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Western Plateau

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While the eastern end of the Cumberland Plateau gets its character from horizontally oriented sandstone strata looming over wooded river canyons, the western side of the plateau adds in the wild card of karst, or limestone geology. Many of the drainages west of Crossville drop through the same sandstone typifying the eastern end of the escarpment, but near the bottom, encounter massive layers of limestone. Here, strange things begin to happen. Some streams will have plenty of water in the beginning and then become swallowed by a large karst feature. Others run underground and then emerge near their end, and still others, stay hidden forever under the cover of the earth. While this can make judging adequate flows for paddling a little more dubious, this never-the-less adds rich character to the rivers flowing west from the Crossville area towards the Nashville basin. Waterfalls appear out of hillsides, and disappear back into whence they came, creating a paddling wonderland when the water table is up in the winter and spring months.

Just north of I-40 and west of Crossville is the Obey watershed. In this truly mysterious place, streams take on a unique character as they interact with the predominantly limestone streambed. The East Fork of the Obey is the most well-known run, presenting 13 miles of Jekyll and Hyde attitude, with large stretches of easy paddling interspersed with bursts of wildly intimidating whitewater. Hurricane Creek and Little Hurricane Creek are class V tributaries, and should only be considered by advanced paddlers. The West Fork of the Obey is a beautiful class II river known for its surf waves.

The Caney Fork River and its tributaries create one of the larger canyon systems around, surrounded by Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness and the incredible Virgin Falls State Natural Area. The most popular run in this area is on the Caney Fork Gorge, one of the longest stretches of whitewater in the state, presenting seven miles of non-stop action. At the takeout in Scotts Gulf, Bee Creek joins the flow from the south. Another classic section of river, it contains dramatic sandstone walls draping right into the river early on, followed by some of the best class IV paddling on the plateau.

Another tributary to the Caney Fork is Cane Creek, which flows through the heart of Fall Creek Falls State Park. Possibly the most impressively scenic paddling trip in the Knoxville area, this creek run is not for the inexperienced. The put-in alone, at the base of Cane Creek Falls, defies description. Though the first few miles bounce between sheer walled canyons blanketed with virgin hemlock and hardwood forests, the class IV+ whitewater will grab most of your attention until the confluence with Piney Creek, where several miles of gentler floating lead down to the highway.

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