Click for Asheville, North Carolina Forecast Big Creek, NC
Lower (NPS Campground to Confluence with Big Pigeon)


Class

Flow

Gauge
IV 1200-3000 Lower Big Creek is almost certainly running when the Oconaluftee is between 1,200 and 3,000 cfs;  it is generally running when the Oconaluftee is as low 850 cfs.  Once at the creek, confirm the level using the gauge painted on the river right piling of the bridge next to the picnic area near the confluence of Big Creek and the Big Pigeon;  1.5 feet is the minimum, 2.0 low optimal and 3.5 high optimal.  It is unlikely Lower Big Creek has been paddled much above 4.5 feet, even by very good boaters.  It certainly wouldn't be appropriate above this level for the typical Big Creek boater.

It is often true that when the TVA's Little Pigeon at Sevierville (not the same as the USGS's Little Pigeon at Sevierville) gauge is between 1,500 and 3,000 cfs, Big Creek is running.  Despite being located on the next watershed East, the USGS Cataloochee gauge isn't a very good predictor of Big Creek flows.

The Oconaluftee and TVA Little Pigeon at Sevierville flows are both available on the  TVA Streamflows site and from the TVA by telephone:  800-238-2264.

 
Character: Continuous creek run
Scenery: Scenic despite road closely following creek.  The run begins in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Distance from Downtown Asheville (to take-out): 55 minutes
Length: 1.8 miles to standard take-out;  1.9 miles Pigeon River Gorge parking lot
Season: March-April
Other sections: Upper Big Creek is a challenging class V creek run, while Lower Big Creek provides an excellent introduction to creeking for boaters with strong class IV skills.
Put-in: The metal footbridge at the parking lot below the Big Creek NPS campground
Take-out: Standard take-out:  below bridge with gauge;  alternate:  Pigeon River Gorge parking lot (requires running small dam)
Directions from Asheville (to take-out):

I-40 West to the first TN exit (Exit 451, Waterville).  Turn left at the bottom of the ramp, pass under I-40, follow the road over the bridge, turn left and head up the Big Pigeon.  The road will turn to follow Big Creek at its confluence with the Big Pigeon, crossing Big Creek twice.  Stop at the second bridge to leave a shuttle vehicle and and check the gauge.  

Shuttle: Five minutes each direction.  Continue over the bridge and on to the road's end at the parking lot below the Big Creek Campground.  The gravel road you'll cross just before entering the park is the scenic route to the Cataloochee Campground.
Other access points: Many possible from the road following the creek.
Camping: If it is open and you can snag a spot, the Big Creek campground would be a wonderful place to camp.  However, there are only twelve campsites and they're very nice, so they're in high demand.  Further,  the campground is seldom open when Big Creek is running.  Another option is the campground at Cataloochee, which can be reached from both the road over the low-water bridge at the put-in and a right turn off the road from the take-out to the Big Creek Campground.  The Cataloochee campground is a little larger (twenty-seven sites), so the odds of getting a site are a little better.  Also fairly close is the Cosby campground, which is much larger than either the Big Creek or Cataloochee campgrounds (175 sites).  All three campgrounds are open from mid-March to the beginning of November;  the Big Creek and Cataloochee campgrounds are $12 per site per night, and the Cosby campground is $14.  For more information visit the NPS's Great Smoky Mountains Camping Page.
Gradient Lower Big Creek elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 139 fpm standard run;  152 fpm if run dam at confluence with Big Pigeon
  By mile: 1.8 or 1.9 miles:
149, 127 fpm over last 0.8 miles or 155 fpm over last 0.9 miles
  Maximum: 216 fpm (over 0.19 miles) or 364 fpm (over 0.11 miles) 
  Maximum half mile: 174 fpm
  Maximum mile: 149 fpm
Guides
  Online: American Whitewater's Lower Big Creek Page
  Print: Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Maps:
Photos: Big Creek Photo Archive
Other:

Combining Upper and Lower Big Creek yields a 7.3 mile run falling at an average of 216 fpm.

 


 

Excellent introduction to creeking for boaters with strong class IV skills.  Unusually continuous run, but with no big drops.  Good introduction to reading rivers on the fly and catching small eddies.  Most paddlers take out below the gauge bridge, but the dam just above the confluence with the Big Pigeon is runnable.

 


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Copyright 2000-2003 [Chris Bell, Asheville, NC].
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Revised: November 12, 2003.

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