The Top 5 Places to Kayak Near Pisgah Forest

Kayaking is one of the most popular watersports, and for good reason. Not only is kayaking one of the easiest watersports to learn, but it also allows adventurers to see beautiful terrain from an entirely different perspective. 

Kayaking is also an outdoor activity the whole family can enjoy. Younger children can share a two-seat kayak with a parent, older children can kayak by themselves, and even older people with mobility issues can take advantage of the freedom a kayak offers. 

When searching for places to kayak, the Pisgah National Forest often ranks at the top of the list. Keep reading to learn more about this slice of heaven in North Carolina and why it’s the perfect spot for kayaking adventures you’ll never forget. 

Where Is Pisgah Forest? 

Pisgah Forest is a small town in eastern North Carolina near the state’s border with Tennessee. It has a permanent population of just 7,500 people, but the many visitors and part-time residents increase the population during peak times of the year. 

The idyllic town of Pisgah Forest boasts a prime location for those who want to experience the great outdoors. Smokey Mountain National Park is nearby, as are Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest. You’ll also find Tuttle State Forest and DuPont State Recreational Wilderness. 

The nearest airport is in Asheville, North Carolina, but the airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, is also very convenient. 

What Makes the Pisgah Area So Special? 

Pisgah Forest lies within the Appalachian Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the United States. Time, wind, and water have worked their magic, resulting in deep gorges, rolling streams and rivers, and lush forests. This region is so unique that the Blue Ridge Parkway, which begins near Pisgah Forest, was the most visited National Park in 2021. 

Wild Mammals

Wildlife thrives in this part of North Carolina. Visitors can expect to see small mammals like skunks, rabbits, otters, and raccoons. Elk and whitetail deer also call Pisgah home. And, if you’re very lucky, you might spot a coyote, red and gray foxes, a black bear, or a bobcat. 


However, the best places to kayak are also the best places to see birds. Pisgah Forest is home to both migratory and resident birds. When kayaking, keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons, great blue herons, bald eagles, woodpeckers, and the Northern saw-whet owl, just to name a few. 

Unique Flora

Going kayaking also gives you a fantastic vantage point from which to spot the many species of plants and trees that grow near the water in Pisgah. You might spot hemlock, dogwood, red maple, tulip poplar, and numerous other tree species from your kayak. 

During the spring and early summer months, these forests explode with wildflowers. Irises, mountain laurels, azaleas, violets, and rhododendrons dazzle with their bright and beautiful colors. 

The Five Best Places to Kayak in Pisgah Forest

Kayaking in the Pisgah region is a feast for the senses. Not only can you take in the sights and sounds of life on the Appalachian waterways, but kayaking is also the perfect way to slow down and appreciate our world’s beauty.

These are just a few of the best places to kayak, including areas for beginners and kayakers with more experience. 

1. The South Fork of the Mill’s River

You won’t find crowds in this kayaking spot, mainly because it’s somewhat challenging and best suited for experienced paddlers. True experts begin before High Falls, which plunges about 20 feet into the bubbling water below. Beyond the falls, the water is calmer, but it’s still unsuitable for beginners. 

The trip is between 12 and 15 miles long, depending on whether you start above or below the falls. Either way, experienced kayakers will love the white water and the beautiful gorges along the way. 

2. The Nantahala River 

For a relaxing day on the water, the Nantahala River is one of the best kayaking options in the Pisgah region. The most used stretch of the river is about eight miles long and offers mild to moderate rapids for thrill seekers and long, lazy floats for beginners. 

The scenery along the Nantahala River is exquisite, and you’ll have multiple options to slow down or stop to take photos. Many kayakers on the Nantahala River opt to use a guide to learn more about the river, but unguided trips are allowed. 

3. The French Broad River 

The French Broad River is one of the most popular places to kayak in the Pisgah area. The river is wide, and the water is generally calm and flat, making the French Broad River the perfect spot for a leisurely trip. You’ll even pass by the famous Biltmore Estate

One of the most attractive aspects of kayaking on the French Broad River is the chance to do it at dusk. Not only will you be able to skip the crowds, but North Carolina’s wildlife is very active at dusk, allowing you a glimpse into their world. 

You may spot beavers, owls, herons, and the beautiful yet elusive American wood duck. 

4. The Pigeon River

The Pigeon River feeds into the above-named French Broad River and is one of the best rivers in the area for kayakers of all levels. The upper part of the Pigeon River offers whitewater for experienced kayakers, and the lower part of the river slows down, which is ideal for beginners. 

The calmer section of the Pigeon River offers numerous places to swim, and it’s very popular with anglers as well. 

5. The Horsepasture River

Many of the rivers in the Pisgah area are suitable for beginners, but the Horsepasture River is not one of them. Experienced whitewater paddlers flock to this river for its challenging class V rapids and numerous waterfalls. 

The Horsepasture River is only four miles long, but experienced paddlers will love the 500 feet of vertical descent and navigating the natural barriers this river has to offer. 

Kayaking Safety

When going kayaking, it’s vital to keep safety in mind. If you choose to kayak with a guide, pay attention to the safety briefing and don’t hesitate to ask questions. River guides want you to have fun on the river, but they also want you to be safe. 

If you’re kayaking alone, be sure to tell someone where you’re entering the water, where you plan to exit the water, and how long you expect to be gone. Always wear a life jacket and a helmet, carry a whistle, and keep your phone in a secure dry bag. Before you go, check the weather forecast to ensure you won’t run into a rain storm, which can unexpectedly cause river levels to rise. 

Plan Your Pisgah Forest Getaway Today

Vacationing in Appalachia is an experience you’ll never forget. In addition to the perfect places to kayak, you’ll also find hiking trails, swimming holes, horseback riding, and more. 

Contact us at Pisgah Forest RV Park and Campground and allow our friendly and knowledgeable staff to help you plan the trip of a lifetime. 

About the Author

You may also like these