The Dirty Bird–Pigeon River

The Pigeon is probably the best (and dirtiest) river to learn to paddle whitewater for most people in Knoxville and surrounding cities. It’s got two sections–the upper and the lower–and is great for complete beginners and those wishing to run the Ocoee who need to step up to class III. Though I taught and lead plenty of river trips on this river, it was all in kayaks. Yesterday, I paddled it in a canoe and whew, what a fun little ride! The concept remains the same: good river to gauge your readiness for the Ocoee. Enjoy!

The River

The Pigeon is about an hour away from Knoxville on the Hartford Exit right off I40, which is convenient especially for new boaters learning the ropes of shuttling and what not. This II-III+, 4 mile stretch of river starts at Walter’s Power Plant and ends at the bridge in Hartford. The river is road side mostly so good for portaging should your day not go as planned. Also, as the nickname indicates, the Pigeon is a dirty river. While it’s not the worst river out there, I definitely got some iodine rubber cement on my cut as soon as possible.

The Rapids

Most the rapids on the Pigeon are class III and straight forward–stay on right side or left

Good Rock to practice catching eddies and peeling out from. Middle of the river.

side or center depending on the rapid. The first one Powerhouse is just below the put-in and is more or less a wave train down center. After that, some class II+ read and run before Lost Guide at 2.3 miles into the run. This is a good class III+ rapid that starts right of center and moves far right to avoid an unpleasantly large hole in river center. After paddling just left of a pointy rock on river right, quickly cut back left and between some rocks, then down right center through the last big hole at the bottom. A good large eddy is on river right for boater/gear retrieval and as set up to surf the bottom hole (be wary of the deep, keeper hole on far river left).

Next is Double Reactionary, or the rapid I swam and now have good footage of. Start river left of the first hole, cut back right to avoid the second hole in center. Simple enough and again, another eddy on river right offers a spot to grab gear and boaters before the last rapid right below called Accelerator. Start right of center angling left to avoid some holes then work your way left and cut back right to avoid another couple of holes. Relax on some calm water for a few hundred yards then the take out!

I have fond memories of being a beginner paddler on the Dirty Bird, a river that was once so polluted it was called a dead river for many years. After regulations and technology advancements forced the nearby paper plant to clean up its act, the Pigeon can offer life to some native animal species and fun to those wishing to learn whitewater sports that offer us another perspective of the natural world. So get out and have fun on the river! See ya there!


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