Click for Asheville, North Carolina Forecast Big Laurel Creek, NC
US 25/70 Bridge to Hot Springs





300 cfs minimum Painted on the river left wall underneath the US 25/70 bridge at the put-in.  The old beta on levels was that -6" was the minimum, 1'-3' ideal, and anything over 4' scary.  There have been reports that the two floods in August 2001 changed the interpretations, however, and that the level cutoffs are all about 6" less than they used to be.

The Big Laurel is generally runnable when Ivy Creek is over 300 cfs.  An alternate -- pre-world wide web -- rule of thumb is that the Big Laurel is good to go when the difference between the French Broad's flow at Newport, TN and Asheville is over 2,000 cfs.  To find out what the French Broad at Asheville and at Newport is running, call the TVA at 800-238-2264 or click here:  TVA Streamflows.

Character: Great introduction to creeking
Scenery: Beautiful, heavily forested gorge
Distance from Downtown Asheville (to take-out): 43 minutes
Length: 3.7 miles on Big Laurel, 3.3 miles on French Broad, Section 9 (III (IV-))
Season: January-April
Other sections: Heidi Domeisen reports running several sections of the Big Laurel upstream of the usual put-in;  if the Big Laurel is over 3', consider paddling Spring Creek instead
Put-in: US 25/70 Bridge at Hurricane, NC
Take-out: Hot Springs, NC (alternate:  walk .82 miles upstream on the railroad tracks to Stackhouse)
Directions from Asheville (to put-in): 35 minutes.  Head north out of Asheville on US 19/23.  Take the US 25/70 (Marshall) exit.  Follow US25/70 21 miles to the sharp left-hand turn to cross the bridge over the Big Laurel.  The road continues to Hot Springs, the usual take-out.

Directions to the alternate take-out at Stackhouse:  Head north out of Asheville on US 19/23.  Take the US 25/70 (Marshall) exit.  Follow US 25/70 19 miles to State Road 1139/1319 (Stackhouse Road;  note that this turn precedes the turn to cross the bridge at the put-in by about 2 miles).  Look for it on your left shortly after you pass USA Raft.  Turn left and follow Stackhouse Road downhill all the way to the river.

Shuttle: 8 minutes each way.  Follow US 25/70 all the way to the outskirts of Hot Springs. Just before crossing the bridge into town, turn right, then left to go under the bridge and upstream to the rafting outpost parking area.  Park, then retrace your steps back to the US 25/70 bridge.
Other access points: A trail follows the run on river left all the way to the French Broad.
Camping: There are camping and lodging opportunities aplenty in Hot Springs.  My family and I like the Rocky Bluff USFS Campground (828-622-3202;  open the Rocky Bluff file with the free adobe acrobat reader).  Open May 1 to October 31, this campground has a short nature trail running alongside Spring Creek.  To get there, take NC 209 South three miles out of town, heading toward the put-in for Spring Creek.  Campsites cost $8 a night.  To learn more, check out Gorp's Rocky Bluff page.  Other campgrounds include the Hot Springs Campground, conveniently located on the river and the USFS's Silvermine Group Campground (828-622-3202).

There are many, many rustic bed and breakfasts in Hot Springs.  I know several paddlers who have been married at The Duckett House, for example, and another couple who were married on Max Patch but had their reception at the Rock House.  The most unique bed and breakfast, however, has to be Elmer Hall's Sunnybank Inn (828-622-7206).  Extremely popular with AT through hikers, a stay at Elmer's includes a family-style vegetarian dinner and breakfast and a chance to converse with an extremely eclectic assortment of guests.  In a former life Elmer was a Methodist minister at Duke University;  his library is extensive.  Most find the Sunnybank Inn through word of mouth.  Here are some of those words:  Google Search on Elmer and the Sunnybank Inn.  And for the two of you who are chomping at the bit for pricier accommodations, here are a couple additional Hot Springs lodging options.


Gradient Big Laurel elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 52 fpm on the Big Laurel;  21 on the French Broad
  By mile: 3.67 miles:
34, 65, 70, 24 fpm over last 0.67 miles
  Maximum: 83 fpm (over 0.48 miles)
  Maximum half Mile: 82 fpm
  Maximum mile: 71 fpm
  Online: American Whitewater's Big Laurel Creek Page
  Print: Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Maps: Hot Springs Spa's Map to Hot Springs
Photos: Big Laurel Photo Archive

Guess how Hot Springs got its name!  Consider reserving yourself a tub at the Hot Springs Spa (828-622-7676 or 800-462-0933;  see the price list in the preceding link). The most private tubs are numbers 5 & 6.  Most paddlers take out at the rafting outpost on river right 1/3 mile upstream, but if you timed it right you could paddle directly to the tubs on river left.  Retrieve the bottle of wine from the truck, change out of your river clothes in a changing room, shower, and relax in a hot tub.  What could be finer?  You can even reserve a massage!

Do a Google Search on Hot Springs and you'll get a lot of interesting hits.  I've found the Sherpa Guide to Hot Springs useful, and Hot Spring's history interesting reading.  Consider timing a trip to the French Broad to coincide with the annual French Broad River Festival.



This is a great run for intermediate paddlers seeking to run their first creek.  The most dangerous spot is Suddy Hole, a nasty hole on the river-right side of fan-shaped river wide ledge.  Run this ledge a little right of center, but far away from the hole on the right side of the fan.

Some paddlers elect to walk up their boats upstream to Stackhouse after the Big Laurel's confluence with Section 9 of the French Broad.  Those electing to paddle the French Broad to Hot Springs will find themselves entering the larger river at the head of the long, flat, relatively shallow section known as Windy Flats.  After Windy Flats the excitement factor picks up in the form of Section 9's two most interesting drops, Kayaker's Ledge (III at all but high levels) and Frank Bell's (IV- at all but high levels).  Both rapids are easily snuck:  they occur in the channels on the river right sides of large islands.  Run the left sides of the islands and you'll miss them entirely.  This won't be necessary, however, for paddlers who have successfully navigated the Big Laurel.

The island on whose right side Kayaker's Ledge forms is about 130 steep feet high and occurs at a sharp right hand bend in the river.  Scout Kayaker's Ledge before running it -- it creates an obvious horizon line.  The pair of small islands on whose right sides Frank Bell's Rapid forms are located about a half mile below Kayaker's Ledge and about a quarter mile below the last of the series of small islands below the main island at Kayaker's Ledge.  There is a great ender spot at the bottom of Frank Bell's, a good enough spot that in the days when enders were king we'd sometimes walk our boats the 2/3rds of a mile up the railroad tracks from the end of the road on the river left side of the river just to do them.  If memory serves, 1,000 cfs was the optimum ender level.


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

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