Click for Asheville, North Carolina Forecast Nolichucky River Gorge, NC/TN
(Poplar to Campground)





500-2,500 cfs

Call the TVA at 800-238-2264 or click here:  TVA Streamflows or here:  Nolichucky at Embreeville.  The gauge is well downstream of the run.  I'm collecting the information needed to create an online virtual gauge keyed to the rafters' gauge painted on the piling of the railroad bridge you'll pass under as you drive up Jones Branch Road.  Please record the date, time, visual gauge reading, and your subjective evaluation of the level of your run (low, medium, high, etc.) every time you pass this gauge.  Then email me your observations:  Gauge Report.  In addition to the benefit of having a more useful online gauge, I'll enter you in a raffle for valuable prizes.  Click here to learn more about The River Gauges Project. Thanks!


Over 2,500 cfs

Character: Great cruising river with lots of playspots, especially in the first mile.  Relatively high volume for the East, especially in the Spring.  Very playable intermediate run.
Scenery: Bottom of a deep, very scenic, heavily forested gorge
Distance from Downtown Asheville: 50 minutes to take out, 80 minutes to put in
Length: 8.1 miles
Season: All year (but levels are best in the Spring)
Other sections: Toe (II) and Cane (II) rivers upstream (the Toe and the Cane merge to form the Nolichucky);  several sections running from road crossing to road crossing downstream from the Gorge (one of these sections contains Big Rock, a popular park and play hole).
Put-in: USFS Poplar Boat Launch near Poplar, NC
Take-out: Nolichucky Gorge Campground
Directions from Asheville (to take-out): Head north out of Asheville on 19/23.  Take Exit 12 twelve miles into Tennessee (note that 19/23 becomes I-181 at the state line).  Turn right at the bottom of the ramp, then left at the "T"  intersection you hit almost immediately.  Just after the crest of a hill  2.4 miles from the "T" intersection you'll come to Chestoa Road.  Turn right onto it and follow it one mile to the bridge over the Nolichucky.  Cross the bridge and turn right onto Jones Branch Road.  Most take out at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground 1.1 miles up Jones Branch Road.  Another alternative is to take out at the USFS's Chestoa site 0.2 miles up Jones Branch Road.  You'll have to pay to park either place.
Shuttle: 30 minutes each way.  This shuttle is a classic.  In addition to being long (see information on hiring a shuttle driver below), you're almost going to feel like you're driving through folks' back yards.  Here goes.  Return 1.1 miles to the point you turned onto Jones Branch Road.  Turn right onto Chestoa Pike.  Follow it 2.1 miles, then merge onto the Jackson Love Highway (a fancy name for a modest street).  A couple blocks and 0.3 miles later you'll see Mohawk Drive angling off to your right.  Turn onto Mohawk Drive and follow it 2.3 miles.  This is more complicated than it sounds.  Set your odometer to 0.  Bend to the left 0.1 miles past your turn from Jackson Love Highway to stay on Mohawk Drive.  You'll soon pass a retirement home built on the spot old-timers (i.e., people paddling before 2001) will remember a drive-in movie lot and screen once stood.  0.3 miles after turning onto Mohawk Drive you'll come to round-about, with a hospital on the left and a series of schools on the right.  Follow the "stay right" sign and continue on past the round-about and the schools.  1.5 miles after turning onto Mohawk Drive you'll come to a "Y" in the road.  Angle to the right.  0.8 miles later you'll come to the end of your Mohawk Drive sojourn -- Mohawk continues straight but it is obvious that most of the traffic bends to the left onto East Erwin Road.  Take the bend and follow it to the "T" intersection with Rock Creek Road.  Turn right onto Rock Creek Road.  Note the stone building;  this is a good landmark for your return trip.  The most complicated part of the shuttle is over;  all you have to do now is take Rock Springs Road 9 miles up and over the mountain.  At the North Carolina line it will become NC 197.  At the bottom of the mountain (and after passing through the small hamlet of Poplar), NC 197 will bend sharply to the left to avoid running into the railroad tracks and the river.  Turn right at this bend onto the paved road leading to the USFS's Poplar Boat Launch.
Other access points: None.  Once in the Gorge, the only way out is by water or by foot alongside the railroad track.
Camping: Many visiting boaters camp at the Nolichucky Gorge Campground at the take-out.  Includes showers and running water.  Carefully count the number of campers and persons taking out with the campers and make sure that all have paid, either to camp (which includes the right to take out) or to take out.  Friction has occurred -- and campers ordered to vacate their campsites -- when the camp manager has suspected that all fees have not been paid.
Gradient Nolichucky Gorge elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 31 fpm
  By mile: 8.1 miles:
21, 19, 24, 42, 51, 37, 29, 23, 23 fpm over last .11 miles
  Maximum: 57 fpm (over 0.7 miles)
  Maximum half mile: 57 fpm
  Maximum mile: 53 fpm
  Online: American Whitewater's Nolichucky Gorge PageGORP's Nolichucky Gorge Page
  Print: Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Photos: Nolichucky Photo Archive
Other: Shuttle drivers can be hired both at the rafting outposts at the take out and at the hikers' hostel you'll pass just before driving across the bridge over the river and then turning onto Jones Branch Road on the way to the take out.  Expect to pay $15-20.  Hiring a driver saves a long shuttle (about an hour round trip).



Runnable down to 500 cfs or so but 2,000 cfs is probably pretty close to what most folks would consider ideal.  Some rapids begin to wash as the Nolichucky rises, but most get harder.  At 6,000 cfs I've snuck most of Quarter Mile.  The best playspots are in the first mile, with Jaws -- a friendly hole formed by a ledge stretching across most of the river --  the most popular.  Many boaters play their way down to Jaws and then walk back out on the railroad tracks.  One of the most exciting portions of such a trip is the walk across the trestle over the river at the top of the first major rapid.  Paddlers have been caught by trains while crossing the trestle.  Fortunately there is room to get off the tracks, but having to squeeze between the train and the side of the trestle is not for the faint of heart.


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Revised: November 12, 2003.

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