Beth Maczka, Section 9 of the French Broad, NC.  Click for larger image. French Broad River, NC
Barnard to Hot Springs
(Section 9)


Class

Flow

  Gauge

III (IV-)

700 cfs (minimum to TO @ Stackhouse) 

  The gauge closest to the put-in is the French Broad at Marshall.  This gauge is not available on the TVA's flow line (800-238-2264) or flow page (TVA Streamflows), though the French Broad at Asheville and the French Broad at Newport are.   The level on the Marshall gauge is usually about half way between the levels on the Asheville and Newport gauges, unless there has been a big rain upstream whose waters have only just begun to move down the river.

III (IV-)

1,200 cfs (minimum to TO @ Hot Springs) 

III+ (2@IV)

3,500+ cfs

Character: Cruising, with good play and surfing at higher levels
Scenery: Pretty, in a wide, forested canyon with only occasional obvious signs of development 
Distance from Downtown Asheville (to take-out): 43 minutes
Length: 8.1 miles (4.1 to alternate take-out at Stackhouse)
Season: Year round (best levels in Spring)
Other sections: French Broad, Biltmore Run (I-II), French Broad, Section 6 (I-II+), French Broad, Section 8 (I-II), many more
Put-in: Barnard, NC
Take-out: Hot Springs, NC
Directions from Asheville (to take-out): 43 minutes.  Head north out of Asheville on US 19/23.  Take the US 25/70 (Marshall) exit.  Follow US 25/70 all the way to the outskirts of Hot Springs (this will require making a left turn to cross the Big Laurel -- if you are a typical paddler you will park after making the turn and check the gauge painted on river left beneath the bridge).  Just before crossing the bridge into town, turn right, then left to go under the bridge and upstream to the rafting outpost parking area.

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).  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: 20 minutes each way.  Retrace your steps back to the "T" intersection after the bridge over the Big Laurel.  Turn right with US 25/70 to continue retracing your steps all the way to the State Road 1151 (Barnard Road).  Turn right onto Barnard Road and follow it downhill all the way to the river (be alert, there are some twists and turns).  The put-in is on river right just upstream of the bridge.
Other access points: Stackhouse, hike into Frank Bell's Rapid, others
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 French Broad Section 9 elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 24 fpm to Hot Springs;  27 to Stackhouse
  By mile: 8.1 or 4.1 miles:
16, 21, 39, 32, 20, 20, 26, 19, 10 fpm over last 0.13 miles
  Maximum: 41 fpm (over 0.97 miles)
  Maximum half Mile: 41 fpm
  Maximum mile: 41 fpm
Guides  
  Online: American Whitewater's French Broad Section 9 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: French Broad Photo Archive
Other: Frank Bell's Rapid is named after one of the pioneers of southeastern whitewater.  I'm often asked if we're related, and while he's someone I'd love to be able to claim, to my disappointment we're not.  Learn more about this fascinating character by reading reading Gordon Grant's 1993 Obituary for Frank Bell Senior.

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.  Its greatest challenge for those beginning to build their skills is its width.  It is only slightly harder than the Nantahala if one sneaks the two most difficult drops, Kayaker's Ledge (III at all but high levels) and Frank Bell's (IV- at all but high levels).  Both are easily sneaked:  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.

Kayaker's Ledge comes at the end of the long, flat, relatively shallow section of the river called Windy Flats.  Windy Flats begins below Stackhouse, about the point the railroad tracks cross Big Laurel Creek.  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.

Section 9 varies significantly with changes in water level.  Many consider levels between 2,000-4,000 cfs on the Marshall gauge the most fun because higher water begins to wash out some of the drops and lower water can lead to a very long paddle through Windy Flats.  Although this stretch of river does not have an upper limit, with the increase in power and speed that comes with very high water levels it ceases to be a good intermediate run.  Craig Stickney, who has paddled it about as often as anyone the past couple years -- both in a hardboat and as a raft guide -- characterizes the different levels as follows:

Flow Level

Craig's Comments

300-700 cfs Super low Lots of rocks, and even the plants growing on the rocks are visible.  Interesting to see once or twice, but not a lot of fun.  At 300 cfs some rapids are very interesting just to get through
700-1,300 Low At this level, there are plenty of rocks and the rapids are shallow.  Don't bother going below Stackhouse from 1200 cfs down, super scrapy (and even at 1200 cfs everything below there isn't worth the paddle).  Sandy Bottoms wave (next to FBRC lunch spot) is nice and wide around 1000-1200 cfs, although rather short in height.
1,300-1,900 Medium Low Good level for folks just learning.  The rapids are all there.  Eddy lines and surf waves start to get fun, although the Sandy bottoms wave is pretty poor at most of these levels.
1,900-2,500 Medium The rapids start to get fun.  Many more surf waves form above 1900 cfs.  Big Pillow is a cartwheel spot around 2000 cfs as well.
2,500-3,500 Medium High The river turns much more into wave trains than Rock Gardens.  Surf waves abound, although there isn't any eddy service for most.  The bright orange/brown water is freakish.
3,500-5,000 High Even whitewater snobs will enjoy the river from here up.  Some rapids start to get largish holes, but nothing to really worry about.
5,000+ Yahoo! I've only done it a few times between 5000 cfs and 8000 cfs.  Really, Really fun.  More like the New in West Virginia.  Waves of 6-8 feet.  Zero technicality, just miss a couple of holes.

For descriptions of the many runs in the Asheville area less challenging than Section 9 -- including seven on the French Broad -- see Betsy Mayers' Paddling Asheville:  28 Gently Exciting Regional River Trips.  This very well done guide for those interested in paddling class I-II in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee includes put-ins, take-outs, directions from Asheville, landmarks by river mile, excellent maps and general comments. For less detailed descriptions of every run on the French Broad from its headwaters near Rosman, NC into Tennessee, see Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas.

 


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Revised: November 12, 2003.

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