While most people think of whitewater paddling as a summer sport, the Southeastern U.S. has plenty of slightly less traveled (but entirely awesome) rapids and runs in areas with mild winter temperatures. The rivers below are three of the best winter whitewater spots for each level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and have ample parking space, so access won’t be an issue, either—there’s plenty of room for everyone.
But first—this sport is not for the uninformed. Get training or go with someone who knows what they’re doing. The worst thing you can do is hop in and try to figure it out on the fly, because you could definitely hurt yourself or someone else. If you’re looking for help, get in touch with some of the pros at places like Ace Kayaking or Tennessee Valley Canoe Club—they’ll get you all the training and info you need.
Also, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Kirk Eddlemon’s *White Water of the Southern Appalachians, Volume *1. It’s packed full of more detailed descriptions of these spots and more, shining light on everything from exactly where to park to areas where beginners should steer clear.
Oh, and one more thing. Always, always, always follow proper etiquette when using public land (aka, leave no trace).
1. Tellico River, Tennessee
Beginner to Intermediate
The Tellico River is at its best in the winter (and spring, too) and is a perfect place for a beginner to quite literally test the waters or an intermediate paddler to sharpen her skills. The Lower section of the river is an easier Class II-III paddle, but the upper section turns into a Class IV stretch, so there’s plenty to keep paddlers of all levels busy. There’s a nice little 12-ish foot fall at the onset, aptly dubbed Baby Falls since it’s an easy introduction to kayaking over falls, and is followed by the super fun Diaper Wiper section.
Once you’re ready to progress onto the more challenging upper section, you’ll encounter a series of falls that lead to the grand finale: a straight up class IV rapid known as Jarrod’s Knee. If you’re going to paddle the Tellico, however, make sure the water levels are in an acceptable range (somewhere between 300-600 cubic feet per second), which you can check on the USGS Waterdata site.
2. Obed Wild and Scenic River, Tennessee
Intermediate to Advanced
Navigating the rapids on the Obed Wild and Scenic River in Cumberland County is the next step up from Tellico, and is most certainly for intermediate and above kayakers. Obed includes fun runs like Daddy’s Creek, Island Creek, Emory River Canyon, and Clear Creek. The best part is that it’s really about what you make of it, because the system is so diverse. You can craft a super challenging session, or weave a more low-intensity route through the river—the choice is yours. There’s a race at Daddy’s Creek every winter, and it’s a rad event to either participate in or just watch from the sidelines.
Oh, and the entire river is flowing with travertine water (water that moves through salt and limestone) producing a crystal clear composition with a distinct turquoise hue that’s reminiscent of places like the Caribbean seas. And yes, it’s just a gorgeous as you might imagine. The rapids are amazing, but the water quality is what really makes Obed stand out among the crowd of Southeastern whitewater spots.
3. Little River Canyon, Alabama
When you’re ready for an advanced adventure, Little River Canyon near Fort Payne is for you. Located inside a nature preserve of the same name just 65 miles from Chattanooga (a perfect weekend or day trip spot), Little River Canyon is considered the premier run in Alabama, has a couple of fun and challenging runs like Wolf Creek and Johnnie’s Creek. This river is composed of three distinct sections that all offer high quality rapids that will certainly get your adrenaline rushing. The rapids below the Little River Falls are consistently class IV-V rapids, and it’s called the Suicide Section, so bring your A game.
Share the Love
If you’ve got a soft spot in your heart for whitewater in the southeast, getting involved with or donating to, organizations that help keep our waterways clean, safe, and accessible is never a bad idea. American Whitewater, the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, and American Rivers are great organizations for giving back time or money to support the waters that you enjoy.
Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.
Featured image provided by Angela Greenwell