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Difficulty II+(III)
Length 4.2 Miles
Flow Range 200 - 1200 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 6.05 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 11/04/2015 2:45 am

River Description

This is a nice run to try when the Lower Haw is at flood.  It is a bit harder than the Middle Haw and a bit easier than the Lower Haw.  At good flow levels there is one class III ledge and bunch of class I to II+ rapids along this stretch.  There are lots of small play features - bring the playboat if you have one.

Before starting, check out the run from the 15/501 bridge over the Rocky River.  This bridge is about 7 miles south of Pittsboro.  After crossing the bridge, turn into the drive on the left and park on the old road right of way that parallels 15/501.  You can then use the bridge to take a look at the river.  If you see a lot of rocks downstream from the bridge, it is probably too low.  The class III ledge can be seen upstream from the 15/501 bridge in the distance.  There is also a visual gauge on the river right downstream bridge support.  There is a goat trail down to the river you can use to look at the visual gauge.  A good minimum is probably -6 inches.  The run is fun at 6 inches to 1 foot. At 2 feet, bank sweepers are common and the river washes into the trees in numerous places. There are lots of great play features at around 2.5 feet. Many of the small features probably start to wash out above 3 feet.

The put-in is where Chatham Church Road crosses the Rocky River.  This is a one-lane dirt road with a steel trestle bridge, with decent pullouts on both sides.  Access trail is river-left.  The takeout is just before the Rocky River confluences with the Deep River, in TLC's White Pine Preserve.  You have to hike about 10 minutes up a well-maintained trail to the parking lot.

From the put-in there is about 2/3 a mile of flatwater for a nice warm-up.  You will see a small deck/dock on the left and then the river bends to the right.  Just after the bend, class I rapids begin.  It starts with some pretty mild ledges.  There are some small waves to surf just to warm up a bit.  After a few ledges, there is a larger rapid.  This rapid is a 4-5 foot ledge.  On river right it is a broken ledge of 2 or 3 drops depending on the spot chosen.  On the river left it is a single drop with a fairly sticky hole at the bottom.  At higher flows, this one can rip the paddle out of your hands and thrash you a bit.  In the middle there are a couple of nice slots with a two stage drop that are fun.  Pick your line - a nice recovery pool awaits below to pick up the pieces if needed.

Once you eddy out below the rapid, you can spend some time playing a small wave near the middle of the river.  After you finish playing, a couple more rapids await before crossing below the 15/501 bridge.  After crossing under 15/501, there are a few straight-forward rapids.  The river bends to the left and the class I-II rapids continue.  There are a few playspots but nothing too interesting.  The second stretch of flat water begins near where the river makes a bend to the right. At about mile 2.5 in this section, there is a larger creek entering on river left (look for a duck blind) across the river from a private picnic area.  Look closely and you'll see a 3-4' waterfall 100 yards upstream.  A nice place to paddle into to appreciate the moment.

After about 1/2 mile of flatwater, the river bends around to the right and the rapids start again.  From this point, the gradient picks up a bit and the rapids are pretty constant to the takeout.  The right side of the river begins to drop through a small gorge.  It is very pretty in the spring when the mountain laurel and rhododendron are in bloom.

In this last section there are several nice class II+ ledges and rock gardens.  There are a bunch of places to surf and play your way down the river.  Somewhere around mile 3.1, a small island splits the river for a short distance and there is one ledge that begins to form a hole above 1.5 feet.  After a bit over a mile of fun, the last rapid is a wavetrain. Pay attention and you'll notice a small power line passing over head, white pines growing on the bluffs, then one more small rapid. After this rapid, when the river is running you normally hit the backwater from the Deep River.  Once in the flat water, move to river right and look for a small creek (after TLC's property corner) along with trail markers.  You can take out here and follow the trail up to the parking lot. 


Rapid Descriptions

Knucklebuster Ledge

Class - III Mile - 0.95

Formerly referred to as the "Big Ledge".  The left side is side surfable but will pound you around if you get lazy.  It is pretty sticky above 2 feet on the paddler gauge and you need to try to work to river left in order to flush out, but beware of the logjam below.  Any flipping will generally result in the rapid attempting to rip your paddle loose and banging your hands along the rocky bottom.  Easier lines mid-channel and river right. There is a surf spot center-right at levels from -3" to 1.5'. Above 2 feet this is a fun wave, but it is hard to catch.

Round 2

Class - II Mile - 1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This surfing ledge is just below Knucklebuster and seems to just get better with higher flows.  Decent eddy service on river-left.

Unnamed Ledge

Class - I Mile - 2.75
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Yet to be named.  Good side surfing ledge.

Roundhouse Cut

Class - II+ Mile - 2.99

This jumble of boulders creates multiple lines with personalities that change with flow ranges.  At lower ranges, there's limited options and a slot.  Medium flows create a counterclockwise weak whirlpool in the main rapid, which is fun to ride if you're expecting it.  This washes out at higher flows but the water gets squirrelly and play gets interesting.  There's one or two boof lines with at least one rock to cut your knuckle on (Cory T. 2015).


Gage Descriptions

Three guages to look at.  The Crutchfield gauge is quite a few miles upstream from this run and only tells about half of the story. The Hwy 64/Siler City guage is a fairly good predictor but keep an eye on TICK CREEK NEAR MOUNT VERNON SPRINGS, NC (,00060), which is the other major tributary that can be used to predict this run.

If the sum of both the "Rocky River nr Crutchfield Crossroads" and "Tick Creek Near Mount Vernon Springs, NC" gauges add up to 80 cfs, the Lower Rocky will be running.  These gauges are about 8-12 hours upstream so when these two gauges first come up, the Lower Rocky will typically be running 8-12 hours later.  When these two gauges drop out, the Lower Rocky will still be running for another 8-12 hours.

Model #2: If the Siler City/Hwy 64 gauge reaches 4.5 feet (~325 cfs) or higher AND the Tick Creek gauge reads 3.2 feet (~60 cfs) the Rocky is running (or will be soon).  Basically, the sum of these two guages needs to be somewhere at/above 400cfs to be confident about level.

There is also a visual gauge on the downstream river right bridge support on the US 15/501 bridge.  Minimum on the visual gauge is around -6 inches.  0-1 foot is a nice class II+ run with one Class III rapid.  I haven't run it higher but I have heard it gets to be a lot of fun at around 2.5 feet.  It would probably start to wash out above that level.

Directions Description

From the 15/501 bridge over the Rocky River, you reach the takeout by going south on 15/501 to the next 4 way intersection.  Turn left onto River Fork Road.  You then make an immediate left which is still River Fork Road.  You follow this a bit less than a mile and turn right which is still River Fork Road (going straight is a dead end).  You follow this for a little less than a mile and bear to the left when another road comes in from the right.  The road turns to gravel at this point.  You continue on until you see signs for the White Pines Preserve.  You park in the lot at the White Pines Preserve (managed by Triangle Land Conservancy).  From the lot it is a 10 minute hike down the hill to the river.  You follow the trail just to the left of the map board in the parking lot.  This trail goes down the hill, past the power line right of way, then down past a gate.  A bit after the gate the trail forks - take the left fork down to the river.  You might want to check it out when setting shuttle so you know what to look for when taking out.


From the takeout parking lot, retrace back to where River Fork Road crosses 15/501.  Go straight across 15/501 and the road changes name to Walter Bright Road.  You follow Walter Bright Road about half a mile and turn right onto Wade Bright Road.  You follow Wade Bright Road for about half a mile until it ends at a "T" intersection.  Turn right onto Asbury Church Road.  You follow Asbury Church Road for about half a mile and then the name changes to Chatham Church Road.  Follow this road after it turns to gravel and it will cross the Rocky River.  After crossing the river, make a sharp right onto a gravel drive and park under the bridge.


The shuttle directions sound complicated but they aren't really that bad. 

No Accident Reports



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


Brandon L Price


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1194893 09/05/08 n/a n/a
1204528 04/17/15 Brandon L Price Small Updates to Desc. and Flows.
1204529 04/17/15 Brandon L Price
1204533 04/17/15 Brandon L Price
1204537 04/20/15 Brandon L Price Updated description.
1205419 11/04/15 Brandon L Price