I have done this river once before on a short 9 mile float in 2018 with a friend and some of our kids. This year we decided to come back and tackle the longest trip available from the outfitter https://elkrivercanoes.com/ the 44 mile trip from Tims Ford Dam to Fayetteville (just the two of us this time). We had to check with the outfitters several times as the river is Dam controlled, and conditions can change based on the release schedule. Overall the outfitters were really helpful in planning this trip and I would highly recommend them.
Our trip started Wednesday June 26 at 3pm at Tims Ford Dam, which is about a 20 minute drive from the outfitter. For this trip we had my Riot Enduro 12’ kayak, and my friend rented a canoe (Old Town I believe). We had all the provisions we needed for a 4 night 5 day river adventure. The top section of the river is really beautiful, very cold and packed with trout to catch. It also had a thick layer of fog hanging over it for the first 9 miles or so, very spooky at times! We paddled for a couple of hours before finding a very scenic campsite. Once we had almost finished the set up of our respective sleep systems, this young man showed up out of nowhere, and swam across the river to come check us out. I say check us out because that’s exactly what he was doing. He asked odd questions like if we had any pistols, or axes!? He also throughly checked out our belongings. After 15 minutes or so of him making us feel odd, he split back into the wilderness from where he had come. We felt like he was maybe investigating for nefarious reasons, and since we did not want to sleep with one eye open, we decided to pack down camp and bug out. So we got back on the river around 7pm, with the daylight quickly running out, and the fog still hanging thick over the water. We paddled for another 1-2 hours in the fog before finally finding a suitable campsite in the dwindling daylight. We stayed up late that night watching a thunderstorm that would never hit us and listened to coyotes howling in the distance. The trip definitely started off with adventure. We think we managed to do 8 miles the first day.
Thursday June 27 we woke to find that our new campsite was also very scenic, and the river in front of us contained many trout. I fished for a bit and quickly caught my first ever rainbow trout which we decided to have for breakfast! Apparently it was a popular spot for trout as our little spot was visited by several fisherman. Even though we saw very few people on this trip, our campsites being randomly visited became a bit of a running theme. After eating, fishing and hanging out we put in around 12.30pm (we are not very good about getting on the water early despite our best efforts). The water was clear and the scenery continued to be beautiful! We stopped a few times and had continued success fishing for trout! Most were all rainbows, but I believe I caught one brook trout! The good weather continued for a couple of hours until the sky finally opened up on us. After paddling in the rain for a few hours, and accidentally falling into the river we found a suitable place to make camp and get dry. I had recently bought a new large rain fly which came in super handy this day. We took out around 5:30pm and think we did 10-13 miles.
Friday June 28 we put in at noon after the extra morning duty of properly drying out all our wet gear. We had apparently camped very close to our campsite the previous year, so we had some idea of our position on the river. The outfitter is located pretty much at the halfway point on this trip, and since I had forgotten coffee, we planned to take our break from paddling at the outfitter and jump in the truck to grab the forgotten provisions. The outfitter ended up being about about a 2 hour paddle from the previous nights camp, and a good spot to check in with the outside world. We put back in around 3pm, and took out for the night around 5:30pm again. We found a sweet island to camp on, but came across a land owner who was giving us grief for camping without permission on private land. Now this was a true island with water either side, so I don’t think it anyone could own it, but after being polite and chatting with the guy, he ended up relenting. I caught my personal best fish at this spot, and we were now in smallmouth country! We set up a pair of high powered binoculars and watched Jupiter and 3 of its moons above our campsite. We believe we did 10-13 miles again this day.
Saturday June 29 we managed to put in at 11:30am! The sun was out and the river was flowing nicely. This day was mostly uneventful except for continuing to catch lots of bass! Towards the end of the day you start seeing more and more house as you get closer to Fayetteville, but the river remains beautiful. Campsites were becoming fewer and fewer, and with the previous days events we really didn’t want to camp on someones back yard! We had all but given up on finding one more place to call home, but finally found a good spot 2 miles from the end! We were treated to a beautiful sunset over a lazy part of the river. Even though I had begun to think of a proper bed and a hot meal cooked by someone else, I ended up being really grateful to get to spend one more night on this amazing river. Plus I had one of the best night's sleep in my hammock I have ever had! Didn’t get out of bed till 9am the next morning. Again 10-13 mile this day.
Sunday June 30 was our last day on the water, and we planned all along on a short paddle day to finish it out. It was literally about 45 minutes from the end, which we were glad for. You take out at a park in Fayetteville, and after calling the good folks at the outfitters to come pick us up they were there in about 20 minutes! After packing up the truck, we quickly found a greasy spoon to get some food at as we had skipped breakfast.
I would definitely go back to the Elk again, and probably many times! It’s beautiful with clear water, it changes depending on what section you are on, it’s not technical paddling but it’s not boring either. We saw turtles, minks, otters, golden eagles, lots of herons, deer and caught 4 different species of fish! It’s clean and feels very wild, although you’re never too far from civilization, we even had spots of cell service to be able to check in with family. The only negative thing I have to say about the experience is encountering some suspicious and sometimes weird locals. Other than that, 10 out of 10 would recommend!
Kayaking, Canoeing, Kayak Fishing, Fishing
River/Creek (Up to Class II)
Number of Portages:
Ran into some less than friendly locals.
Rain shelter was key. Only one place to restock, so make sure you have plenty of water or a filter (or both!)
Weather report said 0% chance of rain for every day, however it ever did rain on us or stormed close to us almost every day. Don't completely trust your weather report!