Route 66 Cities Beaches

French Broad


Big South Fork

The French Broad is the third oldest river (behind the Nile and the New) in the world. It's broad and shallow, a gentle river, mostly Class II and III with the class IV Frank Bell's Rapid at the end. Scenery is great : miles and miles of forested mountains. Your entire trip is through Pisgah National Forest. This would be a good early trip to bring kids after the Nantahala and Ocoee; they can get a full day of instruction and practice before moving up to the Nolichucky or Big South Fork.

The usual French Broad run begins at Barnard and ends at Hot Springs. The highway distance between the two is only 11 miles, but the river bends away and then swings back and the trip takes 6-8 hours depending on how much water is in the river and how fast it's flowing. It's always best to run the French Broad in April, May or early June. By late June it begins shallowing up and slowing down and sometimes it reaches a point where Duckies are the only thing that can get down the river.
Access to the river is through our old friends from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, 1-888-905-7238, or They've been on the French Broad for 25 yedars. Call the original Nantahala Center to book the trip, but you don't need to drive there. They maintain an Outpost on the French Broad at Barnard. You can stay at either Hot Springs, by the take out, or up above Barnard, near the put in. But the Outpost is a fully functioning river center, with hot showers, photo counter, equipment rental, changing rooms and gift shop. To get there from the Ohio Valley, take I-75 south to Knoxville, then I-40 east toward North Carolina. At Newport, exit I-40 and take Routes 25 and 70 to first Hot Springs, then Barnard. From the east, take I-40 to Asheville, go off at I-240, and follow it around to 25 and 70. Follow them north west to Barnard and then Hot Springs. Leave plenty of time for the trip. Routes 25 and 70 are not interstates. They are narrow, winding, sometimes steep, and often clogged with slow moving traffic. Trips are $81 per person and include a very good deli-style lunch on the river.
Notice the photos below of deer (left) and black bear (right) swimming the river as our raft floats past. The French Broad is also home to Owls, Wild Boar, Raccoon, Possum, Fox, several species of turtles, and very large Smallmouth Bass and Catfish. The best places to fish are pools below the rapids, where the oxygen content of the water is highest. The best time to see wildlife is in late evening. We've never seen or heard reports of Wild Boar trying to swim the river, but all the others do.
NOC makes Duckies available on the French Broad. This is relatively mild whitewater, and Duckies help beginning rafters develop a much greater "feel" for water currents and maneuvering through drops. These are skills that will prove valuable back in the rafts on larger rivers, so we always encourage as many people as possible to try them. This is a shallow river and the warmest of the Carolina mountain rivers, so it is the best of all places to try a Ducky.

If you're a couple, especially a couple looking to combine a romantic weekend with a rafting adventure, we recommend the Magnolia Inn, 1-800-914-9306, or This is a full service inn, with one of North Carolina's great restaurants. It has five regular rooms, a two bedroom suite, a guest house and a converted general store which now holds two more guest suites. Some of these facilities have two bedrooms, so a family could stay here. There's a full service spa (this is Hot Springs, remember) which can occupy a wife all day while hubby and the kids are rafting. We particularly like the Magnolia Inn because of its restaurant. Dinner here is an event in itself. You can look forward to it all day and talk about it long afterward.

However, if you're on a budget, there's the Alpine Motel (1-828-622-3231) in "downtown" Hot Springs. This will be one of the memorable aspects of your trip. It's a 1950s motel still surviving into the 21st Century. If you have kids along, they can see how their grandparents travelled. This is a popular stop for Appalachian Trail hikers, since the trail goes right past the motel, on through town and back up into the mountains. But it's also popular with rafters and fishermen.

The Hot Springs Resort, right on the edge of town, has a campground and eight cabins.

The cabins hold from 4-8 people and average $60 per night. They have heat, electricity, sink, bathroom and small coffeemaker but no kitchens. These cabins are upgraded versions of KOA Kamping Kabins many of you have used when travelling cross country.

There are three levels of tent sites, with the Deluxe being right on the riverbank and equipped with electricity. Tent site prices range from $20 - 40. All tent sites have fire rings and picnic tables. There is a central hot shower facility. These are NOT RV sites. Hot Springs Resort offers 34 RV sites, but they are totally separated from tent sites. There is a camp store. These are outstanding tent sites : grassy, shaded, spacious, quiet and scenic.


While you're in Hot Springs, you really should take the time to visit the world famous Hot Springs Spa & Resort. Native Americans visited these healing mineral waters since the Ice Age, and whites have frequented them since 1778. Huge hotels, each with several hundred rooms, once stood here, and a long list of famous people visited. The last of the great hotels burned long ago, but the more modest spa and resort have been erected on the site, and now do a fine business on a smaller scale. You could book lodging there, or you could just "take the waters," or schedule a "treatment." Over the last decade or so it has become a real tradition for families to come and raft and while Dad and kids are on the river Mom spends the day at the spa.
For dinner, our first recommendation is Iron Horse Station in "downtown" Hot Springs. This meticulous restoration of three important buildings along the main street (one was the original building in Madison County) is now an inn, tavern and restaurant. You could stay here at the inn, which has simple but classy rooms beginning at $65 (there are no televisions, telephones, coffee makers or refrigerators). But the restaurant is one of the finest in Western Carolina, specializing in historic Carolina cuisine. That means appetizers like Fried Green Tomatoes and soups like Chicken & White Bean Chili. It means entrees like Meat Loaf, Pan Fried Trout, Salt & Pepper Grilled Steak, and Southern Fried Chicken. And it means the best Catfish Sandwich you've ever tasted. Desserts change by the day, but they're always good. Don't take too long, though, as you shower and change after a day on the river. Iron Horse Station is only open from 5 pm to 9 pm.
If you prefer a little more down to earth eating, try the Smoky Mountain Diner, which caters to Appalachian Trail hikers, French Broad fishermen, white water rafters and other outdoors types, plus local townspeople and farmers. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year. The food is simple, hearty and filling, what restaurant critics now call "comfort foods." It's also reasonably priced, since AT hikers don't carry much cash on them. Unlike the modern trend toward smaller menus where the kitchen can focus on a few items done very well, the Smoky Mountain Diner offers the most comprehensive menu they can. It includes Hand Tossed Pizza. But it also includes peripherals such as Homemade Pepper Relish, Fresh Honey and Apple Butter, all local products. Even if you eat dinner at the Iron Horse or Magnolia Inn, you might stop here for breakfast on the way out of town, just so you can experience the ambience. There's not a restaurant like this back in the city.
Like Us On Facebook ( To Receive Daily Outdoor Adventure News and Notes And To Comment
This Year's Unique Visitor Tally : 1,003,492 Contact us at Meet our writers at Staff