The Transylvania Times -

Paddling Pisgah: Exploring South Mills by Kayak – Pisgah National Forest

 

July 29, 2019

Chris Gilson and Rahul Subramanian paddle down the South Mills River in the Turkey Pen area of Pisgah National Forest. This river is only high enough to paddle after a recent rain. (Courtesy photos)

When most folks think of outdoor recreation in Transylvania County, they're often quick to picture Hiking, cycling, fishing, riding horses and even Rock Climbing or tubing. The French Broad River is known for its leisurely float trips, but although Transylvania County is the "land of waterfalls," whitewater Kayaking is typically not associated with these parts by the bulk of the community.

As a resident of Brevard and someone who enjoys exploring this region by boat, I would like to use this space to tell a short story about the S. Fork Mills River.

The "South Mills" runs from Pink Beds within Pisgah National Forest, where Forest Road 476 ends at the S. Mills River Trail, 12 miles through a beautiful and remote valley before passing under the Turkey Pen bridge.

From there it continues on a few more miles before its confluence with the North Mills River just upstream of Davenport Bridge over Highway 280. It's most certainly worth mentioning that, to be paddled, this section of river needs significant recent rainfall.

Base flows are simply not high enough.

Last June, I had the opportunity to paddle this lovely piece of Appalachian whitewater with two close friends, Chris and Rahul. None of us had ever been before, so other than a few brief notes we found online, and scattered local knowledge gathered from mountain Biking nearby trails, we were going in blind. Following early summer thunderstorms, we decided to take out at Davenport Bridge, just south of the Mills River Ingles, and to start our trip from Pink Beds.

A quick map glance estimated the trip to be 15 miles, although we later found that to be quite wrong.

The majority of whitewater action was found within the first few miles of the section. Between the put-in and High Falls, a rocky waterfall with no foreseeable safe line, there were several low-angle slides, a few short drops, and a boulder garden or two, along with a few scattered, hazardous fallen trees.

We found it advisable to be on high alert, as wooden 'strainers' appeared around blind corners with limited stopping points to scout from.

Below High Falls, our river journey soothed to a scenic read-and-run, with a scattered slides and boulder gardens.

So far, the scenery had been exquisite, with notable points of interest including: Otter Hole, High Falls, Wolf Ford, Copperas Rock and Cantrell Creek Lodge. Most all of these features can be found on local maps.

As our cascading ribbon of whitewater slowed and slackened, we found ourselves arriving to the Turkey Pen area.

For intrepid voyagers interested in taking on this paddle trip, I strongly encourage the consideration of Turkey Pen as your take-out point. This saves considerable flat water and time.

If you're taking out at Turkey Pen, it's not a bad idea to walk down to the bridge and note something unique about it's presence so that you know which bridge to take out at – you'll pass a few along your trip downstream, and they all look the same.

Gilson navigates a section of rapids on the South Mills River in Pisgah National Forest.

Chris, Rahul and I opted to continue downstream, and our float ended up being 26 miles in total. We didn't get to the takeout until 9 pm, but fortunately the taco truck was still open to cook us a few before we all headed home.

This trip is just one example of the plethora of opportunities for whitewater paddling in Transylvania County. Whether by boat or by foot, with a paddle, camera or fishing pole, the cascading rivers around the region are worth exploring.

(Jack Henderson enjoys exploring waterways and mountains by boat and bike. Most at home amongst greenery and gradient, Jack lives simply in Brevard, working remotely as a cartographer and conservation planner for several non-profit organizations.)

 
 

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