Cheoah my Soul

Randy hitting the rock at the top of bear creek. Photo credit: Cheryl Killman

Now it’s time to talk about one of my all time favorite rivers, the Cheoah. Nestled on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee at the tail of the Dragon (simultaneously the best stretch of road for motorcyclists and the worst moments in a carsick person’s life), the Cheoah is a dam-released 9 mile class IV river with so many different lines on so many rapids. This  post is all about reminiscing on one of my favorite whitewater runs in the Southeast.

The River

The Cheoah has about 18 rapids including six to eight foot drops, double drops, surf holes and waves, and of course the picture-worth Bear Creek Falls. Biggest bonus to the river? Except for a couple releases toward summer, the Cheoah has little boater traffic and even fewer raft traffic.  Typical releases are 800-1000 cfs, which usually raises the Cheoah to about 1000-1200 cfs with some natural flow. Some friends have paddled it as high as 1,700 (?) cfs, which I’d imagine is more fun than I’m ever going to be down for, but to each his own, right? Also, they’re a little dumb.

Upper Section

The first 7 miles of the Cheoah are the easiest, starting with a couple drops, a few holes,

Randy at the Takeout Rapid on the Upper Cheoah. Photo credit: Mary Ann Grell

and ending at Takeout Rapid-a three-section stretch starting with a hole on river right, two holes on both sides of the river, and a giant boulder that you skirt to the right of at the end. Takeout rapid is one of those that I never run clean, but have always gotten through, so to a certain extent it lives up to its name. If you’re running Cheoah for the first time, this rapid’ll wear you out a little bit. Also, I lied, you’ve got a stretch called Land of Holes before you take out in a calm section right above the lower Cheoah. Land of Holes is not too hard, but it’s long with a lot of holes so if you zone out like I almost always do, you’ll get caught up on a rock or hole and look like an idiot. That’s the biggest risk I’ve encountered, anyway.

Lower Section

Definitely want to be ready for that section, that said, it’s by far one of the most fun 2 miles I’ve ever paddled and never as intense as I envision it to be. The entrance to Bear Creek and Bear Creek separately are not too difficult. What makes them intimidating is their proximity to each other. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen boaters flip somewhere in Entrance and just barely roll up in time (or sometimes not) to hit Bear Creek. One friend has made it her signature move on the Cheoah. After that, the rapids become a little more intense with some bigger consequences. Having someone who knows the lines (like my Mamma duck!) really changes this section from too intense to too much fun. The last rapid of the river, Yard Sale, deserves its name. Hole on left, bigger hole on right, even bigger hole right after river center then another hole river center. Stay in your boat, paddle like hell, and  you’re golden. Swim, and you get to go into one hole after another after another. Either way, you’ll spit out into the final stretch, which calmly dumps you into the pool by the dam at the takeout.


Nikki flipped at bottom of Bear Creek Falls during Boater Chick Festival. She still won. Photo credit: Boater Chick Festival

Beer is the best way to end the Cheoah at the takeout (which works for camping on those weekend releases). At 15-20 minutes, the lower section is also great for multiple laps, with some people doing as many as 6 or 7, probably more, runs on this section. Being roadside, the Cheoah also makes for good scouting and eddying out if you are just mentally or physically done. It’s good for first time class IV runs as well as stepping up your game for  harder rivers like the Watauga. Yep, I love this river, and I’m not alone on that one. With one more release for the year this November, I look forward to hearing good stories from my southeastern friends.



4 responses to “Cheoah my Soul

  1. Pretty impressive! Love the video. The ranch where I live is named after the Wildwood Falls in Oregon. We enjoy watching kayakers brave the 25′ drop. Just amazing. Thank for the great post.

  2. Charlie, FYI your page just came up on my goggle search for “cheoah photos” you are all over the inter web 🙂

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