Nolichucky Gorge – Poplar NC to Campground/Chestoa Tenn.

A couple of things for those not familar with the Nolichucky before I get into directions:

  • The gorge section is quite remote and not a short paddle.  It involves some quite techical water with a lot of class 3-3+ and some 4 at moderate levels, at higher levels it is quite pushy.
  • Once you are on you are basically committed to a paddle that is about 9 1/2 miles to the takeout.  Getting off in between is quite difficult.  There are train tracks down the left bank but there is a great deal of freight train traffic on a very narrow ledge and the railroad understandably frowns on people getting on the railbed.
  • If you find your having a very bad day early like the in the first or second rapid, best get out, cause it is a difficult enough walk out from there,  further down thing pick up and it becomes a major deal to get off – for real!!!


There are a number of way to get to the Nolichucky depending on where you are coming from, so I will explain an number of options.


Getting to the Gorge Take-Out (lower put in): 

Mt. Airy & Elkin NC areas – From areas around Mt. Airy NC on I74/Hyw52 or Elkin on I-77 you want to get over to Hyw 268 on the west side of Elkin by the applicable route below (continue directions with “Mt. Airy area” or “I-77 near or north of Elkin NC” as applicable):

Mt. Airy area take I74/Hyw 52 to Hyw 268 at Pilot Mtn. and go west to CC-Camp Rd. (just past the Mitchell River) and turn right onto CC-Camp Rd. follow this road which is the bypass around Elkin and becomes Hyw 268 again on the west side of Elkin. (continue directions with “Elkin NC – west side” below)

      1. I-77 near or north of Elkin NC take the exit onto the bypass north of Elkin at exit #81 and go west  (exit at one time was label as CC-camp Rd. but is now labeled as Elkin exit #81).   Follow this road which becomes the bypass around Elkin and goes back onto Hyw 268 on the west side of Elkin. (continue directions with “Elkin NC – west side” below)
      2. Elkin NC-west side – From the west side of Elkin NC  take the bypass which becomes Hyw 268W and follow it to a old mill town area call “Ronda”,  you take a left at Ronda onto the “Clingman Rd.” (there are signs at the turn for “To Hyw 421) after you turn you will imediately cross the Yadkin River.  Continue on the “Clingman Rd.” until you come to a stop sign and the Clingman Rd. makes a right turn, so turn right.  Stay on this road until it comes to hyw 421 and turn right onto 421 west (toward N. Wilksboro) ramp to the right. (continue directions with “Hyw 421W” below)

Winston-Salem NC/I40 – From Winston Salem NC take I-40W to hyw 421W on the west side of Winston-Salem – exit right onto hyw 421 W toward N. Wilksboro. (continue directions  “Hyw 421W” below)

Hyw 421W – take hyw 421W through N. Wilksboro to Boone NC. (continue directions with “Boone NC” below)

Boone NC – from Boone turn off of hyw 421 onto hyw 221/105 ext.             (If your going west on 421 into Boone this will be a left turn)   (If coming from the west side of Boone going east this will be a right hand turn)           At the next light go straight through the intersection at which point the road becomes hyw 105.  Stay on hyw 105 until you come to hyw 184 and turn right at the stop light (there should be a stone building with a small tower at the turn called “Tynecastle”).  This puts you on the road going into Banner Elk.

      1. In Banner Elk hyw 184 will dead end into a T-interestion with hyw 194, turn left onto 194 (toward Elk Park),  just after the turn you should pass Lees Macray College,  keep going on 194.  Along part of this road you will follow the beautiful upper gorge of the Elk river,  keep going on hyw 194 until you dead end into a T-intersection with hyw 19E, turn right onto hyw 19E toward Elk Park.  Follow 19E into Tennesse and through the town of Roan Mountain.  A good way on the other side of Roan Mtn. you will turn left onto hyw 173.
      2. Follow hyw 173 – be aware however this is a narrow and twisting road, keep you speed reasonable and stay alert.  Main reason to use this road it provides a short cut and save a lot of time,  just be reasonable on it.  Hyw 173 dead ends into a T-intersection with hyw 107 at a place called Limestone Cove (Tenn.),  turn right onto hyw 107/173.
      3. Follow hyw 107/173 till it dead ends to a T-intersecton at the town of Unico (Tenn.) (watch your speed as you approach Unico – they give out tickets).  Turn left on what is now hyw 107 toward Erwin Tenn.
      4. Follow the road (hyw 107) toward Erwin (watch you speed here too – tickets are handed out).  You will eventually come to a stop light as you enter Erwin Tenn.  (Wendy’s and some convenience/gas places at intersection).  Turn right at the light onto “Harris Hollow Rd./Main St.” (should be signs to I-26) go a block or so and your at I-26.
      5. Go over I-26 and turn left down the on ramp onto I-26 south.  Follow I-26 to the Jackson-Love exit #15 and get off.   At the top of the exit ramp turn left onto Jackson-Love Rd., cross over I-26 and just on the other side turn right onto Hyw 352 (Holiday Inn Express is on hyw 352).{continue directions “Hyw 362 -(@I26 Jackson-Love Rd.exit #15)” below}

Asheville NC– from Asheville NC take I-26N into Tennesse to the Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15 and turn right at the top of the exit ramp onto Jackson-Love Rd. and then almost imediately take another right onto hyw 352 (Holiday Inn Express is on hyw 352). {continue directions “Hyw 352 -(@I26 Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15)” below}

Johnson City Tenn – take I-26S to Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15, turn right at the top of the exit ramp, cross over I-26 and just past the bridge turn right onto hyw 352 (Holiday Inn Express is on hyw 352). {continue directions “Hyw 352 -“(@I-26 Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15)” below}

Hyw 362 – (@I26 Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15) –  Go down hyw 362 until you come to “River Rd.” to the left (there should be a sign for the “Chestoa” here).  Turn on River Rd. (slow down there is an imediate hard curve to the right once you turn on River Rd.), the road follow the Nolichucky a short distance till you come to stop sign (at Uncle Johnnys Hostle). At this stop sign turn left onto “Chestoa Pike” and go over the bridge over the river, on the other side of the river turn right onto “Jones Branch Rd.” (you can also follow the signs for Chestoa Rec. area).  Follow this road a short way to “offical take out” at the Chestoa Rec. area on the right (extra parking across the road).

      1. If you want to save the last 1 to 1 1/2 miles (which are ok, but nothing particularly big) on what can be a long day then keep going past the Chestoa Access down “Jones Branch Rd.”  BEWARE – it is one lane in many places and some blind curves along the river, around a railroad bridge and along cliffs and there may be raft buses – so SLOW DOWN, stay alert,  pull over and allow on coming traffic to pass at pull outs – use common sense and good manners.  This road will eventually lead you to the raft company areas and the “Nolichucky Campground”.
      2. Note: do not try to lauch going through the raft company area – it is not allowed and they get big time upset.  Go left into the Campground and go pay the guy in charge imediately a small fee (a couple of bucks a person – but you can also use the bath/shower house) if you want to use this for your take-out for the Gorge (or put in for the lower).   If your going to camp, normally that fee covers your access also talk to the guy there.  If you don’t pay you don’t stay.


Getting to the Gorge put in:

    1. From the Nolichucky Campground or Chestoa:
      • Go back on “Jones Branch Rd.” to Chestoa Pike and turn right (away from the bridge).
      • Follow “Jones Branch Rd.” till it “Y’s” steeply into “Jackson Love Hyw” to the right toward downtown Erwin.
      • “Follow “Jones Branch Rd.” a short way till you come to S. Mohawk Drive to the right (normally you will see a school bus parking area full of buses at this turn on the weekend) – turn right onto S. Mohawk Dr.  and follow it to a traffic circle. Follow the “one way” to the right around the circle (Greenway Circle) to the far side and continue on “Mohawk Dr.” (you come off of the circle in front of a school) (at some point this eventually becomes N. Mohawk Dr.).  Eventually you will come to a funny intersection split with a small trangular patch of ground acting to divide your lane – take the right branch and continue.
      • Eventually the road takes a sharp left turn and becomes “E. Erwin Rd.” and then goes a short distance to the dead end into a “T” with “Rock Creek Rd. hyw. 395 (a rock church building should be directly across this intersection).  Turn right onto “Rock Creek Rd.” hyw 395 and follow it.
      • Eventually you will begin to climb over the Mountain on hyw 395 beware of steep and tight turns especially once you cross over onto the NC side.  Also be very aware once you start down on the far side this is a very steep and winding road – Gear down, you can burn out brakes here very easily, keep it very slow (its the side of the mountain or the cliff on each side – neither is a good choice – stay slow and on the road).  Pull out for others and let them pass at pull overs.  Watch for raft busses.
      • On the far side of the mountain once your down on the NC side you come to “Poplar NC”,  just past Polplar you will come up on a rail-bed/track on the right.  Turn to the right on the road just before the rail-bed and tracks.  It leads to the Gorge put in parking lot.
      • Be careful crossing the railroad tracks into the parking lot,  this is a very active railroad area.  Park in the correct areas, not in the rafting areas during rafting season.   Consider arranging a shuttle through the campgroud or Uncle Johnny’s or other people – its about 25-30 mile each way going over and back.
    2.  From the Toe Gorge:
      • From the Toe Gorge takeout go north (back across the river) on hyw NC197 a short distance to where NC197 joins NC226 and turn left, then turn left again on hyw 197N where it splits off.
      • Follow NC197 until you are almost to Poplar NC and the railroad bed/tracks just off to the left of the road turn away from the road along a road to the left just passed the tracks,  turn left on the road a short distance, then left across the tracks into the put-in parking lot.
      • Or to get to the Nolichuchy Gorge take out – continue on NC197 past the turn-off for the put-in, into Tenn. where it becomes Tn395 also called “Rock Creek Rd.” once you reach Erwin Tn. Eventually you will come to N. Main St. of Erwin Tn or Tenn. hyw 107, turn left onto N.Main/Tn107 and go to where Tn107 turn right (on “John Sevier hyw”) and go till you go under I-26 and turn left onto I-26 south.  Go to the next exit (Jackson-Love hyw. exit #15) and take exit #15, turn right at the top of the exit ramp and cross over I-26, then just past the bridge turn right onto hyw 352 (Holiday Inn Express is on hyw 352). {continue directions “Hyw 352 -”(@I-26 Jackson-Love Rd. exit #15)” above in the section for directions to the Gorge take-out Chestoa/Campgroud}