Difficulty III
Length 4.1 Miles
Flow Range 1000 - 1500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 18 minutes ago 1010 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 04/22/2019 7:15 pm

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

Rapid Descriptions


Class - III+ Mile - 0.4
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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
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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
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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.

Confluence with Bradley Fork

Class - N/A Mile - 3.9
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Smokemont Ledge

Class - III Mile - 4
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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
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Parking on the east side of the river.


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Charles Spornick
8 years ago

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

Gage Descriptions

USGS Oconaluftee Gage at Birdtown

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.

No Accident Reports





Charles Spornick


Seth O'Shields


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1200973 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012
1200966 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012
1200967 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012
1200969 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012
1200972 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012
1201013 02/06/12 Charles Spornick revised 206
1201021 12/25/12 Seth O'Shields
1201702 12/25/12 Seth O'Shields flow editorial
1211997 04/22/19 Seth O'Shields updated image position
1193652 11/05/03 n/a
1200965 01/28/12 Charles Spornick 2nd revision
1200963 01/28/12 Charles Spornick Revised Jan 27 2012