April 23, 2014 - 18:05
Hiwassee River

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The Hiwassee River offers scenic beauty, recreation and history.

The Hiwassee River originates on the northwest slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia and flows into North Carolina before turning west through Tennessee. It drains over 750,000 acres of mountain land. This area is over 90 percent forested, a condition which is reflected in the purity and crystalline clarity of the Hiwassee's waters. The word hiwassee is taken from the Cherokee word "ayuwasi" meaning a savannah or meadow place at the foot of the hills.

It is believed that Indians began clearing perhaps 3,000 years or more before the birth of Christ. Archaeologists tell us that ancient people dwelled in the Hiwassee Valley long before the Creeks, Cherokees and other tribes came.

Spanish explorers, led by DeSoto, are known to have visited the Cherokee along the shores of the Hiwassee in 1540. Still later, French and English people settled here. In 1835, the last of the Cherokees were forced to cede their homelands to the U.S. Government.

Today, this area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee State Parks. It is their hope that it will retain its primitive state for as long as mankind walks this earth.

The Cherokee National Forest permits float services and guided fishing services on the Hiwassee River.

The Hiwassee State Scenic River is located in Polk County along State Highway 30, which can be reached from either U.S. 411 or U.S. 64.

The Gee Creek Campground is located north of the river about 1 mile east of U.S. 411 on a Forest Service road. To reach the campground, turn east on this road from U.S. 411 just north of the Hiwassee River bridge.


Gee Creek primitive campground has 47 sites, each with a table, grill and fire ring, with an overflow area for additional sites. Public water and a bathhouse containing sinks, commodes and hot showers are located near the center of the campground. The U.S. Forest Service also operates a small campground called Quinn Springs on State Highway 30. Campsites are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and there is a fee for their use. No reservations can be accepted and stay limit is two weeks.

Primitive tent camping is permissible along the John Muir State Scenic Trail which follows the Hiwassee River Gorge from Reliance to Coker Creek. Camping is permitted all along this 12-miles trail, except for the stretch paralleling USFS Road 108 between Big Bend parking area and the TVA Appalachia powerhouse. Several nice spring areas and rock shelters afford good campsites along this trail.


Cherokee National Forest provides lands for two river access sites. Several private companies provide raft and tube rentals.

The Tennessee Valley Authority regulates discharge at the Apalachia powerhouse as part of the stream-based recreation program.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocks the stream and manages all other wildlife while the Department of Conservation provides recreational opportunities and protection of the area's natural and cultural resources.


The Hiwassee State Scenic River is serviced by several river access sites below the Apalachia powerhouse. Facilities vary from limited development areas containing only parking space and primitive access to sites providing restrooms, launch ramp and picnic grounds.


The Hiwassee State Scenic River is primarily Class I (moving water with small waves, few obstructions) and Class II (easy rapids with wide, clear channels, some maneuvering required). Certain sections may be considered Class III (rapids with high waves capable of swamping an open canoe, requires complex maneuvering).

The Hiwassee provides an exceptional setting for whitewater canoeing and rafting. It should be noted, however, that the most placid streams are potentially hazardous to those unskilled or unfamiliar with the basic principles of floating techniques and water safety. All the regulations in the world will not help if they are not heeded, so consider the following when floating the Hiwassee River:

-Stay off the river if you are not a competent swimmer.

-Wear a lifejacket or other flotation device.

-Keep your craft under control and watch out for the other guy.

-Know your canoeing ability and physical limitations. High water is dangerous. Do not attempt water you do not think you can handle.

-Stay alert and watch for obstacles.

-Dress to protect yourself from cold water and weather extremes and bring along extra clothes.

-Wear tennis shoes or other foot protection on the river to protect yourself from rocks, glass or other sharp objects.

-Do not float the stream alone.

-Use equipment you have confidence in and can adequately handle.

-All craft should be in good repair and contain flotation devices or multiple air chambers (rafts).

-In the event of a thunderstorm, get off the river and seek shelter well up onto the bank.

-Be sure there is nothing in or on the craft that might entangle its occupants in the event of a spill.

-Craft should contain both bow and stern lines.

-Carry a first-aid kit.

The Hiwassee River flows through public and private lands. Visitors should be considerate of the following:

-Respect the rights of landowners; always obtain permission to use private property for any purpose.

-Carry all litter out with you; help us pick up after less considerate visitors and do not carry breakable styrofoam type coolers or glass containers on the river.

-Do not dig, cut or damage living plants.

-Obey all hunting and fishing regulations.


Parking is permitted only at designated locations.

No alcoholic beverages are permitted on the river or on any state-owned or managed property.

Put in and take out only at designated access sites.

All areas except campgrounds are for day use only.

Unless otherwise designated, all trails are for foot travel only.

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