Average Gradient
210.00 ft/mi (39.77 m/km)
0.70 mi (1.13 km)
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The Nantahala Cascades are considered by many to be a classic southeastern example of Class V whitewater. The roadside location makes hiking after a bad swim relatively easy, and the scheduled releases allow paddlers to plan in advance. While typical releases are 250 cfs, larger releases are occasionally available for those looking for an extra challenge, and the cascades do occasionally run on natural flow for those willing to put up with slightly more rocks. A schedule for releases can be found here.

While each individual rapid is more or less Class IV, their stacked nature bumps the river's rating into Class V. Short and steep, the cascades drop 210 feet per mile over the .7-mile segment. Concrete landings with stairs and railing have been installed at various points along the river to improve access, and multiple pullouts along the road allow spectators to watch and boaters to scout.

Many people choose to put in just above a rapid named The Horns of God, but traveling upstream a bit further provides an unnamed bonus rapid and a few hundred yards of Class II water to warm up on. The bonus rapid is best run through the right channel, either by plugging straight down the obvious tongue, or by driving in a wide left to right arc off the left side of the right channel.

If The Horns of God look intimidating, it may be best to change your mindset from "paddler" to "spectator." A twisty entrance leads to a small ledge with a surprisingly large hole to punch. From here, drive center between the "horns"- two rocks about 6 feet apart at the edge of the drop. Once between the horns, hit a delayed boof off of the 10-foot ledge, and run the next slide either right or left. The middle is shallow.

An unnamed Class III rapid will transport you to the biggest rapid of the run: Big Kahuna. A long, multi-tiered slide entered on the right pushes up against the left wall, through two large holes, and over another 10 foot ledge. There are eddies here, but only a few, and you'll be passing them quickly. Better to T-up and hold on through the holes, and then either drive hard right or hard left for a delayed boof as you approach the final ledge. The middle has a powerful hole.

Junkyard follows immediately after, a Class IV boulder jumble with chunky rocks that will grab the edges of an unwary boater. Start left of center, avoiding the downed tree on the left, and move left once you've passed it. The final slide has a hole that will pack a punch, so be ready.

The last significant rapid is Chinese Feet. The log in the middle of the river forces paddlers to hug the right wall over two back-to-back pourovers. Angle left on the second pourover to avoid a piton against the barely concealed rock at the bottom.

Many paddlers choose to climb up the steep bank on river right and walk the short, half-mile shuttle. Others will continue down a few more Class III rapids and take out on river left just below the bridge, where stairs and railing await.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)


Parking Pass

Not Required


Easy access. Action-packed. Scheduled releases.


Often crowded. Muddy water.

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

35.247610, -83.639681

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

35.246926, -83.653747



Overall difficulty


Route Characteristics: Character

Pool Drop
Steep Creek

Suitable for



Nearby Adventures

Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia


The Cascades are a great run for paddlers looking to break into class V whitewater, but the Nantahala is popular year-round with beginner and intermediate paddlers as well. The lower section has regular dam-controled flows and the rapids are only class II, with one class III drop right at the very end called Nantahala Falls. People come to this river from all over the Southeast to learn how to kayak and practice their skills, so it is worth the trip no matter what your experience level!
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