Click for Asheville, North Carolina Forecast Big Pigeon River Gorge, NC/TN
(Big Creek to Hartford)





300 cfs minimum Big Pigeon at Waterville
Character: Very playable intermediate run
Scenery: Attractive, with only occasional signs of the nearby interstate highway
Distance from Downtown Asheville: 65 minutes
Length: 4.7 miles
Season: Scheduled releases from Memorial Day to Labor Day (see schedule below);  unscheduled releases year round
Other sections: Pigeon Dries, several sections upstream of the Dries as described in Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Put-in: Parking area at the confluence with Big Creek
Take-out: On river right a little ways down the river right channel around an island in Hartford, TN
Directions from Asheville (to take-out): I-40 West to the second TN exit (Exit 447, Hartford).  Turn left at the exit's stop sign, pass under the I-40 bridge and come to a Tee (stop).  There is a bunch of raft company parking here -- don't use it!  Turn left and park along the river (right) bank away from buildings and official parking areas.  Some times, USA Raft will allow private boaters to park in the grassy meadow upstream of their facility (ask first!).  Most raft companies will give you a lift back to the put-in in their buses on a space available basis if you sign a waiver first.  (Hint -- go into the registration area 1st and sign a waiver -- then ask for a ride).  Many busy days you can hitch a ride back faster than getting a bus ride.  The Pigeon, like the Nantahala and the Ocoee, is a reasonable location for a successful single car trip.
Shuttle: Return to I-40 and head east 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, and then turn left and head upstream to the parking area at the confluence with Big Creek.
Other access points: A road follows the river-left bank the first mile and a half of the run;  emergency access is possible in many places from the interstate highway following high above the run on river-right.
Camping: If it is open and you can snag a spot, the Big Creek campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a couple miles up the road from the take-out.  There are only twelve campsites and they're very nice, so they're in high demand.  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.
Gradient: Green River Narrows elevation profile.  Copyright Chris Bell.  Click for larger image.
  Average: 33 fpm average
  By mile: 4.7 miles:
36, 34, 34, 30, 29 fpm over last 0.66 miles
  Maximum: 37 fpm (over 0.94 miles)
  Maximum half mile: 37 fpm
  Maximum mile: 36 fpm
  Online: American Whitewater's Pigeon Gorge Page
  Print: Bob and David Benner's Carolina Whitewater:  A Canoeist's Guide to the Western Carolinas
Maps: MapQuest Map (the star is located at the put-in)  Re-center on the star and zoom in for a good look at the shuttle and the roads to the Big Creek and Cataloochee campgrounds.
Photos: Big Pigeon Photo Archive
Other: Be sure to check in with Cocke County Constable "Mac" McRae in the booth at the put-in when you paddle on scheduled release days.  His job is to count the number of boaters, and under the terms of CP&L's license, the greater the number of boaters, the greater the number of scheduled releases in future years.  Mac is an elected official and very supportive of whitewater boating's effect on the local economy.


From Memorial Day to Labor Day, CP&L schedules regular releases from their Walters power plant into the Pigeon River Gorge.  Water is usually released Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 12 noon to 6 pm;  this can be confirmed by calling 800-899-4435.  Because the put-in is just below the dam, the river can be run almost immediately after the river is "turned on."  The current drought conditions could prevent some scheduled releases, so it is not a bad idea to call for confirmation.

Unscheduled releases occur throughout the year whenever power is generated.  Unscheduled releases are subject to change and often are not announced on the 1-800 number.   One option for catching unscheduled releases is to monitor the online gauge located just downstream of the power plant (Big Pigeon at Waterville);  another is to call the power plant at 828-486-5965.

The standard recreational release is the minimum CP&L is allowed, 1,200 cfs.  Natural flow generally adds at least 100 cfs to this.  2000 cfs is optimum, and if more than 2200-2400 cfs is flowing, extra water is coming in from Big Creek and/or the Pigeon Dries.  I've heard of people running the Gorge as low as 300 cfs but have never done so myself.


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

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