Whitewater Rafting The Nantahala River in Western North Carolina

Rafting The Nantahala River

 The Nantahala River offers some of the best whitewater rafting in the southeastern united states. This class II river runs eight miles through the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Below you will find information about rafting this gorgeous river during different months throughout the rafting season, as well as an overview of the rapids of the Nantahala and how to navigate them properly.




Rapids Overview

The rapids on the lower Nantahala range anywhere from gentle flat water to class three thrills. The definition of a class three rapid is a rapid that requires some whitewater experience to navigate. Your outfitter will give your group a safety instruction speech before dropping you off at the put in. There are two commercial launches on the river. Depending on which outfitter you choose, you will put in at the upper launch or the lower launch. Both launches offer a nice calm spot for everyone to get situated in the raft before paddling out into the main current. One of the first things you will notice is the super cold water. The water stays at about fifty degrees year round. Once the raft has been paddled out into the current, you will be swept downstream toward the first major rapid, which happens to be the second largest rapid on this section.
Patton’s Run
Patton's RunAs you approach Patton’s Run you will see a sharp right hand turn in the river. Just around this corner is the rapid. The water will change from just small waves lapping at the side of the raft into large waves with large rocks everywhere that pose a risk of getting stuck. To avoid these rocks it is important to hug the inside of the turn, staying approximately fifteen feet off of the right hand bank of the river. Once you hit the straightaway you will splash through a series of large waves before hitting a calm spot. The trouble most people have with this rapid is the large rocks on the left hand side of the river. If you drift too far right you will find yourself stuck on the rocks. Once you are in the straightaway after the large rocks you won’t have to worry about getting stuck until you get to the next rapid.
Tumble Dry
Immediately after Patton’s Run you will reach a fork in the river. When rafting the best route is to the right of the island. At the beginning of this rapid there are a few shallow rocks that could cause you to get stuck. These shallow rocks are on the right; so again you want to hug the right of the river staying about fifteen feet off of the right hand bank. This rapid starts off as just small waves that lap at the sides of the raft, but once you float around a gentle right hand turn you will slide into a large set of waves that are always fun. At the end of this rapid there is a large rock that poses a high risk of getting beached. To avoid this make your way to the left center side of the river as you splash through the set of waves.
Pop and Run
Pop and Run is not a very serious rapid, it is more of a fun little trick. There will be flat water about two or three feet deep flowing down just before the first bridge. You will see a lone rock in the center of the river that can be bumped with the raft without danger of getting stuck. It is a fun little move on the river that you can do if you want more thrills. Immediately after Pop and Run you will come to another fork in the river. Make sure you go to the right of the island. As you float down the channel you will pass under the first bridge. This signifies about one fourth of the way down the river.
Pyramid Rock
Pyramid rock is another rapid with some opportunity for extra thrills. In addition to the larger waves that make up this rapid there is a large pyramid shaped rock in front of an island; hence the name. If you do not want to hit the rock position your raft so that you float just to the right of the large rock then once you pass it stay a little to the left of center to avoid a second large rock on the right hand bank. Then just splash through the remaining waves into a calm spot. If you want some more thrills you can bounce off of the large pyramid shaped rock and do a spin into the waves below. To do this your group will have to paddle hard into the rock, then the current will spin you off most of the way around. after the current stops spinning you just straighten the raft out before splashing through the waves below.
Deblibar’s Rock
After passing under U.S. 19 you will float passed a park on the right hand side of the river. This park is called Ferebee Park. If you want you can pull over to the concrete beach and stretch your legs or have a picnic. Just after the park you will enter Deblibars Rock rapid. This rapid starts out as a series of medium sized waves leading into a sharp right hand turn. Once you come around the turn you will see a large rock to the far left and a rock with water pouring over it in the center of the river. There are two ways to run this rapid. The first route is to stay to the right of the overpour the making your way back to the center to avoid a large rock on the far right hand side of the river. The other more difficult route is to go in between the over-pour and the large rock on the left hand bank.
Quarry Rapid
Quarry rapid consists of a sharp left hand turn followed by some of the biggest splashiest waves on the river. You will start by coming up to a right hand bend in the river. As the water picks up a sharp left hand turn will become visible. You will want to hug the left hand side of the river as you go through this sharp turn to avoid bumping into the rocky right hand bank. From here it is just a straightaway through a big splash followed by four or five large waves.
Root Canal
After Quarry Rapid you will move into Root Canal. This rapid consists of a sharp right hand turn with a tree overhanging the river on the left hand bank. The tree’s roots are visible wrapping around the rocks on the left hand bank. The roots of this tree are the source of the rapid’s name. To run this rapid stay to the right center avoiding the tree and its roots. Rafts have been known to get pinned on the tree then flip, dumping the rafters into the freezing water. There is not much of a calm spot after this rapid before Whirlpool picks up where Root Canal left off.
Whirlpool gets it’s name from the very strong current that slides passed  large rock creating a whirlpool that can sometimes catch rafts and hold them spinning around behind the rock. This rapid starts off slow then picks up into larger and larger waves. The last wave is the biggest with a large pile of foamy white water at the top. If you hit this last wave square you will get the passengers in the front of the raft nice and wet. Immediately after the last wave is where the whirlpool forms. The further left you are after the last wave the more likely you are to get caught in the ‘Whirlpool’. If you get caught it is no big deal, you can get out by paddling toward the center of the current. This will allow you to get flushed downstream.
Ledges is a rapid that consists of a few small slides down rocks. The beginning of this rapid can be a little tricky. At the top of the rapid there are lots of shallow rocks that could get rafts stuck. To avoid these just stay to the left then move over to the right once you pass the shallow rocks. You will slide over some diagonal ledges of granite before making your way into a set of small waves. Once you get into the straightaway you will see a large rock on the right hand side of the river. Avoid this rock! This rock is what’s called an undercut rock and has an underwater cavity below it. If you hit this rock, and fall into the cavity you could drown. So once you hit the straightaway make your way to the left again.
The Bump
The Bump is the last rapid before the grand finale. This rapid has a large hydraulic at the end of it that can flip even the biggest rafts if it is hit wrong. The key to running this rapid successfully is keeping your raft straight when going down as well as having good momentum. Start off on the right hand side of the river gradually making your way over to the left hand side to avoid a large rock in the center of the river. There is a large orange construction sign hung in a tree that says “BUMP” in big bold letters along the left bank of the river. Just below this sign is the hydraulic that can cause some problems. You can either hit the ‘bump’ or go to the right of it. After this rapid you will float passed a large concrete beach. This is where rafters get out to scout the Nantahala Falls, aka Little Wesser. If you are new to rafting and are not accompanied by a guide it is recommended that you stop here to get a look at the falls before making your run.
The Nantahala Falls (Little Wesser)
Nantahala FallsThe grand finale of your trip will be the Nantahala Falls. This is the largest and most difficult rapid to navigate on the whole river. This is due to the sharp turns, pushy current, and large waves and hydraulics. If you do not have a guide with you, you will want to scout the falls before making your run. You can do this by pulling over to the large concrete beach above the falls then walking up the paved path to the overlook. The Nantahala Falls consists of two sharp turns with large waves and two hydraulics at the end that are bigger than the bump. When making your run down the falls you will want to start off to the left gradually move to the center of the flow as you approach the main drop. When approaching the main drop stay just left of center keeping your boat strait as you plow through the big hydraulic at the end. Make sure you smile because there are people watching and professional photographers taking your pictures. After you splash through the second big hydraulic immediately start to make your way to the right hand side of the river to avoid getting hung up on some shallow rocks. Depending on the outfitter you choose you will either take out on the left side or one of the two take outs on the right side. Your outfitter will inform you which one to use when you receive your pre-trip safety speech.
River Description By Month