Extreme is the best way to describe this narrow North Carolina river which is officially a class IV but can turn into a raging monster during heavy rains. Wilson Creek is an obscure destination for tourists but a well known thrill for whitewater enthusiasts seeking a challenge.
The headwaters spring from the east slope of Grandfather Mountain and cascade for six miles into Caldwell County near Lenoir. The gorge, features a dramatic two mile vertical drop with a gauntlet of waterfalls and rapids that test the skills of veteran paddlers. Only kayaks or funyaks can negotiate between the narrow passages created by boulders and bedrock and should only be run during optimum water levels - not too much and not too little.
There's a short window for paddling on this pristine river depending on the spring rains although hardy kayakers have been known to venture out as early as March. A typical season will last from April to June depending on the rainfall. Few commercial outfitters run this river because of the raft restrictions but those that do provide amateurs a thrill of a lifetime.
The commercial Wilson Creek run starts at "School House" where first-timers get a strict safety talk and a rundown on what to expect. Guides provide tips on how to negotiate the rapids and paddle through the currents. This when the expedition takes on the feel of an amusement park ride as paddlers are released one by one down the cascading waters. Guides post themselves at precarious spots to help the inflatable one man rafts over the shallows or rapids as they head down river.
Paddlers are hit with a succession of stair step drops and waterfalls including "Ten Foot Falls", an exhilarating drop over a churning waterfall. River guides name the various rapids with exotic descriptions, such as "edge of the world", "thunder hole" and "razorback". One outfitting company that regularly runs Wilson Creek is Wahoo's Adventures in Boone, North Carolina. They were the first to start offering commercial trips back in the early eighties and continue to do so every year.
Paddling Wilson Creek is a rigorous physical challenge requiring strength and stamina. This is not a river for small children and the recommended age is no younger than 12 years old and in good athletic shape. Be sure to dress warm and don't wear cotton on the river, it will make you freeze. Most outfitters provide wetsuits for the expedition. Once you've conquered this river, you're well on you're way to becoming a whitewater veteran.