Almost lost to a devastating dam proposal in the 1960's, no other watershed in the state earns higher marks for outstanding wilderness value and whitewater paddling than the Obed. Only 45 minutes from Knoxville, the combined Obed-Emory watershed contains over 100 miles of paddling opportunities from quiet floats to large volume whitewater, reminiscent of the New and Gauley Rivers in West Virginia. As Tennessee's only federally designated Wild & Scenic River, the water quality and degree of protection of the system, enables the privilege of paddling through the wildest places in Tennessee, despite being a short distance as the crow flies from the greater Knoxville area. Winter and spring rains pump up the river system sufficiently for paddling, though a wet summer can also create paddling opportunities.
The Obed drainage is composed primarily of four streams — the Obed, Clear Creek, Daddy's Creek, and the Emory River.
The Obed itself starts in Crossville, first breaking through the sandstone cap rock in the ten-mile stretch down to Adams Bridge, known as Gould's Bend. From here to Potter Ford, the Obed floats four slow miles, interrupted by a short spurt of robust rapids. The next 12 miles down to Obed Junction see the Obed slowly transform into a sizable river, as many side streams increase the flow, and ever growing canyon walls begin to surround the river corridor. At Obed Junction, Daddy's Creek joins from the south and the Main Obed Canyon begins. The Obed's hardest whitewater and grandest scenery waits downstream. The Emory River joins a mile above Nemo Bridge with the downstream flow keeping its name, despite the Emory being much smaller than the Obed.
Clear Creek has the cleanest water and the most remote beginnings. The first 20 miles below Hwy 127 offer one of the finest overnighters in the area through narrow and quiet canyons. The stretch from Barnett Bridge to Jett Bridge is the most often-utilized stretch for novice paddlers, though an experienced leader is a must. The difficulty continues to rise on the short section from Jett to Lilly Bridge, where exciting class II and sometimes class III whitewater make for a popular trip. Little Clear Creek joins Clear Creek just above Lilly Bridge, and has a short but sweet class IV steep creek section just upstream, which is accessed from Hwy 62. Below Lilly Bridge is Clear Creek Canyon, one of the most magnificent canyons in the state, jam packed with solid class III-III+ whitewater. Once you're at the confluence with the Obed, it is six miles down to Nemo Bridge.
Daddy's Creek drains the southern end of the watershed and makes the biggest splash of the four streams. Hidden in the seven mile stretch between Antioch Bridge and Devils Breakfast Table lies Daddy's Creek Canyon. This spectacular 2-mile long canyon is lined with awe-inspiring bluffs and fantastic class III-IV whitewater. Below Devils Breakfast Table, Daddy's Creek moves down two swift miles of class II to the Obed. Putting in at Devils Breakfast table is the most common way folks paddle the Main Obed Canyon down to Nemo Bridge.
The Emory River drains the high mountains surrounding Frozen Head State Park before dashing through Emory River Canyon, a fun class II-III+ run down to Nemo Bridge. The ten miles from Nemo to Oakdale is one of the most popular beginner runs in the area, where frequent flows and straightforward class II rapids afford a great introduction to the watershed. It is in this lower stretch that the Emory is bombarded with side-streams which, in high water are some of the most sought after creeking experiences in Tennessee. From the steep bedrock perfection to be found on the pristine Island Creek, to the larger and more waterfall-laden Upper and Lower Crooked Fork, to the long and intimately pretty Crab Orchard Creek — these smaller tributaries add that much more to what is already an amazing watershed.