Paddler's Paradise: The American Southeast
From the meandering Shenandoah to the legendary whitewater of the Gauley, the paddling opportunities in the American Southeast are unrivalled. While the West has a lot to offer in the way of deep, steep gorges and big water, the Southeast has all that plus tight, technical little creeks that tumble down out of the Appalachians. And best of all, the region's regular rainstorms and milder climes keep much of the fun flowing year-round.
Wild, White Water (Class IV and V)
The region is perhaps best known for its rollicking whitewater. The Gauley, with its well-deserved international reputation, was once considered a rite of passage for paddlers seeking to test their skills. And the Great Falls section of the Potomac, one of the largest runnable rapids anywhere, is a classic favorite of experienced paddlers. You'll also find whitewater galore on what we'll call the five Csthe Chattooga, the Cartecay, the Conasauga, the Cheat, and the Cumberland. Especially exceptional is the Chattooga's section III, between Earl's Ford and the US 76 bridge, where rapids like War Woman and Bull Sluice offer formidable challenges even to expert paddlers. And running the Cheat, with more than 30 rapids rated at Class III or higher through the Narrows and the Canyon, is an unforgettable experience.
A different, although equally invigorating, experience can be had on the Ocoee in Tennessee. A stunning variety of different types of rapids and holes make the Ocoee a premier playboating destination, where you can practice basic skills or get adventurous with wild gymnastic maneuvers. And while you're in Tennessee, don't miss the Nolichucky and the streams of the Obed-Emory watershed, with their incredibly scenic gorges and technical whitewater.
Medium to Mellow (Class I-III)
If you haven't quite reached the expert level yet, there are a few great options you ought to consider. For a little whitewater, look toward Georgia and the Alcovy, a stream rich in scenic beauty that culminates in a thousand-yard series of challenging rapids. The nearby Chatahoochee, which flows just outside of Atlanta, is a natural choice for beginner and intermediate paddlers. Though it's predominantly a Class I and II river, a few narrow, winding sections rate a Class III designation. The Nantahala, a Class II-III river whose most popular section flows through a scenic gorge in Western North Carolina, is considered ideal for boaters of any skill level.
Slow, Swampy Passages (Class I-II)
If you're looking for an easy, relaxing float, there is no shortage of choices for flatwater paddling in the Southeast. The fabled Shenandoah and the Suwannee belong in this category. The Shenandoah flows bucolically through the rich farmland, forested hillsides, limestone cliffs, and sandy islands of Virginia. And the Suwannee meanders through the mystical and mysterious Okefenokee swamp in Georgia.
But don't limit your search for paddling spots to those which have been immortalized in song. Some of the lesser-known rivers like the Green, the Enoree, the Santa Fe, and the Withlacoochee are also well worth exploring. In Kentucky, the Green and its tributaries are excellent choices for canoeists, flowing through gorgeous secluded forests and featuring a few simple rapids. The Enoree in South Carolina, with its fast-moving flatwater and good fishing, is another great spot for canoeing. And down south in Florida, the Santa Fe and Withlacoochee lead paddlers through long stretches of solitude and biological diversity, where paddlers can languidly take in views of the plant and wildlife species surrounding them.
If, after reading all this, you're not ready to pick up your paddle and head to the American Southeast, it would be surprising. With the best in challenging whitewater and unrivalled scenic flatwater, there's something for everyone to enjoy in the region. So what are you waiting for?
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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