Outdoors Recreation

Year of the Trail: Beat the Heat on the French Broad Paddle Trail

Carrie Jensen. Weaver Bend, French Broad River. Photo by Jack Henderson

By Emma Castleberry

2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina. Each month, The Laurel will celebrate with a story about an inspiring trail or a related organization or project.

The Year of the Trail is about all of North Carolina’s trails—even those that aren’t on land. The French Broad Paddle Trail is a series of campsites along the French Broad River that invites paddlers of all kinds to enjoy the river’s scenery from a different angle. “There are opportunities for everyone, regardless of skill level or economic status, to experience and enjoy the French Broad River,” says Jack Henderson, French Broad Paddle Trail Manager with MountainTrue.

The peak heat of summer is a wonderful time to shift your focus from land-based trails to water-based ones, but it’s also a popular time to be on the river, so campsites fill up quickly. All of the campsites along the French Broad Paddle Trail are paddle-in only and require a reservation. There are also several privately operated campgrounds along the river that can be reached with a car.

FrenchBroadPaddle.com is the place to start planning, with suggested itineraries, a reservation portal for campsites and contacts for outfitters who can help with just about anything related to the paddle trail, from rental gear like boats, trailers and life jackets, to coordinating shuttles and providing updated river conditions. The website also has river gauges that tell you the flow rate at various places along the river. This is important information when planning your trip. Not only can fast-moving water be dangerous for novices but a low flow can also leave you hiking your canoe across shallow areas, which is about as fun as it sounds.

The French Broad River is a wonderful place for new paddlers, even those who have never been in a canoe or kayak. The section of the river best-suited for beginners is around Brevard, where there is abundant flat water and also excellent fishing (with an up-to-date NC fishing license). An easy, two-night itinerary found on the website starts at Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman. Your first day of paddling is 8.5 miles to the Headwaters Campsite in Brevard, followed by 16 miles on day two and camping at Riverbend Campsite. On your third day, paddle another 9.5 miles to take out at Blantyre. Of course, as with most paddle trips, you’ll need to arrange a shuttle—either independently or through an outfitter.

The French Broad River connects five counties and two states, spanning a variety of topographies, natural communities, cultures and public lands. While paddling, you might see beaver, deer, muskrat, river otters and the iconic white squirrels of Brevard, as well as a variety of bird life like Great Blue Herons and even Bald Eagles. “These recreational experiences offer a chance for visitors to be educated on the importance to responsibly steward, protect and advocate for the river and surrounding lands–work that MountainTrue and several other partnering organizations are collaborating upon,” says Henderson.

If you are considering a trip, the French Broad Paddle Trail Map & Guide, available for purchase on the website for $20 and also at various outfitters, will pay dividends during both planning and execution of your adventure. Visit FrenchBroadPaddle.com for more information or to make a campsite reservation.

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