Places to Kayak in Tri-Cities Tennessee

Places to Kayak in Tri-Cities Tennessee
In the northeast corner of Tennessee is the Tri-Cities region comprised of the major towns of Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport and surrounding small towns in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Kayaking is a popular sport in the area with rivers and gorges surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains and Smoky Mountains adding to the beauty of a paddle. Numerous outfitters offer guided trips and kayak rental or you can bring your own kayak and enjoy rapids from Class II to Class V.

Nolichucky River Gorge

A whitewater river, the Nolichucky Gorge has a 500 to 1,000 cfs range making it an easy Class III with sections above 3,000 cfs classifying parts as a IV. The river provides a true mountain setting for the more experienced paddler. In the spring and after heavy rains, look for white water conditions while the summer provides more mild rapids. The first miles of this rapid, beginning on the slopes of Mt. Mitchell, are the most difficult and will test the skill of even a skilled paddler.

Launch at the U.S. Forestry Service Poplar Boat Launch off Highway 197. Launch for the start of the most difficult rapids. The last miles are mild enough for beginners to launch from the Nolichucky Gorge Campground and paddle down to Big Rock. As a free-flowing river, water levels change daily on the Nolichucky River Gorge so check the website before heading out.

Nolichucky River Gorge
americanwhitewater.org/content/River_detail_id_1766#tab-flow

Ocoee River Gorge

For a challenge, kayakers can head to the Ocoee River Gorge which was the site for the white water used events in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Schedules for the dam drainage time vary so be sure to check before you head out to paddle.

The upper part of the river contains the one mile Olympic course with mainly Class V rapids. The upper part is open on the weekends starting in late April through end of October.

The middle section is five-mile stretch of whitewater. Paddlers will negotiate diffiicult Class III and IV rapids.

The lower section of the Ocoee is tamer as it dumps into the lake. It is also more wide open and free from commercial rafting and paddler traffic. This section is suited for novice and intermediate paddlers as the rapids do not reach over Class III. There are launch sites near the Horn's Creek Resort and Ocoee Outpost off Highway 64.

Ocoee River Gorge
theblueridgehighlander.com/whitewater_rafting_2/

Nantahala River

At the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains and in Nantahala Park is the Nantahala River. The crystal clear river features eight miles of easy Class II rapids before ending with Class III whitewater rapids called Patton's Run and the Upper Nantahala Falls under the powerhouse. Just past the take-out point is a Class V rapid that drops at a 45-degree angle called Lower Nantahala Falls.

Above the powerhouse is the Cascades, a steep and narrow section for advanced paddlers after big rains and high waters create Class IV rapids. This dam controlled river releases daily 15 miles upstream with cool water year round. Paddlers must pay a fee to kayak the river available for purchase near the river gorge.

The Nantahala River launch site is within walking distance of the Nantahala River Lodge is located in the Upper Nantahala Gorge off Wayah Road.

Nantahala River
americanwhitewater.org/content/River_detail_id_1101

Article Written By Courtney Johnson

Courtney Johnson is a freelance sports writer and photographer based in California. Her articles and photos appear regularly in newspapers and magazines such as "Triathlete" and "Cross Country Skier." Johnson graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in media production and minor in writing. She is studying for her copy editing certificate at the University of San Diego.

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