My First River, the Tellico

You can't tell, but I'm actually terrified at this point.

It just occurred to me that I have not actually written about the river river I ever kayaked, which is another classic east Tennessee run. I’m just crazy. Well, this post is going to be all about the Tellico, a short run full of drops and fun.

The Gist

I love the Tellico. It’s always fun, only about an hour and a half away from Knoxville (with a drive not nearly as awful as the Dragon drive to the Cheoah), and has a pretty short and easy shuttle. You can even take a bike to run it, which saves on a car.

The first time I paddled the Tellico was in a university-rented, banana-yellow Trigger, and I should not have been on that river that day. I got my arse kicked; let’s just leave it at that. The Tellico is, like the Ocoee in that it has two major sections, the upper and the lower. I’m going to talk about the upper because that’s the one I’m actually familiar with, but the lower is less drops with more technical rapids (though overall, easier). The upper Tellico is a lot of fun at 2.1-2.5, gets pushy higher and at 3.0 feet is a little too much (the first hole becomes terminal…no bueno).

The River

Tellico = drops. Like the Little, the Tellico is a great intro to creeks, though more for its drops than technical moves. For three miles, you hit seven rapids, starting with the creatively named Top Ledge, a 6-foot drop right past a bridge. The rapid’s pretty simple, just don’t go too far right for a pinning potential and don’t run at high water.

Next comes Dirty S. Every river’s gotta have a rapid I just can’t do with grace, and this one’s it. It’s basically a little slot move angling your boat right, so if you’re not me, it’s easy enough. Then we’ve got 8-foot ledge, another great named rapid, that can either be a really fun no-brainer boof straight down or with a little twist to it. If you want the interesting line, angle right off a little curler on river right, but be careful. Messing this up, though not deadly, could make you look ridiculous as you hit rock or get smacked around by the water.

Now we’ve got Cry Baby, which leads into Baby Falls. Cry Baby is honestly not too bad so

Andreas boofing Baby Falls

long as no wood’s in it. This rapid tends to collect wood. Once you’ve gone past that, you’ve finally reached the 14-foot auto-boof, super-fun, drop-into-a-pool Baby Falls! Either river left or river right are fine, just don’t go center or you might eat it. Both sides of the river at the pool have nice eddies where you can beam a minute at the fun drop, then set up for Diaper Wiper.

I have had the fortune of never flipping at Diaper Wiper, but as a shallow, sort-of slide, I’d imagine that’s not a favorite part of the run. River left is the main line, with the water pillowing into rocks toward the bottom. Hit that with a low brace and let it take you down to the bottom.

Now you’ve got fun, easy stuff, as well as a river’s view of Bald River Falls. If you’re dumb (yeah, I said it), you can make the steep, wet and slippery climb with your boat to the first drop and huck the 22-foot waterfall. The climb is harder than the waterfall, and frankly to me not worth it, but hey, to each his own.

Andrew V. running down Diaper Wiper.

More fun stuff finally leads you to the last rapid, Jared’s Knee. This rapid can be split into three sections, the first rapid being the most straight forward. The main point to remember on this rapid is that the water is going to push you left of where you want to be for that final drop. Paddle hard! Also, quick rule of kayaking. If you think you’re paddling hard enough, you’re not. So, seriously, paddle hard or you’ll go river left. Should you know you’re going to end up going off the left side of the boof, angle right. There’s a crappy pinning rock submerged on river left and boofing straight, even though it looks like you can, would not make for a fun day. I really appreciated this bit of information because I had to boof on the left (because, guess what, didn’t paddle hard enough), and you really don’t see that pinning rock until you’ve actually passed the rapid. It’s just a good thing to know on a first run of the upper Tellico.

Which, after a couple hundred yards of calm water, is now done! The takeout is on river left right before the road bridge. You can look upstream to see how impressive Jared’s knee looks from that angle, which is fun.


This concludes the story of the first river I ever paddled on. I love the Tellico, and I’m not alone in that one. Facebook statuses, text messages, and pictures of my friends always show the excitement of an expected Tellico run and the happiness of the actual experience. It’s east Tennessee boating at its best!


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