||Big Creek, NC
Upper (Walnut Bottom to NPS Campground)
||Upper Big Creek is almost certainly running when the Oconaluftee is
between 1,200 and 2,400 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, 1.7 low
optimal and 2.4 high optimal. It is unlikely Upper Big Creek
has been paddled much above 3.0 feet -- it gets much harder as the level rises.
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:
||Continuous western-style flush creek run
||Very scenic despite occasional glimpses of
horseback riders and hikers on the old railroad grade following the
creek. This run is entirely within Great Smoky Mountains
|Distance from Downtown
Asheville (to take-out):
||Up to 5.4 miles
||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.
||The wooden footbridge at Walnut Bottom, or as
far upstream as you're willing to hike . . . (see shuttle
||The metal footbridge at the parking lot
below the Big Creek NPS campground
|Directions from Asheville
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 and check the gauge. Then continue 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.
||1-2 hour hike. Park, pick up your
boat and start hiking up the trail to Walnut Bottoms. The
trail begins at the parking lot just downstream of the Big Creek NPS
campground. Huff your boat as far upstream as you like.
Big Creek is runnable at least as high up as Walnut Bottoms (5.4
upstream), but most run out of gas a half mile or so upstream of the
bridge over the creek, a 2.5-3 mile hike (and run). Hiking the
half-mile or so above the bridge yields two back-to-back miles
falling 292 and 321 feet, respectively, with a 192 foot final mile
to the take out. This is all runnable and extremely continuous
gradient, with the single biggest vertical drop being the ten feet
or so into Midnight Hole. The additional two plus miles gained
by hiking all the way to Walnut Bottom are extremely nice and would
seem steep almost anywhere else, but are seldom run due to the
effort involved. An alternate route into Walnut Bottom is over
the pass from Cosby.
|Other access points:
||Many possible from the railroad grade
following the creek, but all are accessible only by foot.
||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.
||5.4 miles (from Walnut Bottom):
166, 212, 286, 302, 263, 134 fpm over last 0.4 miles
||500 fpm (over 0.08 miles, twice)
||Maximum half mile:
Whitewater's Upper Big Creek Page
Big Creek Photo Archive
Combining Upper and Lower Big Creek yields a 7.3 mile run falling
at an average of 216 fpm.
Hazards include the extremely continuous gradient and frequent
fallen trees. This is full on creeking; a safe run
requires frequent scouting and great alertness to the possibility of
downed limbs just under the water's surface and jammed in undercuts.
Midnight Hole is the vertical drop clearly visible from the trail on
the hike in. It is an extremely popular swimming hole in the
summer. Just upstream of Midnight Hole, at a point the trail
comes very close to the creek, is Monster. On one recent run
an extremely accomplished and well-known local paddler pitoned and
pinned head underwater in Monster. Through good fortune
another paddler in his party -- unaware of the pin -- ran the drop
and knocked the pinned boat and paddler loose. The next boater
down ran the drop unaware of the carnage below, pinned and swam.
His broken boat stayed pinned for two days. Run the left line
at Monster or walk it!
This is by no means a complete list of Upper Big Creek's hazards;
such a list would be impossible to compile as it would constantly
change as rocks shifted (the apparent cause of the recent problems
on what used to be a popular line through Monster) and trees jammed.
This is a gorgeous run on a pristine river whose entire reach is
within a National Park. Please respect other users and the
natural environment. Minimize your impact in all ways