Oconaluftee - 1. Kephart Trail Bridge to Smokemont Campground Bridge

Oconaluftee, North Carolina, US


1. Kephart Trail Bridge to Smokemont Campground Bridge

Usual Difficulty III (for normal flows)
Length 4.1 Miles
Avg. Gradient 149 fpm

Oconaluftee - upstream from Collins Creek Shoals

Oconaluftee - upstream from Collins Creek Shoals
Photo by Chuck Spornick taken 01/28/12

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03512000 1000 - 1500 cfs III 00h41m 976 cfs (too low)

River Description

The headwaters for the Oconaluftee River are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is formed by the confluence of three streams, Beech Flats Prong, Kephart Prong, and Kanati Fork. The confluence of these streams is litte more than a tenth of a mile above the footbridge on the Kephart Trail, just off US 441. From here the stream winds to the south, with US 441 paralleling the river to the west. The run is roadside, but for the most part the river veers from the highway.

The watershed for the river is like other streams within the park relatively small, less than 200 square miles. It is a beautiful cold water stream. The water is clear and the quality is good. Given the size of the watershed, the river can only be paddled after significant rain.

The river is described into two sections for the 7.3 miles from headwaters to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The first section, from the Kephart Bridge to the Smokemont Campground the run is predominately through rock gardens, punctuated by ledge drops. In the second section, after the campground, the river gains volume and widens, and continues to be highlighted by a series of ledge drops, Smokemont Ledge and the Elbow.

Below the Visitor’s Center, the river is soon joined by the Raven Fork, increasing its volume by at least one-third. In approximately another half mile the river leaves the national park and enters the Cherokee Indian Reservation. This section through the town of Cherokee was once very popular, but it can no longer be paddled. The Reservation has continued to ban all boating on waters passing through its land. Paddling is completely legal in the National Park; no permit is required. Make certain that you park only in designated parking areas.


Notice: The AW recommended flows of 1000-1500 cfs for this reach are a bit on the low side. Higher flows would likely be more enjoyable, but would severely increase the danger due to lack of eddies and the large amount of wood present. - Seth O'Shields 12/24/2012

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2012-12-25 02:50:44


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
2.1Wall RapidII+
3.2Smokemont ShoalsIII
3.9Confluence with Bradley ForkN/AAccess
4.0Smokemont LedgeIII
4.1Smokemont BridgeN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Left-Right-Left-Right (Class III+, Mile 0.4)

Immediately after a waterfall on river right, there is a challenging set of offset ledges requiring three quick turns to negotiate the rocks. The 15 foot high cascade is formed by Cliff Branch

Wall Rapid (Class II+, Mile 2.1)

As the river approaches the road, there is a rock wall on the right. The river entires into a long rock garden with one to two foot ledges. The garden ends with a a fun 2-3 foot ledge drop. This is also an alternative put-in for the upper section.

Smokemont Shoals (Class III, Mile 3.2)
A quarter mile long rock garden involving quickly negotiating rocks, small drops, and ledge holes. It is the epitome of class 2-3 micro-creeking in the Smokies.

Smokemont Ledge (Class III, Mile 4.0)

A tenth of a mile above the Smokemont Bridge, the river is divided by a small island.  Take the river channel to the right.   Paddle near the island as you approach the horizon line for a 3-4 foot ledge.   Approach near the left and boof from left to right.

Smokemont Bridge (Class N/A, Mile 4.1)

Parking on the east side of the river.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 5 2013 (2118 days ago)
Matt WellsDetails
Paddled 6 miles on the Oconaluftee on 3.31.13 at 1500cfs or 3' on the gauge, from Wall Rapid
parking area below Collins Creek down to the Visitors Center. HWY 441 above the Collins Creek
Picnic Area is currently closed due to a landslide and Wall Rapid parking area is as far north as
you can drive. Immediately below the Wall Rapid is a large river wide strainer that requires a
mandatory portage. This is a very fun roadside run, comparable to the Upper Nanty, and an easy bike
shuttle. Always be on the lookout for new wood.
January 28 2012 (2551 days ago)
Charles SpornickDetails
As of last Sunday, 01/22/12, there was a riverwide strainer just below Collins Creek Shoals. At
1,100 there were ample eddies on river river to stop for a portage