Little River (Elkmont)
|Stretch:||Elkmont Campground to the Meanies|
|Difficulty:||Class II+ to III- (III+ to IV-)|
|Flows:||2.8' to 5.5' (3.5 was likely ideal). Check out American Whitewater's current flow gauge.|
|Gradient:||63 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Trailhead at Elkmont Campground|
|Take-out:||Parking at the Sinks or turn-out a quarter mile upstream|
|Shuttle:||8.4 miles, (15 minutes one-way)|
|Season:||Fall, Winter, and Spring from rain|
The road to the Sinks was closed due to a rock slide that occurred during a government shutdown. So, the shuttle option was a longer up and around to Metcalf Bottoms. I figured, if we were going to be doing this, why not just keep going upstream to make the longer shuttle into a longer day rather than just a long shuttle for our standard run.
I thought that the run was good enough fun. In general, it is easier than the Hike-up Elkmont and significantly easier than the Sinks section. The run is most continuous class II to II+ with an occasional III- rapid. There is one exception however that will throw the novice boater a curve ball. The exception is three rapids that come in quick succession, directly under and downstream of the Little River Rd Bridge over the river, half way down the run. At 3.5', these rapids were class III+ to maybe even IV-. They are in quick succession too which certainly makes them a bit more intimidating for a novice. I have heard that at lower flows, those rapids just become class III, but I also imagine at lower flows, the rest of the run can become quite scrappy. I thought 3.5' was a perfect flow.
I was honestly surprised at the quality of the three bigger rapids. For us, class II+ to III- isn't a super big pull, so for that reason I won't be in a hurry to come back, though I might go up to run the three big rapids again and just use pull outs above and below them.
Also, the take-out is listed as the Sinks... but it should be noted that those are much stouter rapids, IV+ at healthy flows that you are likely running the Elkmont section at. And there is a 0th Meanie which is above the normal Sinks put-in which can catch you off guard but is also a bigger rapid. For that reason, many people either regress from the river at Metcalf Bottoms or at a turnout a quarter mile upstream of the sinks.
- Bridge (II+). Under the bridge near the park housing area is a nice set of rapids. Just follow the water. As I recall there was a small but fairly sticky little hole in here. Line it up straight.
Boogie (II). Boogie is continuous on this run and very few pools are present.
- Ledge #1 (III-). The first ledge has a few spots to run it, you can scout from the right or left or from the road beforehand. We ran right of center through the meatiest part. There were windows far left of center which were easier. I imagine at high flows this ledge becomes powerful. High being 4+ ft.
- Boogie Picks Up (II+ to III-). The boogie picks up noticeably. It starts in a long island rapid which is the hardest rapid on the run outside of the big three. It is all read and run though. Just go with the water. A short ways downstream, after the river bends right there is a long rapid that ends with a ledge of sort far left that can be run but packs a small punch, or it can be avoided on the right.
- Ledge #2 (III-). I think this one was a little tougher than the previous ledge. I ran far left off a curler forming on the shore. I then had Diane boof a center ledge. At higher flows I would avoid the left half of the river.
- Bridge (III to IV-). The first of the big three occurs directly under the bridge. Take care as this one sometimes collects wood. We did a technical cut right to left immediately in front of the center bridge pilon. This then led to a boof to exit on the left. I am not sure what the right channel of the pilon looked like to know if it is more straight forward, as it was more blind from above we went left as we boat scouted into it.
Bend (III to III+). This was a super fun rapid. The bulk of the water bends sharp right and back left on an S. It is pretty stable water, no major seams, just super fun and sorta slidey. Diane tried going down the left channel instead of the S but found it to be less fun and more chunky.
- Scarface (III to III+). The last of the big three, this one has a lead in that commits you to the rapid before you can see the crux, a tree in here could be an issue if you didn't scout. The crux is a slide that has a fan in the middle. We drove to the left inside corner of the slide and found a nice tongue through the hole and around the fan. I think far right could also work. Just don't go down the middle.
Boogie (II to II+). No more major rapids as I recall. Just continuous boogie from here down to take-out.
- Take-out above the Meanies via a pullout. Unless you are just adding miles onto a Sinks run, venturing downstream will result in either running or portaging several much larger rapids before you get to the Sinks parking area.
- Meanies #0 (IV to IV+). I am only adding this here so you understand how close downstream significant rapids begin.
Take-out: From Maryville, follow US-321 East for 17.3 miles, eventually US-321 goes off to the left, but stay straight on the road which becomes TN-73 for another 1.5 miles. At the confluence, the road makes a Y, take a left onto Little River Gorge. Follow this for 5.8 miles to the parking area at the Sinks. If you do not intend to run the Meanies and don't want to have to hike down the highway 200 yards, you can continue another quarter mile to another parking turn out area. Parking is more limited there though.
Put-in: Continue up the river for 6.4 miles before turning right onto Elkmont Rd. Follow this to the campground, cross the bridge and use the trailhead parking area.
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