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Whitewater Paddling

Overview Map of Whitewater Rivers

Knoxville is surrounded on all sides by exceptional whitewater and is regarded as one of the best paddling towns in the country. Heading North and West, the Obed Wild and Scenic River area and the Big South Fork National River are both protected, free-flowing rivers that provide excellent whitewater paddling for our area. South and East of Knoxville, we have the rivers that run through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. These classic mountain streams rely primarily on winter and spring rains to raise water levels enough for paddling while the dam-released Ocoee, Hiwassee, and Pigeon Rivers provide whitewater during the summer months long after most free-flowing rivers have slowed to a trickle. In addition, Walden Ridge and the Western Plateau offer more whitewater adventure. Our whitewater contributor, Kirk Eddlemon, has been paddling for 12 years tackling wild rivers all over the world. Each of these featured regions present his expertise of the area in addition to the river's classifications with links to more in-depth information. Kirk has authored the book Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians.


Big South Fork National River
Cherokee National Forest - North
Cherokee National Forest - South
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Obed Wild & Scenic River
Walden Ridge
Western Plateau

Whitewater Classifications

CLASS I: beginner with small waves and few obstructions.
CLASS II: novice with straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels and occasional obstacles.
CLASS III: intermediate with moderate, irregular waves that can swamp a canoe; may require complex maneuvers in fast or tight passages.
CLASS IV: advanced with intense, powerful, but predictable rapids and hazards, like submerged trees and rocks, that mandate precise boat handling and a battle-tested Eskimo roll for kayakers.
CLASS V: expert with extremely long obstructed, steep, or very violent rapids. Rescue is often difficult even for experts.
CLASS VI: extreme and exploratory with extremely dangerous, unpredictable, and often considered not navigable.


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