Tellico River - White Water Paddling

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An appealing stream for kayakers, trout fishermen, hikers, and waterfall viewers, the enchanting wilderness of the Tellico River is easily accessed by a nice, paved road connected to the popular Cherohala Skyway. For paddling laps, learning to creek, or hucking your first waterfall, the Tellico is a Southeastern whitewater essential.

Written by

Kat Levitt


0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

62.4 miles


3 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

1 hours

1-3 hours


All Seasons

Flows are best in the winter and spring.

Dog Friendly




The Tellico River is a magnetic place for many reasons that become obvious before you even exit the car. Depending on recent rain, the mist of Bald River Falls at the Tellico River confluence will sometimes dot your windows as you cross the bridge. At the minimum, you'll get an up close view of the 80' cascade without even parking. Keep driving and look to the other side to scout the river. All the rapids (Class III-IV) are within view of the road, and if there's been any recent rain, it's likely someone will be paddling down, demonstrating the best lines.

What Makes It Great

Baby Falls (12-14 feet tall) is the standard "first waterfall" for many Southeast paddlers. It's relatively easy and forgiving at most water levels. The easiest line is to boof with a good stroke off the spout on the left. A fun slide, called Diaper Wiper, is waiting just below. 

Clubs frequently use the Lower section for intermediate training trips. There are a few solid class III rapids intermingled with continuous class II and the occasional pool on the Lower. The Upper is the next step in progression. The difficulty is similar to the Ocoee, but lower in volume and steeper. At the beginning, there are several small waterfalls that step up slowly and deliberately to bigger drops and the final rapid, Jarrod's Knee (a long, solid classs IV). Most locals agree that Tellico maximizes the fun factor for class III and IV! Flows are best in winter and spring. Optimum levels are around 300-600 cfs, but the Tellico can be paddled at low water levels in the range of 200 cfs or less. High levels are not recommended, find something else to run! Find the river level here at the USGS website.

Who is Going to Love It

Offering two sections to paddle (Upper Section Class III-IV; Lower Section Class II-III), the Tellico is perfect for almost all whitewater paddlers to enjoy. Expert paddlers frequent the Tellico for it's consistent quality and gradient. 

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The Tellico River is approximately 60 miles from Knoxville, and 90 miles from Chattanooga, less than 1.5 hours from the downtown of both these Tennessee cities! 

From Tellico Plains, take the Cherohala Skyway (TN 165) and follow the river upstream. Turn right at the first split onto River Road, towards the fish hatchery, and continue following the river. All the whitewater sections are along this road. Oosterneck is the lowest paddling point, and 2 miles above Bald River marks the Upper put in. Turkey Creek or the bridge just above are considered the best mid points. 

Free parking and restrooms are available along the road.

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Tellico River

Cherokee National Forest, River Road
Tellico Plains, TN, 37385
35.355593, -84.201464

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