This photo needs editing.
Difficulty IV-V
Length 3.4 Miles
Flow Range 350 - 1000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 23 minutes ago 451 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 10/29/2009 11:52 pm

River Description

The West Fork is something different for those jaded by the North Fork. It has a slightly different character, and offers the chance to go big more than once. Three times in fact, in a row.

This different and slightly bigger character comes with some consequences though, as this river has taken a life, unlike it's brother. There is a dangerous pothole in the first slide, small but significant seives in the boulder garden, and some bad lumber all through the run.


From Headwaters Outfitters at 64 and 215, go West on 64 and look for a small factory immediately before the small bridge. Turn L into the "Shipping and Receiving" drive and park near the picnic tables.


Turn L (West) on 64, and climb the grade. Turn R immediately past the CITGO gas station. Follow this road (SR 1309) until it crosses the river. Park on the left or right.

You can hike down the river left bank to the first drop to get a feel for the flow. It's about a quarter of a mile.

Rapid Descriptions

First Slide

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.25
12 foot broken shelf slide into a 8 foot vertical drop. In THE BOTTOM CENTER OF THE VERTICAL DROP IS A POTHOLE!!!!! Usually run starting middle, angled right through the fluff, driving right down the shelves, and powering up into a sliding boof off the right wall at the bottom to clear the hole. Be aware that the shelves can grab your boat and slam you (seen a shoulder dislocation here), and the eddy in the trees on the right can spin you around. The line is tight. If you find yourself going off the bottom drop in the middle, BOOF. A vertical pin here is a VERY real possibility, though the pothole allegedly flushes on the right. There are also those who run right to left (watch the video below), and those who run it "Hard, Fast, and down the Middle" at lower flows (below 0) Clean trail on the left.

Second Slide

Class - IV+ Mile - 0.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
A 15-20' slide with a rooster tail 3/4ths of the way down in the middle, and a piton potential on the bottom left. This hole could get stiff. Scout and/or carry on the dry rocks to the left.

Third Slide

Class - 5.0 Mile - 0.75
Long, 25' slide with a fin of rock bisecting the flow. Run right of the fin, and drive right before the final 5' slide, as there is a log laying off the left bank about halfway across the river, in the hole. As of October 2004, there was a blowdown off the right bank hanging into the slide about halfway down. It is still possible to run the slide, but a severe lashing is a definate possibility, as is impalement or straining. The water at the top wants to push you right, away from the fin, into the blowdown. There's only ~4 feet of blue sky between the tree and the fin. Scout or begin the heinous portage on the right. Bring your rope and sticky shoes.


Class - Mile - 1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
As of October, 2004, there is a log laying across the stream after the pool below Third Slide. At levels over -4", it would be considerate to those who love you to think about walking down the left bank. It is possible to limbo at lower levels, on the right.

Boulder Garden

Class - IV Mile - 2.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Long, tight, and technical boulder garden. This series begins when car-sized boulders appear after about a mile of flat and class II water. The drops are tight, and the lines numerous. Eddies begin to dissapear the higher the water gets, and the holes get stiffer. Read and run, this is the half-mile long big brother of The Clog. There are several small but significant seives to avoid, and swims could be bad, as could new lumber. Stay on your toes and keep your bow up.


Class - Mile - 3.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
After floating through the moving flatwater, you'll go under US 64 (the first bridge you come to). Look for a faint trail on river L to the picnic tables.


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Brian and Maria Jacobson
7 years ago

When we first ran WFFB in 1981 we called the first slide Jacob's Ladder, the second Twister, and the third Plaid. We had just run the NF and stopped at a convenience store to ask about the WF. The woman told us she had fished it but that it had a bunch of waterfalls on it. We told her that is what we were looking for and asked how to get to the putin. She said "if that's what your looking for, you'll be happy". We caught a ride up with a farmer that lives at the takeout. We had to sit in his living room and wait for him to finish his lunch with his wife telling him to "hurry and eat these boys have things to do".

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Geoff Kohl
12 years ago

For the WFFB uninitiated reading this page, you definitely want to boof the ledge at the bottom of the first slide. There is a pothole in there, and I have watched it piton and pitchpole a very good boater who mis-timed his last stroke. At 3", it really doesn't want to let you get to the right wall to skim around the ledge with that small tongue. Middle, it seems, is where the pothole is. Most successful seemed to be entering middle at top and heading left, then throwing a righty boof off the lip. That drop is so much fun when you hit it correctly, but please don't take it lightly due to the pothole.

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Harrison Metzger
14 years ago

On March 5 I and a guy named Dan from Boatertalk spent the afternoon cutting strainers out of the West Fork. We spent several hours on the logjam in one of the middle

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Harrison Metzger
14 years ago

Could the person who posted the Class V tubing video please repost it as an AVI file? I can't open it as is and I really want to see the carnage. Thanks

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15 years ago

I watched a bud pin in the pothole in the first drop. He was paddling a Cruise Control set up as a C-1. He was ejected out of his boat hard enough to rip out the thigh straps. After that, I ran right.

Gage Descriptions

The gauge is on the SR 1309 bridge at the Put-in. 6 inchs below the MIDDLE of zero is the minimum. This is usually running with the North Fork is running, and a 0 on the NF gauge will corelate roughly with -6 on this gauge. At a reading of +3, the third slide becomes one long drop, and the boulder garden begins to bump up and pad out.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
1996-11-12 High Fatality High Water Read More



article main photo

A Close Look at Cheoah River Fatalities

Charlie Walbridge

The recent death of Chris Clark at Python Rapid on North Carolina's Cheoah River is the third at this site in the last six years. In each case, the person who died was an expert paddler and their paddling partners did not see exactly what happened. Let's take a close look at the Cheoah below Bear Creek Falls and develop strategies for future runs. The river here is very fast and continuous. After a fast lead-in (Chaos), the river drops over Bear Creek Falls, a 12' drop. Below, most of the flow pushes toward the river right channel (Python). Ferrying over to the easier river left channel (the West Prong) requires careful boat control. Python itself contains several nasty holes and sieves, with a bad hole blocked by a boulder at the bottom. There is a good route through it, but paddlers need to plan their route carefully. Scouting is a good idea for first timers, although catching eddies and getting out is not  going to be easy. Groups need to stay together.. The rapid is tough enough that you can't watch your buddy all the time, but you can be ready to help if needed. Click through for links to the accident reports, photos, and comments from expert Cheoah River paddlers. (Photo above by Boyd Ruppelt)


Matt Muir


Jeff Paine


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193169 11/04/06 n/a n/a
1196383 10/29/09 Jeff Paine Cleared 2004 warning that's no longer relevant