Difficulty III+(IV)
Length 3.1 Miles
Gauge N/A
Flow Range CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 second ago N/A
Reach Info Last Updated 05/08/2019 5:32 pm

River Description

This is a great run either at a creeky level or with a lot of water. The entire run is road scoutable.  Please check for wood on your way to the put-in.  The put-in is four bridges upstream.  Start counting bridges after you pass the commercial put-in.  If you start to see large class five looking drops and waterfalls, you've gone too far upstream and reached the Nantahala Cascades. There is a big turnout just before the bridge for shuttle and unloading boats.  Please be thoughtful when parking if it is busy.  The lot can accommodate many more cars if parked side by side instead of parallel.  The Forest Service has been monitoring the lot on busy days so please do your best to keep the lot clean.

There are periodic "bypass" releases which provide water to run the Cascades / Upper Nantahala. The releases which occur during "Week of Rivers" (near july 4th) and during the Nantahala Outdoor Center's Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF) will be quite busy. The remainder of the releases much less so. On all the releases the Forest service closes several parking areas which are popular put-in locations and turns them into unloading areas. There is also a new put-in (with concrete steps, ramp, etc. just below PB&J.)

For 2018 the bypass flow releases can be found in this link to a pdf file. https://lakes.duke-energy.com/pdfs/2018/Nant%20Bypass%20Schedule%202018.pdf


Rapid Descriptions

Magic Carpet Ride

Class - III+ Mile - 0.1

From the put-in to Magic Carpet Ride, it is "choose your own adventure."  MCR is the first rapid below the put-in.  It offers many options, all of which are viable.  At higher flows, it can be run either right or middle.  The right tends to be meaty and offers a nice boof at the bottom instead of the slide. At lower flows, there is an actual mossy rock slide that you run into the eddy.  After this rapid, you have a wave train into one of the largest rapids on this section, PBJ. 


Class - III+ Mile - 0.2

This is the second rapid and probably one of the biggest on the run.  From Magic Carpet Ride, you'll head down a big wave train to a blind corner.  From an eddy, you can manage to see the top two drops, but not the main drop.  There are three drops in this rapid, the top two being much smaller than the last.  It is very important to note that the flow levels change how this rapid is run.  You should scout this rapid from the pull off and choose your line.  It comes up very fast when you're on the water.  There is a "fold" in the rapid on the left side, giving the rapid it's name.  This fold is either out of water or covered.  At levels lower than 400cfs, you can punch the hole in the main drop. Stay well to river right or in the middle of the drop.  Higher than 400cfs, the line changes and the difficulty is greater.  This is more like a class IV at higher flows. There is a nice tongue on river left.  Avoid the hole at higher levels. There is a lot of fun class III boogie down to the next rapid. 

   If you look at the photo of Kelsey, you can see that rocks force you right of center just above the main drop with the hole. At lower flows if you are close to the rock and immediately drive back left, you will have a smooth ride on the far left tongue. If you don't get quite that far left, you will be on Kelsey's line and will have to brace & punch the hole. Gauge was at 1010 cfs that day so pretty hard to get far left.

You can also eddy out on river right just before you pass that center rock. Gives you a look at the hole and the option to ferry to the left. 

Camp Branch Falls Rapid

Class - III Mile - 0.59
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You will know you are here by Camp Branch Falls coming out of the mountain on river right.  There is a big eddy at the top of this rapid.  At lower flows, the main line is to make kind of an 'S'.  Start in the middle, boof a small pourover rock, work your way right to slide down the slanted rock into fluffy water.  At higher flows, you can run the middle line or the wave train on the right.  The boof on the left is not spectacular, but doable.  You'll have to work your way back right for the next rapid.   

Jungle Boogie

Class - III Mile - 0.6
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This is a three drop rapid after Camp Branch Falls Rapid.  There is a fun slot move at the entrance either on the right or left.  Eddy out to boat scout Bridal Veil. 

Bridal Veil

Class - III+ Mile - 0.62
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This rapid should be run down the middle.  Beware of the many rocks in this rapid, especially near the top an on the left side.  There is boofing potential here.  Stay middle and in the center of the wave trains.  There is a big eddy on river right to catch.  At lower creeky flows, this is a very manky rapid.  At higher flows, it is padded out and a lot of fun.  From here you have boogie and boofing until you reach Troll Hole/Fuzzy Bunny under the bridge.

Troll Hole/Fuzzy Bunny

Class - III+ Mile - 0.8

This is the rapid at the third bridge.  There are many eddies upstream to catch before running this rapid.    At lower levels there are two popular strategies for Troll Hole. The one that I like is to enter left of center angling right and go over the main drop clipping the right side of the hole or boofing into the eddy. The other line is to start right and after you clear the center rocks, paddle hard for the center. At that point you can turn sharply right to clip the hole or boof into the eddy or square up and punch the hole. .  At higher levels, dig in and go through the hole or a nice tongue appears in place of the hole.  Be careful of the bridge pilings at higher levels.


Class - III Mile - 0.9

This is the rapid after the 3rd bridge.  Enter in the middle  or top left and follow the current around the 'S'.

The Mank/Fraggle Rock

Class - III+ Mile - 1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

After a little class III boogie, you'll get to a manky, rocky rapid.  With lower water, this rapid is just plain un-fun.  At higher flows, there is a very bad hole that forms in the middle of the rapid on river left.  You can scout this from your vehicle or park and choose your line.  You can either run left and move your way right to avoid the hole or you can run the right line although it has more wave holes at higher levels.  This rapid is long and involves maneuvering.  At lower flows, it is a class III+, but at higher flows, a IV.  This rapid ends after the rock wall on river right.  There is almost a mile of boogie before the last big rapid.  There are a lot of wave holes to play in at higher flows. 

Island Rapid

Class - III+ Mile - 2

This is the last real rapid worth mentioning on the Upper Nantahala.  After a mile of boogie, you'll reach a calm spot.  At flows 600cfs and below, you will see the giant rock in the top part of the rapid and at higher flows, it will be covered.  The top part of the rapid is a ride on the tongue and moving right to miss the rock.  For the next part of the rapid, stay center, moving back into the flow as the water merges from the other side of the island.  Keep right angle and stay on the right side of the wave train and you'll be fine.  Be very careful here as there are several trees down after the drop on river left that can be hazardous.


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Judith Ranelli
9 months ago

9/28/19, 250cfs release (low), I was in a bad pin on a rock in Mank. There is a rock river right of center that is wide, flat, and tall enough to pin a creek boat. No harm was done except to my pride, but it was an upstream facing, head underwater pin, and could have had a very bad outcome. Blurry photo of pin rock is here, I'll try to get better photos of it when I can: https://photos.smugmug.com/Other/PADDLING/Mank-pin-rock/i-hwP5sZB/0/2984eb97/M/mank-pin-rock-upper-nanty-M.jpg

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Simon Krzych
5 years ago

4/28/15, 260 cfs in upper = it was a minimum flow but surprisingly doable. G in Octane, Eli in spanish fly, and CT in ducky. We put in about a quarter of a mile up from island rapid. G portaged on the left, the middle part of island rapid. We paddled all the way down to the normal nanti putin.

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Tyler Lowe
7 years ago

This is a awesome run, but as stated, do not under estimate it! I am a fairly confident intermediate boater, and i feel it pushed my limits. The level we ran it was at 700 cfs, and there were several fairly large holes. It is a very continuous run with very little if any slack time. Make note, that there is some wood in this run, we ran across two or 3 large trees that were down, and half way in, and half way out of the river. Never the less, a awesome southeast run!

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8 years ago

Showing the full flow at the Hewitt gauge is actually useful. When this section of river runs, the powerplant is almost always generating. Subtract the ~650 cfs the powerplant generates and you have an idea of the flow in the Upper Nanty and Cascades. Given that you need at least 250 cfs to paddle the Upper (even that is bony), look for the Hewitt gauge to have 900 cfs for elf and 1,000 cfs for a healthy minimum.

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Gary Miller
10 years ago

The streamkeeper team is off in its flow levels for this Section. The site shows the Upper Nanty running at the same level as the lower NAnty every time there is a release on the lower. However, the water doesn't enter above the Upper Nanty. It comes in at the lower put-in. This needs to be corrected. Upper only runs when Cascades has water. Upper ran last winter, but no more water on a daily basis.

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Gavin Fay
10 years ago

Ran the Upper Nanty for the first time on 12\29\09. Great run, a lot of fun, but don't under estimate this run. It is top heavy, the upper mile is continuous Class 4, the bottom 2 miles while still continuous are more Class 3-3+. One thing to look out for in the first 1\2 mile or so around a bend, is a pretty narrow pushy section with decent sized waves and ledge holes, with a nasty hole at the bottom right. You run a rapid just downstream from the put in, followed by a short moving pool. Once you enter the next rapid start working yourself left, make sure you dig to punch the holes. If you stay left and don't get knocked off course you should miss the bottom right hole.

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Adam Beeco
10 years ago

Ran this stretch 11-16-2009 at 1040cfs. As the post below says this run has a big water feel on a small creek. There are not a lot of larger eddies, and the big ones are still a little difficult to catch due to the flows. Leland's book ranks this as only a small step up from the gorge section. However, that ranking is at around 250-425cfs. At 1000 (which is what these special releases have been around) it is much more difficult. 3.3 miles in 25 minutes, that includes us just floating through a lot of the easier parts.

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10 years ago

They are releasing water over the spill way right now (November '09). I ran the upper section yesterday with just shy of 1000 cfs which was a great level. At lower levels you would not be able to raft this section due to the rocks but it would probbaly be possible at the level it was yesterday. I would compare the harder rapids to the boogie water on the cheoah. It is a very narrow section and very continuous, we had several swims and it took 1/2 a mile or more to stop the boats. On the second and third runs there was no swims and it took 27 min to run this section. Lots of fun at lower levels to but it was a blast with more water.

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10 years ago

I'm new to the area and have a fourteen foot raft; I was wondering if anyone knew if this stretch is raft-friendly, or too tight and only suitable for kayaks/canoes. Any info would be very appreciated. It's pretty tight, but they say they are releasing during November.

Gage Descriptions

This section has been dewatered, although runs after heavy local rain from flow coming down White Oak Creek and during periodic "bypass flow releases" by Duke Energy. This link http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/nantahala/nan-scheduled-flow-releases.asp has a list of releases in the Nantahala area. This will give you the power generation schedule for the Nantahala power station(s).  On the right side of the page is "Nantahala Release Bypass Schedule for 2017" and presumably will be updated for future years. Click on it and you will get a pdf file of the scheduled release dates and times. Just in case here is the link to the PDF for 2018 https://lakes.duke-energy.com/pdfs/2018/Nant%20Bypass%20Schedule%202018.pdf

If you go to the USGS gauge Nantahala River near Hewitt and click on the gauge number, you will get a graph of the recent flow history. This gauge is below the power plants (there are two) and thus includes the flow from them. It is easier to convert the graph to a table to follow the numbers. You can do this by clicking on the appropriate buttons on the graph page. At night when the power plants are usually shut down, you will typically see a flow of 50-100 cfs (depending on recent rains) coming from White Oak Creek and a few smaller feeder creeks. . During the day (typically 9am - 5pm, but sometimes longer or shorter) the power plants will add about 630 cfs, so you will see a little over 700 cfs on the Hewitt gauge. Scheduled bypass flows are 250 or 350 cfs, this flow will be added to the ~ 700 baseline and you will have around 950 cfs or 1050 cfs at the Hewitt gauge. If it is after the time of day when the power plants shut down, the bypass flow added to the natural flow will be somewhere between 320 and 500 cfs and this is enough to paddle. 

During periods of fairly heavy rain there will often be enough natural flow coming down White Oak to provide sufficient flow to run the Upper Nantahala and Cascades. If it's at a time when the power plants are running, look for over 950 cfs; if the power plants are shut down, then 300 or so is enough. 



The beauty with this section is that there are many pull offs so you can choose your own run.  If the level is lower than 600cfs, a great run is to go from the fourth bridge to the third bridge.  It is a .9 mile long and focuses on the meat of the run.  It is feasible to do 3-4 laps on this section with a quick and easy shuttle.  After the first mile, you will find that the gradient tapers off and there are two big rapids left before it becomes mostly wave trains to the take out.  

To check Duke Energy releases, please go to the following page and click on the message next to Nantahala Lake.   




Here are a few helpful guidelines you can use.

250-300 cfs: Good first timers' creeking introduction, class III

300-600 cfs:  Fun, padded level with eddies, holes avoidable, continuous class III+

600-1000+ cfs:  Suggest that you have good class IV river skills, a solid roll and rescue skills.  The eddies disappear and this section is continuous with some mean holes.  It resembles class IV more than III at this point. Some have said that this level resembles Lower Big Creek.

Directions Description

Driving West towards Tennesee on US 19/74, turn left on Wayah Road/SR 1310.  On your left, you will have the public put-in for the Nantahala.  There are flush toilets, running water, and changing rooms that are available in the warmer months.  You will cross your first bridge by the commercial rafting put-in.  Continue on 3.1 miles, counting bridges from the commercial put-in until you have reached the gravel parking lot by the fourth bridge.  


To run the one mile section, bridge to bridge, park your second vehicle before or after the third bridge. I suggesting running the next rapid after Troll Hole and the taking out at the little beach.  It's easier than climbing up rocks under the 3rd bridge.


To run to the public put-in for the Nantahala, leave a vehicle in the parking lot and drive you other vehicle to the gravel lot. 

Date Flow Result Factor  
2012-09-30 Medium Near Miss/Rescue Other Read More




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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)

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Southeast Advanced Release Dates for 2020

Kevin Colburn

American Whitewater and our affiliate clubs have spent the past 25 years working to restore flows to incredible Southeastern rivers impacted by dams. A lot of our work has focused on Class II and III rivers like the lower Nantahala, Tuckasegee, Hiwassee, and Catawba, but we also secured releases in some classic steeper reaches previously dewatered by hydroelectric diversions. Each year we meet with power companies and agencies to schedule future releases, review ongoing ecology studies, and discuss any issues with the release programs. In this post we are pleased to share the 2020 dates for the Class IV/V Cheoah, Nantahala Cascades & Upper, West Fork Tuck, and Tallulah rivers.

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Southeast Advanced Release Schedule Set for 2019!

Kevin Colburn

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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2018 Advanced Southeast Release Schedule Set!

Kevin Colburn

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. 

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Advanced Southeast Releases Set for 2017!

Kevin Colburn

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!

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Southeast Advanced Release Schedule Set For 2016!

Kevin Colburn

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!  

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Outstanding Rescue on the Upper Nantahala: Sept 30, 2012

Charlie Walbridge

A quick-thinking NOC bus driver saved a life during a scheduled September water release on North Carolina’s fast-moving Upper Nantahala River. A kayaker who pulled over above a downed tree didn’t realize that the current there was still powerful enough to cause trouble. Her boat was pushed into and under the log where both disappeared. Fortunately Rob Kelly, a whitewater guide, was driving  shuttle bus and witnessed the entrapment. He pulled his bus over and started wading across the river. The rescue was caught by photographer Rick Thompson. To read Mr. Kelly's account, click the link below:

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Upper Nantahala and Cascades Releases (NC) – September 29-30, 2012

Mark Singleton

The Upper Nantahala River and Cascades releases mandated from FERC Relicensing of the Nantahala River will begin September 29-30, 2012. Endless Rivers Adventures and the Nantahala Outdoor Center will provide free shuttles to boat launch areas on the bypass sections. All paddlers and spectators are asked to use these shuttles as key access points will be closed to parking to provide for put-in and take-out locations on the river sections.

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Upper Nantahala Releases to Begin This Fall!

Kevin Colburn

The first ever scheduled recreational releases on the upper Nantahala River will occur on Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30, 2012, near Wesser, North Carolina.  The releases were negotiated by AW and a diverse group of local and regional stakeholders between 2001 and 2003 to mitigate the recreational impacts of flow reductions associated with operation of the powerhouse.

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New Nantahala Hydropower License Issued!

Kevin Colburn

Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new 30-year license for the Nantahala Hydroelectric Project in Western North Carolina.  The new license confirms many elements of a 2003 collaborative settlement agreement developed by Duke Energy, American Whitewater, state and federal resource agencies, and many other stakeholders.  Included in the new license are flow releases that treat over 250,000 people each year to whitewater paddling on the Nantahala River.

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Nantahala Dam to Spill This Fall

Kevin Colburn

With a prolonged maintenance outage at Nantahala Hydro Station and higher than expected rainfall Duke Energy is expecting to begin releasing water through a gate at the Nantahala Lake Dam on Monday, November 2, 2009.  This management marks an opportunity for paddlers to enjoy  the Class IV+ Cascades and Class III+ Upper Nantahala, and is likely to last until late December.

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Dillsboro Dam two steps closer to removal

Kevin Colburn

The media has recently reported that one of the counties opposed to the removal of Dillsboro Dam, Macon County, has backed out of the lawsuit over the issue. In addition, Duke Power has filed a lawsuit themselves against Jackson County over their failure to issue Duke permits needed for removing sediment from behind the dam.  Both actions are consistent with the ongoing trend towards removing Dillsboro Dam, and starting new releases in the Tuckasegee and Nantahala rivers. 



Lee H Thonus




Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1203617 08/17/14 Lee H Thonus more flow information added
1197015 12/30/09 n/a Gauge link, rapid descriptions, driving directions, general info
1193452 05/10/03 n/a n/a
1197016 12/30/09 n/a
1197017 12/31/09 n/a
1203609 08/17/14 Lee H Thonus added photos, minor edit
1197033 01/02/10 n/a Added 3 photos
1204008 01/13/15 Lee H Thonus updated 2015 release link
1204396 03/25/15 Lee H Thonus ed check
1206366 04/23/16 Lee H Thonus New release sched for 2016
1207265 02/22/17 Lee H Thonus 2017 Release Schedule
1207494 04/28/17 Lee H Thonus description of PB&J options
1209331 04/28/18 Lee H Thonus 2018 release schedule
1212231 05/08/19 Lee H Thonus updated image position