A Little Piece of the Smokies

Hint, it’s a river. The Little river is probably the poster child for whitewater in the Smoky Mountain National Park. Don’t get me wrong, the Smokies house more creeks and rivers than a kayaker can shake a paddle at, but the Little is almost always every boater’s first glimpse into the wonders of southeast Appalachian whitewater.

It’s also not my favorite run, but I’m a minority in that. Seriously, at 45 minutes away

Mary Ann running the Elbow.

from Knoxville with solid class III-IV in the middle of beautiful scenery, I realize I’m nuts to think this way. My first run was pretty high and pushy followed by a bony second attempt so I just need a river level that meets my picky needs (also some more creeks under my belt) to enjoy this gem of a river. Anyway, for those with more gumption than I, here’s some info about the Little river in the Smokies.


Did I mention it was close to Knoxville? The Little is perfect for an afternoon run after (or during) classes/work/life, and you can still get back in time to study, finish work–or enjoy beer and food with boating buddies. It’s also a fairly short shuttle (for the South, probably would be the longest river ever in the Northeast). The put-in’s pretty simple, too. Just drive into the parking lot next to the sign that says, “Danger! Drowning occurs here” (or something like that; there are three warning signs in the area). The Sinks is your first major rapid.

The River

Well, correction, the Meanies make up your first rapid. The main stretch is called the Sinks to the Elbow, but if you’re gonna run the Sinks, running the Meanies helps sets you up. Let me be honest first, this is hear-say. I have not done it myself (…yet). Meanies drop 1=avoid holes, Meanies drop 2=avoid more holes. Then you hit the Sinks along the tongue. Go too far right and you could flip, eating rocks. Go too far left, and you could flip, eating rocks. This is a good example of boating advice we all get (and at some point give) that both frustrates people and accurately describes the way to run the line. It’s easy; just don’t screw up.

Boofing at Silver Diner. Photo credit: Mary Ann Grell

After the Sinks, the remaining stretch of the Little is fairly easy for a creek. By this, I mean that for me, creeking is more difficult so I learned that creek class III is harder than river class III. The lines on the Little are tight, with high water making the river much pushier. Paddling a creek well makes one look more like a badass, and, when not well makes one look like a pinball. Just think “Uh! Uh! Uh! …Uh! (that’s someone hitting every barely exposed rock in the Little).

Silver Diner (Dinah! as exclaimed by boating buddy Bigbee) is the biggest rapid between the Sinks and the Elbow rapids and ends in a fun right-angle boof at the end. After that, a couple interesting rapids that you can finagle through. Finally, Elbow ends your run into calm water. Like the Sinks, I have not run the Elbow, mainly because I have a full-face helmet and can’t get the image of smacking my nose into that pointy rock (Elbow) out of my head. It’s also a “just don’t screw up” rapid. The takeout is on river left just a couple hundred yards afterward.

OverallNathan running the Sinks. Photo credit: Nathan

Again, I really wish I could appreciate this river. It is a classic southeastern mountain creeky run, and most southern boaters break into creeking with the Little. On top of that, emerald green foliage in spring or flaming fall leaves in autumn make the Little a gorgeous river, too. If ever driving to the most visited national park in the country, definitely drop your boat into the river while you’re there!


3 responses to “A Little Piece of the Smokies

  1. wow, that looks terrifying! i went kayaking once, in a nice calm bay and through mangrove tunnels, it was incredible! i want to go again, but not anywhere like this!

    • thanks for the comment! I really should start putting up other types of kayaking like sea kayaking and kayaking on big, calm rivers. There’s so much to enjoy with beautiful scenery and what not, and I haven’t touched too much on that.

  2. Pingback: Earthy Journalist·

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