Description and Directions
Directions to Putins/Takeouts:Nolichucky Expeditions/Chestoa | Jackson-Love | Sawmill | Big Rock
Rapid Descriptions:Big Eddy | Radio Tower | Rapid before Hi Rd/Lo Rd | Hi Rd/Lo Rd | Devil's Looking Glass | Ledges | Industrial Strength Washing Machine | Blevins | Embreeville | Tongue 'N Cheek | Ghost Eddy | Big Rock
There are several different sections of the river that can be run, each varying in dificulty and ease of access. Depending on your skill level, I would suggest starting farther downstream and working your way up towards the Gorge. I'll try to be descriptive, but you should go with someone who knows the river, especially the first time.
I'll start upstream and work my way down so there's some semblance of order.
The first put-in for the lower (I guess it could be called the Middle Noli, but I've never heard that used) is also the take-out for the Upper (Gorge) section. This is the Nolichucky Expeditions Campground. They charge $3 per person for access. I believe they have camping for an additional fee, bathrooms, possibly hot showers. There are 3 or 4 smallish (Class I-II) rapids between it and another put-in/take-out known as Chestoa. One of these rapids, the third, I think, has a nice eddy line to do stern squirts. As of Spring 2006, Chestoa offers free parking and river access, as well as pit toilets and changing rooms. We most often use Chestoa, both as a Gorge take-out and access to the Lower. Directions: to get to both Chestoa and Nolichucky Expeditions Campground: Get on Interstate 26 and take Exit 15 in Erwin (Jackson-Love Hwy), turn off the ramp towards Appco/Holiday Inn, take next right (Temple Hill Rd. - towards Appco again.), drive past radio station and take a left on River Rd. (there are signs advertising the campground, rafting companies, and Chestoa), at 4-way stop go left onto Chestoa Pike and across bridge, take the next right immediately after bridge (John Paul Jones Rd., or something similar). Chestoa will be on the right, keep driving to reach the campground - go straight across the rafting company's parking lot and go over little bridge over creek to the river access.
Just below Chestoa are some ledgy rapids that at some levels have fun surfing holes/waves behind them. Normally the easiest is to run down the right side. We usually thread back and forth. It gets a little steeper with some waves and such under the bridge - we run this on river right. There are a few holes in the middle. At higher water, I believe this could also be run on the left. Eddy out behind the rock in the middle of the river. (We call the "rapid" Big Eddy, but I think we made that name up ourselves). There's a wave/hole on river right of the rock that is better at some levels than others, but usually fun. If you're not into surfing, it's a good spot for stern squirts. For beginners, it's a good place to learn peel-outs as it's deep and calm below. Just stay away from the shallow area on river left.
A little flat stretch and up next is Radio Tower, the biggest rapid on the Lower (probably a low III, especially since the flow shifted slightly in the last flood). Not surprisingly, there's a radio tower on river left before the rapid begins. The river splits here, take the second right. The first is normally extremely scrapy but can be run at higher levels as a sneak to the main rapid. The top of Radio Tower is a very shallow boulder garden up until about 2,500 cfs. Try to stay in the center of the channel, that will line you up better for the "drop". Just do your best to avoid most of the rocks. The line through the main part of the drop, at normal water levels, is in the center of the river, where the two digonal wave/holes form a point. Drive right through this point. In the last flood, the run-out of the rapid has changed directions and created a new hazard. Most of the force of the water now flows directly onto the point of the horizontal shelf at the bottom, rather than just curving and flowing alongside the shelf as it used to. There is a pillow that forms on the shelf, I don't believe pinning is very likely, as a lot of water flows off. It doesn't seem to be undercut, yet. It is, however, quite intimidating, especially for beginners. If you were to wash up on this pillow, it will require an aggressive lean into the rock to avoid flipping. Also, will not be an easy place to roll, as you'll float only a foot or so off the rock wall for a ways downstream. I would recommend avoiding the shelf entirely and eddy out on the left immediately past the main drop. The eddy on river right has almost become a whirlpool since the flow shifted.
The rapid changes at various levels and usually goes through significant changes after every flood, or high-water event. At really high flows (5500cfs) there are two diagonal holes meeting at a point in the center, forming a haystack wave at certain levels. Go over this wave and be ready for the wave train below it.
A little rapid below, go either right or left. Left is easier although the end is sometimes scrapy at low water, the right is a little creekier and more fun - my preferred route.
There's a new rapid where there used to only be flat "funny water". One of the floods must have washed out enough silt, or something, to expose a ledge. Be watching for the horizon line. It's below the cliff where the barn's about to fall into the river. Run just left of center. It's not a long or hard rapid. There's still a little funny water in it.
Another rapid, a little bigger than the last, not as big as radio tower. We just always call it "the rapid before Hi Rd/Lo Rd" or, "the one before the bridge". It's probably best to run river left, although I tend to see how many eddies I can catch through the rapid. Right is also an option at flows over 1000 cfs or so.
Go under the bridges, the next rapid is Hi Rd/Lo Rd. Some small waves/small holes. Then, right after the creek comes in on the left, the river splits although it's hard to spot the entrance to Hi Rd. It's just a small slot between rocks on the left. The left side stays on a ledge a little higher than the right (which is just an easy ride down). The left is Hi Road, the right is Lo Rd. Of course, Hi Road must join back up with Lo Road eventually. That's the fun part. (This rapid changes drastically with different water levels. Be on the lookout for its different personalities when paddling at a new level. Above 4000 or so, the rapid might as well be called One Road. At 5500 be aware of the nasty, huge, deep hole that forms where the road used to split. Easy to avoid either on the right, not hard to slip by on the left, but very scary looking.) Usually, it's a fun little drop varying anywhere from a foot and a half or so to nothing depending on water level. Be ready with a left brace. There's a hole on the left (sometimes a small one forms on the right as well) but, even if you miss that, joining up with the current from Lo Road often catches people off guard and causes a few swims, especially with beginners. There's a good recovery pool below though. That's the good thing about the Lower Noli; there's almost always a good recovery pool.
There's a take-out after Hi Road/Lo Road and before the flat stretch. We call it Jackson-Love. Take Exit 15 off I-26, same as you did for Chestoa and the Campground. Turn away from the Appco/Holiday Inn area. At the stop sign take a right. A little ways down the road is a little pull-off to the right. If you see a gravel/mud road on the left, you've gone too far. We often use that road to turn around, though. I don't know what's farther down the rest of the main road before it dead-ends.
Actually, that "recovery pool" I mentioned earlier is a couple miles long, often referred to as "the long, flat stretch". Sometimes we'll bring a lunch or snack and just float it. Sometimes with classes, I'll bring a ball or something and make a game of it. Occasionally we'll be in a hurry and paddle through. That's a workout, especially in slower playboats. See how many blue herons you can see thorugh this stretch.
You'll see a rock face on the right before the next rapid. I think that one's called "Devil's Looking Glass" in honor of the cliff around the next bend. More waves/holes/rocks. Usually run centerish. Fun waves, but nothing too difficult.
You'll pass Cherokee Adventures rafting and camping on the right.
As, you are nearing the end of the ledges, keep an eye out for a couple good-sized holes on river right, about 10 feet off the bank. The first is called "Industrial Strength Washing Machine" and is rumored to be a good play hole for those braver than me. You can avoid the hole by running right or left of the hole. Industrial Strength Washing Machine (ISW) was the cause of my first combat roll. Or, you can eddy out on the river right bank if you're adventurous enough to try and play in the hole. I've been told this one is "not too mean". I once thought I'd go down a little ways and play in a 'smaller' hole. I don't recommend it. It may be small, but it's not very nice.
A few more holes. Stay to the far right of the island to take-out at Sawmill/County Line. A popular local put-in/take-out but rough because you have to haul your boat up the bank. Access to the road is slowly being improved as someone is taking the time to put in rough steps. It's much better than the slippery scramble up the mud bank that it used to be. Please be a good steward and help pick up trash. To get there, take Exit 18 (Hwy 81 - Erwin/Jonesborough Exit) off Interstate 26 onto Hwy 81, go towards Jonesborough. You'll pass Cherokee Adventures and just past the sawmill is a big gravel pull-off on the left next to the river. That's it.
I don't know the stretch below well enough to give a play-by-play. I don't have any problems running it and reading for myself, but I don't remember many details. It's mostly flat with a few shoals, and maybe some easy rapids. I do remember Blevins, where all the flow heads left into the cliff and it takes some maneuvering for beginner paddlers to avoid the cliff. But, it's not too bad, just try to stay right. If you can hit an eddy on the right, the first big green glassy wave is a lot of fun to surf (I was there around 1000-1500 cfs). There are other rapids on this stretch (I-II), just none so significant that I remember them that well.
You'll begin to see signs of civilization approaching again, with a road on river left. When the creek feeds in on the left, you are approaching the rapid we call Embreeville in honor of the community there. There's nothing difficult here, a few strainers on the far left that we keep beginners away from. Most of the flow goes to the right. You can eddy on the left and work on basic skills such as ferrying in the easy flows between the rocks just above the eddy. After this is a short flat section.
The next rapid is locally known as Ghost Eddy. The beginning is rocky and shallow, I start center and begin working my way left at normal flows. It picks up a little momentum and ends with a splash at the bottom on the left.
The next rapid, Tongue 'N Cheek, approaches quickly. The reason for the name becomes obvious when you view the rapid from above (the bridge on Hwy 81 that crosses the river there). If you want to check the river level, do so before entering the rapid. The gauge is the two concrete pillars on river left, work your way behind the pillar to view the gauge. To run the rapid, find the pyramid shaped rock visible at normal water levels in the center of the river (near the middle bridge pillar). Aim 20-30 feet right of this rock, you'll see the tongue shooting between two ledge-holes. There's a wave or two here, the top one can be surfed at some water levels. The holes aren't too sticky, but can suck in an unsuspecting paddler who was resting in the eddy below, or briefly hold a swimmer (they're almost always heads-up but scared). Once through the tongue, head left for the deeper water, and to avoid the rock garden in the center. You've got a nice long pool of flat water before the next rapid.
Then, eventually, there's Big Rock. Recognized by a rock face/overhang on the right, but named for the big rock jutting half way across the river below the rapid. The rapid itself is a rock garden entry (hug the far right bank at lower levels, it usually has water even down to really low flows. Run center at higher water.) followed by a 1-2 foot drop into a wave/hole on the left. You could also run Oatmeal hole on the right. It's *usually* smaller (except at high flows). But, I've never done that. I always opt for Big Rock. Mostly, just a matter of hitting it straight and keep paddling. The hole gets stickier/grabbier at lower flows and washes out at higher water. At around 280, all but one of the kids at camp who were riding in tubes ended up swimming.
Big Rock is a fairly popular playspot at the right levels (I've heard 700-900, or something like that.) At higher flows it tends to wash out. On the other hand, Oatmeal looks mean at higher water.
That's your take-out on the left. To get there, from Sawmill/County Line keep following Hwy 81 towards Jonesborough, across the river, until you find the campground on the right. (Under new ownership. I'm not sure how much they charge for river access.) You might also be able to take a right on Arnold road before going across the bridge and find a pull-off on the side of the road.
So, that's my take on the Lower Noli. Please feel free to ask questions, make comments, add updates or anything that may have changed in a recent flood, and especially to correct anything I may have wrong. Email me at christiankayaker (at) hotmail (dot) com.
Be safe and have fun out there. SYOTR.