Tom DeCuir, Linville Gorge, NC.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image. Linville Gorge, NC
(Linville Falls to Lake James)


Class

Flow

Gauge
IV-V+
(3-4 @ VI)
200-700 cfs Runnable between 200 and approximately 700 cfs (or 1.4 feet and 2.4 feet on the guage at the take out).  The upper-end is an educated guess;  no one I know has run it higher than 2 feet, and I have shown up and decided to paddle elsewhere when it was running 2.3 feet.  Two feet is the approximate breaking point between a creeky run and a very steep run down an honest to god river with a lot of push.  Keep in mind that the gauge is 16.4 miles downstream of the put-in;  it is an historical record of the flow at the put-in six hours earlier.  Use caution when the level is rising, and expect less water at the put-in than at the take-out when the level is falling.  If driving from a distance, expect the level to drop about 18% in six hours when falling from 700 cfs and about 5% in six hours when falling from the 225 cfs.
 
Character: Wilderness steep creeking at its finest
Scenery: Bottom of a stunning 1,600-2,000 foot deep gorge, the deepest, longest and most rugged in the Eastern US
Distance from Downtown Asheville (to take-out): 65 minutes
Length: 16.4 miles
Season: March - April
Other sections: None (what, 16.4 miles isn't enough?)
Put-in: In the olden days we put-in below Linville Falls, hiking down the trail toward the falls, then bushwacking down to put-in just below their base.  The bushwack is very steep;  you'll probably lower your boats part of the way with a throw rope.  With the falls in the background this is a dramatic put-in, but it is not very environmentally sensitive given the nature of the approach.

Though it involves a longer hike, considering the lesser degree of environmental damage and the fact that almost all of what is eliminated is relatively flat water, the preferred put-in today is from the Babel Tower trail, 4.4 miles downstream from Linville Falls.  Another advantage is that one draws less attention to oneself putting in here, and there was talk that the rangers weren't pleased the river was being boated.  Use discretion when putting in (un-load boats quickly, get them out of sight, and don't linger or draw attention to yourselves).    

Another common alternate put-in is from the Conley Cove trail.  This put-in cuts the run in half and avoids the steepest 4.7 mile section.

Take-out: Upstream of the bridge at the confluence with Lake James
Directions from Asheville (to take-out): Take I-40 East to Exit 81, then Sugar Hill Road into Marion.  Turn left onto US 221 North, then one block later right onto US 70 East.  Stay on US 70 East five miles to a left onto NC 126 North.  Follow NC 126 11.5 miles to the bridge over the Linville River.  Take the road on the left just before the bridge to get to the gauge and the take out.
Shuttle: Return about four and a half miles on NC 126 to the right onto Kistler Memorial Highway (also known as SR 1238 and Old 105).  Take this very rough road north to your put-in:  approximately 10 miles to the Conley Cove trail, 16 miles to the Babel Tower trail or 20 miles to trails below Linville Falls.  This is the only shuttle I have ever done in which a four wheel drive truck with high ground clearance was a virtual necessity.  To get to the preferred put-in, hike down the Babel Tower trail and turn left to head upstream at the junction with the (unmarked) Linville Gorge trail.  Put-in just upstream of the major drop (the second well-defined drop below Linville Falls and the first major drop).
Other access points: Babel Tower trail (1.3 mile hike from Kistler Memorial Highway to the river;  5.3 miles downstream of the Linville Falls put-in), Conley Cove trail (1.35 mile hike;  8.2 miles downstream), Pinch In Trail (1.5 mile hike;  11.4 miles downstream)
Camping: A free camping permit is required for overnight stays in the Gorge from May 1 to October 31.  Permits can be obtained at the Information Cabin on the Kistler Highway, 0.4 miles after the turn from NC 183.  Warning:  do not sleep in your truck by the side of the road -- people have been issued tickets for doing so.

Linville Falls NPS Campground.  Sites are $8 / night per site for two adults plus $2 for each additional adult in the winter (November 1 - April 30, campground closed when the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed) and  $8 / night per site for two adults plus $2 for each additional adult in the summer.  Located a couple miles upstream of the Linville Falls put-in.  Campsites are first come, first served.  There are fifty tent sites and twenty RV sites.  To get to the campground from the put-in, take the Kistler Highway back to NC 183.  Turn right onto NC 183 and follow it less than a mile to the Blue Ridge Parkway Spur.  The entrance to the campground will be just past the left onto the spur.  Additional information is available on the Blue Ridge Parkway Camping Page and the NPS Camping Page.

Gradient Linville Gorge elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 113 fpm over entire 18.4 miles
201 fpm over the 5.9 miles from Babel Tower trail to 2 miles below Conley Cove, the point at which the river begins to flatten
143 fpm over the 8.2 miles from Linville Falls to Conley Cove
82 fpm over the 8.2 miles from Conley Cove to just upstream of Lake James
  By mile: 16.4 miles:
50, 75, 78, 98, 143, 226, 246, 226, 159, 185, 94, 95, 67, 33, 37, 25, 25 fpm over the last 0.46 miles
  Maximum: 533 fpm (over 0.075 miles)
  Maximum half mile: 302 fpm
  Maximum mile: 260
Guides
  Online: American Whitewater's Linville Gorge Page
  Print: Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Maps: Sherpa Guides Map of Linville Gorge (but note:  the Conley Cove trail is not marked!  It is the trail from Kistler Memorial Highway that meets the river just upstream of the words "Linville River").
Photos: Linville Photo Archive
Other:

Linville Gorge is a great place for hiking and climbing.  It was one of the first designated Wilderness Areas, and as such, its managers have decided to leave the trails unmarked everywhere but the trailheads.

 


 

This is a long (16+ miles), demanding trip through the heart of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.  Generally run over two relaxed days (put in to Conley Cove, then Conley Cove to take out) or in one massive and rushed push.  The (relatively!) flat water at the top of the run can be omitted by putting in using the 1.3 mile long Babel Tower trail at the cost of only one well-defined drop (a 15 foot class III).  In theory the last five miles of relatively flat water at the bottom of the run could be omitted by taking out using the 1.5 mile long Pinch In trail, but this trail is reported to be very rough.  

 


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Revised: November 12, 2003.

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