areas along the river. Many paddlers use the O'Henry parking area, parking there costs a few dollars, but the money is well spent. O'Henry is a great local man who openned a parking area and is very paddler friendly.
User Fees: The USFS has a $2 user fee that can be paid at O'Henry's parking area or at Outland Gas and Grocery.
Jeb Going Vert
Jeb on Bear Cr
Paul on Bear Cr
Trip on Bear Cr.
From the Bridge
El Jefe Grande Returns!
Dennis Huntley at Bear Creek Falls
Dwight Dropping Bear Creek Falls
Josh Holden styling Cheoah - Bear Creek Falls
2nd Drop on Creek Line
Bear Creek- Creek Line
Bear Creek Falls
Cheoah Tree Removal
Raft in front of Tapoco Lodge
Yard Sale from bridge
Yard sale w/ boaters
Tapoco Lodge Rapid busy
Yard Sale no boaters
Tapoco Lodge Rapid
Rafting the Cheoah
Open Canoe Boofing the Falls
Canoeing the Falls
Aerial View of Santeetlah Dam
David in entrance
David at the big un
Mike in Entrance
Mike running the BIG UN
Kirk Eddlemon on the middle line
David Howard on the technical middle line
OC1 mid-air at Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls 5-28-06
(RM) Yard Sale from above
(RM) Tapoco Lodge Rapid
(RM) Tapoco Bridge
(RM) Boogie Below God's Dam
(RM) Beautiful Bear Creek Falls & Entrance
(RM) Bear Creek Entrance
(RM) Bear Creek Entrance Swim
Bear Creek rapid W/O release
Cheoah River plumbing
(RM) Yard Sale Wash Out
(RM) Yard Sale - Left Line
(RM) Yard Sale - Left Line 1
(RM) Yard Sale - Left Line 2
(RM) O'Henry's Parking 2
(RM) O'Henry's Parking 1
(RM) O'Henry's Private Put-In
(RM) Bear Ck: Far Right and Falls Line
(RM) Bear Ck: Creek Line & Falls
Cheoah River below Bear Creek Falls
 Nice Boof!
Louie Wishes it would Rain
Kyle runs the Big 'un
First Group down fhe falls on the second release
Gnomad At Cheoah
Corey playing at Rod's Hole
(RM) Warm Up Boogie
(RM) Walking Bridge before God's Dam
(RM) Calderwood Lake
(RM) Put-In Rapid
(RM) God's Dam
(RM) Calderwood Boat Ramp
(RM) Dam at Calderwood Lake
(RM) Bear Creek Rapid
landing in the foam, close to rocks
Brad - Cheoah Falls 9-17-05
Cheoah in Flood
The Big'un Real High
Downstream from Tapoco Bridge
Below the bridge
Waves at Tapoco Lodge
Final hole below big drop
Rapids directly below 10' drop
Big One Again
The Big One
Lower part of entrance
Upper entrance to 10' drop
Rapid on middle Cheoah section
Typical Upper Cheoah scene
Entrance drop of Takeout
Middle/Bottom of Takeout
Second part of Takeout
Top drop at Takeout
Takeout from distance
Above Pipe & Dam
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
American Whitewater recently received a grant which provides an opportunity to explore the reintroduction of rivercane to the Cheoah River. This grant was provided by Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources which is a Cherokee Preservation Foundation program ultimately funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian. Rivercane is on the decline in the southeast due to development and agriculture.
A group of ladies started a discussion about the need for an all women's paddling event. Plans progressed and the Boater Chick Festival benefiting American Whitewater was born. This first annual festival is a gathering of female boaters in the class II-V whitewater range. The location will be at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, North Carolina on Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th. The hope is to encourage women in boating to get more involved, show off, improve their skills, meet other women in boating, paddle together, compete, and celebrate.
On June 30, 2009 a report was released that definitively finds that the high flow events that paddlers use on the Cheoah River have no significant biological or stream channel impacts that need to be addressed. American Whitewater is very pleased that the releases on the Cheoah are a good thing for the river, as predicted, and will continue to work to restore the Cheoah River.
Tis the season when American Whitewater works with power companies and other groups to schedule the coming year's dam releases in the Southeast. In addition to hundreds of releases on Class I-III rivers like the Nantahala, Tuckasegee, and Catawba, we put together an outstanding integrated schedule of Class IV and V opportunities. Check it out!
It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Enjoy these incredible opportunities, and be safe out there!
It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Each year we are part of a process to schedule these releases in an integrated manner that aims to maximize their recreational value. Check out the outstanding line up for 2018.
It is looking like another great year to be a paddler in the Southeast! Over the past two decades American Whitewater has worked with affiliate clubs and partners to negotiate an awesome array of scheduled releases on river reaches previously dewatered by hydropower dams. Each year we help schedule these releases in an integrated manner that aims to maximize their recreational value. Read on to see the great line up for 2019!
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