This is a favorite high water winter run for me because it's close to my house, it's not to long, fun but not to difficult, and the biggest rapid is within 1/2 mile of the take-out, just in case you get thrashed. I combine the second half of the Jonathan's Creek run with the second half of one of the Pigeon River runs from the Carolina Whitewater book. I start where Jonathan's Creek goes under the 276 bridge, where with good levels you can enjoy a swift current and plenty of class I-II practice surfing holes and squirt eddies, but nothing so formidable that you would even have to get your nose hairs wet, if you didn't want to. (Plenty of Class II action upstream, as well. Put in where you can.)
The section after 276 is prettier, though, with lots of expensive houses that you wish were all yours. Soon after the I-40 bridge, there is a series of 3 ledges which drop about 12 feet or so. The drops themselves wouldn't rank more than Class III, but the second one is often clogged with logs, so SCOUT!! And do so before the first drop, for it's hard to pull over between the drops. There is a way around the log-jam, but you better be able to make the move! (On a recent trip, I saw a friend of mine pin her boat in the first drop after flipping, so care should taken here, also.) Put in below the second drop (third drop is fairly easy) and make your way to the Pigeon!
Upon hitting the Pigeon, you'll find constant, fun Class II, maybe III in spots, water for almost a mile. Then comes the first of the two Class IV on the run. I consider it a Class III if you know the right line, which is the second channel from the right. The first channel on the right has a nasty rock at the base, which will make you stain your seat if you choose to go that way. The big channel on the left is good, but at higher water levels is nastier than I care to take on. More fun class II. Look for an interesting cable-car crossing when you pass the river gauge. Just before the river goes under I-40 and makes the homestretch to the take-out, a long stretch of flatwater precedes the other Class IV. This is an old dam with heavy hydraulics at ALL water levels (It eventually spits you out on the right. I know from experience). There is a chute on the right with a less-intimidating hole, and often a small chute/boof to the left of it with no chance of hitting a hole at all (the route I usually take).
Shortly afterward, you'll find the hardest part of the trip at the Hepco bridge, where you must drag your boat from the river to the road (goat trail, WHAT goat trail ?!?). There's really nowhere on the run without road access, with the entire Pigeon section paralleling I-40. With the more popular section of the Pigeon downstream, this section is often secluded and feels like a wilderness setting (except for the whirring of the semi's as they whiz by you). Usually the only people you see are the people driving past you on Jonathan's Creek.
Plenty of hotels on 276 going torwards Maggie Valley.
Take-out: I-40 to the Fines Creek exit (near the Tenn. border). You can see the bridge from both exit ramps. Put-in: I-40 to 276 exit (Maggie Valley). As soon as you're on 276, take first right and park in the gravel on the right.
- Trip Duration: Day Trip
- Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
- Skill Level: Intermediate
- Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)