The Nantahala River flows through the scenic Nantahala River Gorge in Swain and Macon Counties in the Nantahala National Forest of Western North Carolina. Giant pipes carry water from the Nantahala Lake across the mountains to the Beechertown power plant where it is dropped down on giant turbines to produce hydroelectric power. After going through the turbines the water is sent rushing out of the powerhouse and down the famous 8 ½ mile stretch of the Nantahala River between the power plant and Fontana Lake creating one of the most popular whitewater rafting attractions in the United States! The Nantahala River has class 2 & 3 whitewater. The river is fun and exciting, but does NOT require previous experience. Paddlers of all experience levels enjoy paddling the Nantahala River. The river is dam controlled and there is a good dependable water supply 7 days a week for whitewater rafting all season long! Total trip time is 3 ½ to 4 hours, including pre-trip instructions, getting outfitted and transported, and about 2 hours on the water itself. People from all over the world come to participate in the fun and exciting whitewater sports on the Nantahala River.
The Nantahala Gorge offers a wonderful and scenic setting for paddling. It is a beautiful natural environment and is host to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The Cherokee called the Nantahala the "Land of the Noonday Sun" because the walls on either side of the River towered so tall that the direct light of the sun could only shine into the Gorge during the middle part of the day when it reached its’ highest point in the sky. Today the Nantahala Gorge is still known as the "Land of the Noonday Sun".
The Nantahala has hosted many national and international paddling competitions, including the recent 2013 Freestyle Kayaking World Championships. It is a popular training river for Olympic athletes, as well as other competitive paddlers. The Nantahala will host the 2015 ICF Junior Wildwater Canoeing World Championships. World class athletes will be training in the Nantahala Gorge for the next two years leading up to that event!
Nantahala River Rapids:
Pattons Run is the first rapid on the Nantahala River and it comes shortly after the put-in site. Paddlers must stay on the right side of the river in order to successfully navigate this rapid. There is a notorious rock formation on the left side of the river known as ‘Jaws’ that paddlers can avoid being stuck on by just paddling in the current on the right side of the river, and enjoy the fun. The loud yelling & screaming at Patton’s Run is partly from excitement, and partly from the first splash of cold water on the river!
After Patton’s Run, there is an island in the middle of the river. Below the island is a series of small rapids forming a wave train that bounces you around enough so that you can ‘tumble dry’ after having been splashed good in the previous river rapids!
Pyramid Rock is a big rock in the river that gets its’ name from its pyramid shape. It is on river left about 1 ¾ miles down the river from the launch site. The current in the river will carry you toward Pyramid Rock. You can paddle away from it or do a ‘rock spin’ and continue down the river.
After you pass Ferebee Beach Picnic & Rest Area, you will arrive at Delebar’s Rock on river left at the beginning of a rapid. Just downstream of the rapid is another big rock on river right. Paddlers enjoy paddling away from Delebar’s Rock on river left and then immediately away from the other rock on river right!
The Quarry Rapid is just prior to the Hewitt’s Limestone Quarry on the left side of the river where you’ll see big mountains of gravel. There is an island in the middle of the river, dividing the river flow into two channels of water. The narrowed river on the right side of the island creates the large and exciting waves know as the Quarry Rapid. It is fun and exciting, and you’re sure to get splashed!
The river makes a right hand turn and creates a giant eddy from the center of the river to the left bank. The river current will push rafters to river right, however, if paddlers paddle hard so they can whip from the river current into the eddy on the river left, they can enjoy spinning in the whirlpool!
At this rapid, the river flows over a series of ledges. Paddlers need to negotiate the ledges in such a way as to not get stuck on the rocks. You will need to set your raft up to enter the next rapid that follows immediately. In the next rapid ‘Turtle Rock’ is on river right, and you need to paddle to the left in order to stay away from that rock.
Surfing Rapid is at the mouth of ‘Cat Stairs’ Branch, and is host to numerous kayakers and canoeists, who line up on river left to paddle in and surf this popular curling wave. They put on a big show as they practice their skilled paddling maneuvers.
The bump is a rapid just prior to Nantahala Falls. This rapid is marked by an orange and yellow road sign that hangs above the rock with a “Bump” warning. Paddlers should stay on river right where there is a small wave train giving paddlers a bouncy ride. Paddlers should avoid going over the large ledge on river left, because it will ‘bump’ rafters off of their seats, and many times into the water.
Nantahala Falls is a long and swift class 3 rapid, and it is the most exciting and popular rapid on the river. You approach Nantahala Falls on a large wave train of rapids that move your raft down stream as the river narrows into a swift channel. Paddlers should follow the swiftly moving tongue of water that goes on river left, avoiding the hydraulic on river right at Nantahala Falls. You will finish with a big splash as your raft exits Nantahala Falls. This rapid is a lot of fun, and generates great fun and excitement! Our photographer is stationed on the photo deck above river right, and will capture digital photos of this big adventure so you can remember the fun in photos and share on your social media pages!