Spend a weekend drifting through the untamed backwoods of Tennessee on Clear Creek, a hidden gem of the Cumberlands. This solitary river descends from high on the Cumberland Plateau, draining large swaths of forest en route to its confluence with the mighty Emory. During this trip, you will discover places that few people ever get to see, accessible exclusively by the river and hidden away from the rest of the world.
What Makes It Great
Old growth forest, rock houses and caves, tall bluffs, mountain springs, swimming holes, and waterfalls—these are just some of the sights that await you along Clear Creek.
The 20 miles of meandering river are made up of pools, riffles, and rapids that flow around large boulders and between sandstone cliffs. All rapids are navigable, camping is possible just about anywhere along the bank, and logistics of shuttle are easy. Fishing here is as good as anywhere on the Plateau.
The run begins at the Hwy 127 bridge in Clarkrange. The first possible takeout is at Barnett Bridge on Frankfort-Deerlodge Rd, 20 miles downstream. Expect to spend at least 2 nights to complete this distance, and more if you prefer to take your time on the river. This section contains a lot of flatwater, but also several class II/II+ rapids, and one Class III, Double Drop Falls, which turns into Class IV at higher flows. It can be portaged fairly easily.
Other options for take-outs are Jett Bridge on Genesis Rd, which will add 4.5 miles of flatwater and Class II, or Lilly Bridge on Ridge Rd, another 2 miles down. This section contains some easy Class III. For a bonus adventure, the experienced paddler can continue past Lilly Bridge, through Clear Creek Canyon and it’s Class III-IV rapids that tumble on down to the confluence with the Obed River, forming the Emory. The usual take-out for this section is Nemo Bridge on Catoosa Rd.
The Clear Creek overnighter is only possible when the river has enough water, which is usually in winter and spring, or other times of year after many days of heavy rain. Check the USGS river gauges online, and look for flow of at least 400 cfs at Lilly Bridge near Lancing, TN. More water makes this run more difficult, as the rapids get faster and bigger. If flow is over 900 cfs, expect difficulty to increase significantly.
If you have never done the trip before, choosing ideal campsites is tricky, but there are numerous suitable places along the river. Leave yourself plenty of daylight to set up camp, and keep an eye out for the best place you can find when it is time to wrap up the day on the water. Stay away from posted private property and be sure to leave no trace.
Because of the length of this trip, unpredictable nature of whitewater, and remoteness from help, Clear Creek is not for inexperienced groups. This run can be an excellent introduction to whitewater or to overnighters, but beginners should be guided by someone who knows the river.
The season for this run is usually chilly, so pack accordingly. The trip is entirely self-supported, meaning your boat must hold food, clothes, camping gear, and everything else. Be sure you can keep your things organized, secure, and dry on the river.
Who is Going to Love It
The natural scenery is largely unspoiled; roads and houses won’t be seen for miles during the middle of this trip. Clear Creek is a perfect choice for paddlers of any skill level who seek a multi-day escape to the outdoors.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
You will need at least 2 cars to set shuttle before you launch. The drive between Hwy 127 Bridge and Barnett Bridge takes about 30 minutes each way. Free parking is available at the put-in and all possible take-outs, but leaving valuables in your car is not a good idea.
There are no fees or permits required for Clear Creek. If you plan on fishing, be sure you possess a valid Tennessee fishing license.