Route 66 Cities Beaches



Big South Fork

The Nolichucky is a magnificent river cutting a three thousand feet deep gorge through mountain wilderness on the North Carolina - Tennessee border. Once you enter the gorge, there are no roads, so this is an all day trip. The Nolichucky is a classic pool and drop river, so there are peaceful interludes, but the drops are spectacular. This would be pretty hairy for a first river. We highly recommend starting out with a few of the half day runs on milder rivers like the Nantahala or Pigeon, or full day runs on the Cumberland, Ocoee or French Broad. There are skills and instincts one needs to build to fully enjoy the foaming fury of these higher rivers. Because of the expert guides in each raft, a beginner could make this trip safely, but he would feel like he was hanging on for dear life rather than relaxing and paddling as part of the team. It's also demanding enough to exhaust a beginnner by noon. Much better to raft some smaller rivers and build up strength and stamina.

River access is through Cherokee Adventures (1-800-445-7238, They were the first company on the river, in 1979, and have a complete 50 acre base of operations along its banks at the bottom of the gorge. They offer camping, rustic cabins, meals, hot showers and other amenities. On the river, they offer a "lower gorge" family trip for couples with small children, in addition to the all day trip. (The "lower gorge" really isn't in the gorge, but starts where the river emerges from the gorge and enters a much more gradual descent through Class I and II riffles. But the family trip is still a scenic, entertaining and pleasant introduction to rafting for kids below age 12.) They're particularly good with Scout, school and church yourh groups, having been handling them for 32 years. The lunch they serve on the full day trip is excellent (we've rafted all the Southeastern rivers with most of the companies, so we have a basis for comparison). Their guides are very professional. This is a difficult river, and skilled guides are a critical component. Many of these guides are college students or teachers working weekends and Summers, but they've usually begun elsewhere and worked up to the Nolichucky.

The Nolichucky is much more convenient to get to than most of the rafting rivers because you can drive to within a mile of it on interstates. Your best approach is via I-40 or I-81. I-26 connects these routes. Take I-26 north from I-40 or south from I-81. At Erwin, take Tennessee Route 81 about a mile north and look for Cherokee Adventures on your left.

One thing Cherokee Adventures offers which kids (and many adults) love is a Ducky option. They take Duckies down the river, and anyone can leave the "Mother Raft" for a spell paddling a Ducky. These little one person inflatable canoes make for a pretty exciting time. As seen in the photo below, during drops, instructors leave the rafts and help guide the Ducky paddlers through. This is not for the beginner or the faint of heart, but for anyone experienced in whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking, it can add an extra adrenalin charge. There's no fee for the Ducky. It's part of the regular trip. Almost no one paddles a Ducky all the way down. Most people will try the Ducky for a short segment, then return to the raft and let someone else have a turn.


Serving a nutritious and tasty meal on the river is an art, which takes practice, skill and some cleverness. As seen at left, the guides turn two rafts upside down to create a table, then unpack insulated containers with beverages and an array of foods riders can pick from. During this stop people also go swimming, stretch their legs, or take short hikes.

As mentioned above, if you're bringing a youth group your most convenient option is to just book your whole package with Cherokee Adventures. You can either camp there or stay in the screened in bunk houses. We've kept groups there many times, girls in one cabin, boys in the other. Kids bring their own sleeping bags, towels and pillows. You can also eat there, and the eating is more than fast food. They offer Spaghetti, Grilled Fish and Steak, along with various sides, beverages, desserts, etc. You can grab breakfast before hitting the river or, the morning after, before heading home. There's room for a game of volleyball or a campfire. Those who want to can fish. Or kids can just sit along the riverbank and watch the water flow past. Then, in the morning, you don't have to worry about loading the van and driving. You just walk up the steps, eat breakfast and you're ready to raft.

If you want a few more amenities, there's the Holiday Inn Express (1-800-304-7958) one mile away, at the I-40 Erwin Exit. This is a particularly nice Express. Rooms start at $110 but ask for various discounts. There are standard King or Queen rooms, or you can upgrade to rooms with hot tubs. They have a nice outdoor pool with views of the surrounding mountains, and they provide a very ample breakfast buffet with hot items like coffee, pancakes, eggs and sausage or cold items like fruit, cereal, various breads and juice.

For dinner in town, if you like Mexican, there's Azteca on Main Avenue. This is a chain with most locations in Washington, Oregon and Florida. But it's way better than you would expect in such a remote location. We can definitely recommend the Shrimp Tequila Chowder, which includes chorizo, green chiles, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos in a clam broth. The Black Bean and Chicken Soups are also good. Borregos (marinated, baked lamb shanks) are an item Mexican restaurants in the Ohio Valley do not usually offer. We use Chile Rellenos as our standard for judging Mexican kitchens, and these are particularly good. Azteca offers a Vegi Mex page with numerous interpretations of Mexican food just for Vegetarians, or weight or cholesterol watchers. Their Sangria is quite good. And they have Mexican Scallops (sauteed in light tomato sauce with mushrooms, onions, jack cheese and rice), a real rarity east of the Mississippi.

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