Good water quality, good scenery, little signs of man, and a long winding course of class 1-2 make this an excellent wilderness experience. There is a set of class 2 rapids in a nice phyllite gorge about a mile above the lake that was quite pleasing. You won't see anyone else, so if you are tired of the tourons on the little asking what happens when you fall out of your canoe and which way you paddle, upstream or down, then check this out. You can enjoy the river bottom's clarity and beauty without the honking horns and blasted rock of the other world. 1 hour from Knoxville.
Have run it twice now, once when the little was 2.9 and again at 3.1. Both times it was low but fine. Its all about where the rain falls. You could catch it at 2.5 and miss it at 3.5, just check Cades Cove rain gauge. You need an inch in the past 18 hours or so.<br />
if the level is over 3.25 this is a class II/III run. at those levels several rapids take on some hefty characteristics, all not able to be scouted. not a problem for anyone comfortable on class III wave trains and river features, but if a class II boater and never done anything above that, could prove to be a long day if running at the higher flows. great run though, very remote and beautiful!!!
Following is a an article I wrote for the Chota Canoe Club newsletter.
For years I have wanted to paddle lower Abrams Creek because of the good water quality, easy whitewater, easy access and pristine nature of the run. The only issue has been the limited window of availability. On September 7, 2011, I got my chance as the river was coming down from the 5 inch rain in Knoxville (3 inches in Cades Cove) the previous weekend. The Little River gauge above Townsend was 2.2 feet, so the level was 6 inches less than the AWA website recommended minimum of 2.7 feet. I would guess the flow was about 80 cfs. Based on my experience I would agree with the recommended minimum of 2.7 feet. My bike shuttle was 7 miles; the river distance was about 10 miles.
The storm system that hit the south on April 27 spawned an EF-4 tornado that destroyed trees along a 20 mile section of the Abrams Creek watershed. Apparently the tornado touched down along Chilhowee Lake, knocked down one of the electric transmission towers and then proceeded upstream on the creek. By my observation, the tornado ran in the stream bed for over a mile at the mouth of the creek, crossing the creek several times as it moved upstream. The 160 mph winds destroyed literally thousands of trees in the watershed. I have hiked from the FS campground all the way to Cades Cove and looks like the tornado left Abrams Creek about 2.5 miles below Abrams Falls. FS personnel have done a wonderful job reopening this trail (Little Bottoms).
At 2.2 feet, the creek starts with easy Class 1-2 ledges that require maneuvering to hit the clean chutes. Farther downstream, the bedrock becomes progressively more fractured and the drops a little steeper and more complex – maybe Class 2+. About halfway down, the effect of the tornado becomes apparent with huge piles of broken limbs and treetops piled along the banks. Despite the carnage on the hillsides, there were only 5 trees in the river that required a portage. It is a beautiful section of river but the overall effect was sort of depressing because of all the destruction. It seems likely that high water this winter will cause some epic logjams that will further degrade the experience.
July 4th weekend of 2013 saw unusually high water levels here and there across Tennessee & NC. However, the Little River and Abrams Creek, and also Tellico, watersheds missed the rain seen just about everywhere else. Today, at 3.1 feet on the Little River at Townsend gauge Lower Abrams was runnable, but unlike a previous trip I was scraping rocks every now and again. We saw some strainers, but the significant ones were all in the first 1.5 miles or so. The first one was about .3 miles below the putin and was a mandantory portage. The others, in our kayaks, we were able to sneak past or weasel through.
Having run this twice in the last year with two different groups, I think it should be rated as having two Class III rapids in it. Because of its Class II rating this run attracts mostly novice boaters, at all but it's lowest level the second big rapid (about 1 mile before the flatwater starts) really would rank as a solid Class III in that it requires an S turn, a small ledge drop, and avoidance of a downstream rock just afterwards. Also I have been told by all boaters that have run this with me that these two rapids were "way harder than the Nantahla Falls (Lesser Wesser)" and this is a benchmark for a lot of the novice paddlers in the Southeast. Also, there is no easy portage around the largest rapid; which is too bad because it is a lot of fun and it would be nice to be able to run it multiple times.
Run on Jan 8th 2009 at 4ft on little guage. cades cove recieved 3" in previous 48hrs; footbridge had been washed out previous day. first 4 miles was mostly class II wavetrains with almost no rocks above water surface due to high level. last 2.5mi of whitewater includes a couple rapids that approach class III at this level and can be boat scouted. no strainers/logs, clear top to bottom this day. Lots of fun.
Ran lower Abrams today at 2.9 on the Little gauge. Some places were scrapy but still plenty of water. There were at least 4 logs spanning the entire river. The first had a tiny slot to sneak past, the 2nd and 3rd were in slower water and boofable the 4th was a foot or so under at this level. Was able to make it without portaging. still plenty of other wood to watch out for though. keep an eye out as I'm sure it will all be shifting for some time. Also, i agree a couple spots are above the class two range. not terribly hard but harder than expected for a class two run. very beautiful even after the tornado.
Ran the Abrams CG down to the lake section for the first time Sat March 10th. Little River gauge was around 3.25ft. Kayaker...historically I paddle class 3-4, with the odd 5 here and there but I love any scenic river, especially wilderness river, no matter what the difficulty. Will come back with my open boat some time in the future. Abrams Creek was beautiful.
The most recent posts have plenty of information about trees due to last year's tornado. I have little to add to their data-- In the areas where the tornado was close or "In" the creek the overwhelming majority of the trees were blown down parallel to the creekbed...in other words, very few were knocked down such that they would interfere with a boater. On our run there were maybe 4-5 spots where a tree was down across the entire river. In all cases they were easy to see/ID from well upstream and at our water level we could all boof/scrape over them (1 hard boat kayak and 2 duckies). As I recall most of these trees were missing branches, so they looked more like "logs over the creek" rather than "trees down in the creek." The only section, in fact, that I found even slightly "strainer-dicey" was about a mile (1.5 miles?) below the putin where the main channel was on river left and you had downed trees with branches coming out into the river from both the river left and also the river right.
At 3.2ft the flow was constant. Rapids were mostly class 2's and the pools were not long and not slow. These were not Hiwassee pools (large, very-slow-mowing water)...overall we were kept moving at a pretty constant pace and we completed the entire run in about 3.5 hours (including the lake, to the takeout) with perhaps 20 minutes of stops along the way.
W.r.t the comments about the stretch of class 2-3 rapids about 1 mile above the lake-- yes, it's worth a scout for folks who do not routinely run class 3 rapids. The individual drops were all class 2, perhaps 2+, I'd say, and it's pretty obvious when you're getting into this section as: 1) you'd have been on the run for some time and know that you're close to the end; 2) the river narrows a bit and some small cliffs/rock faces on either side of the creek; 3) the noise of the rapids is enough to make you take notice.
Ran this 2-7-2008, little at townsend was just above 3.5, little at maryville was 2400cfs. Strangely the cades cove raingauge only showed .36" of rain on yesterday. I live 20min from the river and it poured half the day yesterday. Wife and I ran it and loved it, first time down for both. Water was definitely UP, I have nothing to compare it to other than the other pictures posted here. The entire run is full of great class II water, at this level you should be comfortable in II+. We had to get out and scout a few times, but could run everything with no trouble. At .3mi from put in there was a river wide strainer, but easily spotted and avoided. The run is completely clear rest of way. Some wonderful lengthy long class two sections. Lots of great class II play spots at this level as well. This run was much more exciting than I expected and was tons of fun. The down side is the 40min flatwater paddle at the end, into a headwind to get to the take out. very remote, absolutely beautful. no easy escape routes if something goes wrong, once your in there your in there, so be prepared:( FYI, in my open boat, I had to duck to get under the foot bridge after the put in. That may be my own guage for future runs. There is a trail that leads to the foot bridge directly across from the ranger station. I will try to add some pictures from the run.
Ran this today 2-7-2008, little at townsend was just above 3.5, little at maryville was 2400cfs. Strangely the cades cove raingauge only showed .36" of rain on yesterday. I live 20min from the river and it poured half the day yesterday. Wife and I ran it and loved it, first time down for both. Water was definitely UP, I have nothing to compare it to other than the other pictures posted here. The entire run is full of great class II water, at this level you should be comfortable in II+. We had to get out and scout a few times, but could run everything with no trouble. At .3mi from put in there was a river wide strainer, but easily spotted and avoided. The run is completely clear rest of way. Some wonderful lengthy long class two sections. Lots of great class II play spots at this level as well. This run was much more exciting than I expected and was tons of fun. The down side is the 40min flatwater paddle at the end, into a headwind to get to the take out. very remote, absolutely beautful. no easy escape routes if something goes wrong, once your in there your in there, so be prepared:( FYI, in my open boat, I had to duck to get under the foot bridge after the put in. That may be my own guage for future runs. There is a trail that leads to the foot bridge directly across from the ranger station. I will try to add some pictures from the run.
Looks like a good minimum of around 2.7 on the Little River gauge. The drainage at the putin is 60 square miles, though some karst in Cades Cove cuts into that a little bit.
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Typical rapid at 2.2 feet
Take the wine out of the box
Checking out a possible camp site
Holly Locke having fun
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