Saturday the Greenville Canoe and Kayak Meetup held their fall paddle on the French Broad River through the Biltmore Estate near Asheville. The group does this trip twice a year, and the spring and fall excursions are their most popular. Nearly 80 people registered for last spring, and about 65 had registered for this trip.
I was a bit skeptical about going on this trip. I had paddled this section with Paul W some years ago, and wasn’t impressed. The river was nice enough, but the section through Biltmore was less than idyllic. There was a horse show on the Estate, and there were loudspeaker announcements all along the river.
I was also concerned about the number of paddlers. I had seen Jeanie Boyette’s photos from last spring, and it didn’t seem too bad. However, there were tales of the group being summarily booted from the Biltmore grounds when they tried to stop for lunch.
Despite the misgivings, I decided to go. I had missed several organized trips lately, and didn’t want to miss this one. It looked like the weather was going to be perfect, so I knew I needed to be on the water.
The plan was to start at Westfeldt Park, just south of the Asheville Airport. This would nearly double the trip from the last time. The idea was that we would get to Bent Creek Park (the original starting point) and have lunch there, and not risk getting kicked off Biltmore property again.
Alan met me at the house, and we headed to the rendezvous at the Travelers Rest Walmart. The instructions said “look for all the kayaks” in the parking lot, and that was certainly easy enough to do. Our caravan headed on up into North Carolina to our put-in point.
When everyone finally arrived, we had 45 boats and 48 paddlers – not quite the 65 that had registered, but still a huge number. The sea of colored plastic covering the ground at the put-in was quite impressive.
With the gear ready to go, Russ Fauvre gathered everyone together for instructions. Since there wasn’t much parking at the take-out, only high occupancy vehicles would run the shuttle. That meant my truck, which I would normally try to have at the take out, would have to remain behind.
Here’s where things started to go a bit awry. Alan and I were both concerned that we were meeting fairly late for such a large group and such a long trip. There is increased inertia with a larger number of paddlers, so things just happen slower. The shuttle was no different. We waited nearly an hour for the shuttle group to return. I guess we could have hit the water early, but that’s considered bad manners. As it was, we finally got on the water at 12:30, and still had eight miles to go to get to our lunch stop.
The current was pretty strong at the put-in, and it looked like we would make good time. Even though the leaves were past peak, a few fall colors dotted the hillsides. The scenery was nice, but there was a constant undercurrent of noise, first from the jets flying overhead, then from the Interstate nearby.
While mostly rural, one was quite aware that civilization wasn’t too far off. The river parallelled I-26 for a long stretch, and at one point passed very close to the new Biltmore Park development. At times it was almost more urban paddling than rural.
Still, there was quite a bit of nice scenery, too.
The crowds on the river didn’t turn out to be as bad as we thought. The French Broad is wide enough so that we had plenty of room. For much of the trip Alan and I had the river to ourselves, as large groups paddled downstream and upstream of us. Alan had brought along Gnomeo, a garden gnome that serves as informal mascot for his school. He rode up front on the kayak enjoying the view, but contributing little in terms of paddling.
As the current clipped along, we did encounter a few shoals. The water was quite high, but I could see some of these being a problem at lower levels. If I had been in one of my whitewater boats I wouldn’t have batted an eye at the ripples and small standing waves. However, I wasn’t sure how a flatwater boat would perform, and the last thing I wanted was to take a spill in the chilly waters at Long Shoals, or any of the other rocky areas we encounterd.
With the quick current it only took a couple of hours to travel the eight miles from Westfeldt to Bent Creek Park. Pretty soon we could see the high Blue Ridge Parkway bridge out in front of us.
We pulled our boats into Bent Creek and settled in for lunch. While there I ran into Lucia Svetanova, one of my good friends from the Chorale. She was there with her family having a picnic. The lunch stop killed about another 45 minutes.
Just around a bend in the river from Bent Creek one encounters the I-26 bridges, and the only rapid of any consequence. I would rate it not even a Class I, but a 0.5 at best. There was a series of standing waves that was easily negotiated. However, it did cause some of our group problems, pushing them into one of the bridge’s pylons. We had at least two boats overturn, dumping their occupants into the chilly water.
At this point the river enters the Biltmore Estate proper. We still had the traffic noise from I-26, but development along the banks wasn’t as pronounced. It was also getting on late in the afternoon. The sun occasionally hid behind some of the hills, casting long shardos on the river.
We were able to see the roof of the mansion itself. The views weren’t incredibly clear, but the late sun did highlight the Estate’s features. There were a few people enjoying the grounds, and around another bend we came to the Biltmore Inn sitting up on another hill.
Finally, we reached our destination – Hominy Creek Park. The last time I did this stretch Paul and I paddle up Hominy Creek and took out there. There is a series of steep steps down to the French Broad, and that’s where this group chose to pull out. We formed a kind of “kayak escalator” to lift the boats up to the park.
After the shuttle run, I got back to my truck at about 5:30, but still had to drive back up to Hominy Creek to pick up Alan and the boats. It was about 7:45 when we finally made it back to my house.
The trip was enjoyable, but even after this second time I still don’t think this is one of my favorite river routes. The current and ripples keep things lively, but there is the constant noise, either from the airport or the Interstate. The scenery is nice in some places, and so-so in others. I enjoyed being with and talking to others in the group. If I go again, it will be for that comradarie, rather than anything the river itself has to offer.
Here is a Google map of the trip…
…and here is a slide show of all of the photos I took…