Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Southeastern Overnighters

While the Southeastern US may not be known for overnight kayak opportunities, there are certainly quite a few that are great as practice for their big brothers in the Western US and are absolutely worthy of exploring in there own right.  Over the past year I've been fortunate enough to dabble heavily in the available options.  Starting last September, I've been able to overnight the Gauley River, Raven Fork, Clear Creek, Obed River, Daddy's Creek, and Chattooga River.

As everyone knows, the Gauley is classic.  I'm fortunate enough that my Dad has been rowing a raft down the river at least once a year since before I was born.  I'm also fortunate enough that he agrees to put up with me and my kayaker friends as tag alongs in exchange for helping with rigging and breaking down rafts.  This results in a night in the lap of luxury on the side of a beautiful river with better food and drink than I ever get at home.  While the 26 miles from the damn to Swiss can easily be paddled in a single day, there's still plenty to be offered for a two day trip.  Despite the less than ideal camping (rafting companies own most of the nicer camping spots) and less than full on wilderness (logging roads in the canyon are frequented by locals on ATVs), the Gauley as an overnight offers a great opportunity to experience the river in a new way.

I won't say too much about the Raven Fork overnight trip here other than it's the best class V overnighter in the Southeast.  This is also the most true overnighter.  It could be done in a day but it would be a long day and the water levels work out better if it drops for the second day.  The logistics are a little difficult as you need high water, good weather, and an open straight fork road.  The upper section is rarely paddled and is some of the best class IV wilderness paddling around.  The campground at Enloe Creek is one of my favorite official campgrounds anywhere.  The lower section is the best class V creek on the east coast.  It's all tucked in one of the most remote areas of the southeast.  It's as good as it gets.
Ben Warf killing it on Caveman on a non-overnight trip through the lower Raven Fork Gorge.
The upper section of Clear Creek between Clark Range and Barnett Bridge is somewhere between a float trip and a whitewater run, but the scenery and over all experience make up for the lack of exciting rapids.  Great camping in rock houses and a cool hike to a nice 50 ft. waterfall round out the experience.  For class II-III paddlers wanting an overnight wilderness paddling experience, this is where it's at.  I don't think I'd do this run every year, but the overall experience is good enough that I'll go back again.

Kirk Eddlemon enjoying the serenity of Upper Clear Creek.
Sometimes the scenery is big too.

The comforts of rock house camping.
Four Mile Creek Falls is just a nice little bushwhack away.
One of a few spots where the family canoe is not the vessel of choice.  Still, it works.
The Obed River from Potter's Ford to Nemo might be the longest stretch of bridgeless whitewater in the Southeast.  While there are a few rough access points in between (hiking or 4 wheelers), a full twenty miles of canyon, protected by Catoosa WMA and the Obed WSR, await you between the two bridges.  While the whitewater in the upper is not classic, it's enough to keep you entertained between the cliffs.  The second day, below the Daddy's creek confluence, passes through the main Obed canyon and its classic class III rapids.  This is the best overnight trip in the Obed system, and probably all of Tennessee.

Mark Newton drives into the awkward pinch at Billy Goat Bluff.
This photo tries to make it intense.
Glamor shots at camp.  Look at that body...
Classic whitewater in the main Obed Canyon.
Daddy's Creek from Antioch Bridge to Devil's Breakfast Table is a classic Tennessee class III+ run; however, add in the extra 12 miles through the Obed Canyon and you've got a great 18 mile day or short overnight trip.  This year we chose to do it as a quick overnighter, putting on at 6 pm and taking off by 8:30 am the next morning so we didn't miss any work.  The whitewater is fantastic in both the Daddy's Creek and Obed Canyons, as is the great plateau scenery.  While not really a true overnighter (the run can be done in 3-4 hours with good water), the camping is great under the main Obed wall and there's no reason to rush through this place. 
Daddy's Creek Canyon is classic.  Even when it's low.
Camping in the Obed Canyon does not suck.
The Chattooga River from Earl's Ford to Lake Tugaloo was the first overnighter I did after moving to the Southeast.  Alongside great scenery and camping, this river just has soul.  Section III is a nice adjustment to loaded boats and the Narrows is magical.  Section IV has great camping (right below seven foot if you've got a small group) and a great finish with five falls.  This river also runs when little else is going in the summer time, which means great weather.  All in all, it's a classic.

Full moon camping on the Chattooga is where it's at.
That's it folks.  Just a few ideas on where to go to find some overnight whitewater enjoyment.



  1. Hi JJ, great article! Could I have your permission to reprint it in the Eddy Line, the newsletter of the Ga Canoeing Assn, with credit given, of course?


    Michael Buttram, ed.

  2. Hi JJ,

    My name is Lauren and I'm the Associate Photo Editor at I'm writing to ask if I may have your permission to use the following image in a Tennessee feature article highlighting the Obed River. I'll be sure to credit you and link to your website.

    Can you help me out?

    Thanks in advance for your consideration.

    Lauren Danilek