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We paddled the French Broad two weeks ago and the trip exceeded expectations. We put in at 10:30AM on Saturday. Walnut Island River Park is an excellent put-in. It has a well-maintained picnic area and a freshly paved parking lot.
After putting in, there are some minor ledges and small islands to traverse. The run takes you through good, easy water that can provide some challenge if water levels get too low (ledges and falls become quite severe) or too high. Scenery is pretty good. The hardwoods lining the gorge offer great fall colors, and the cliffs along the river trickle with runoff days after a storm.
On our trip, we were able to spot tons of wildlife. Upon take-off, we startled several smallmouth bass sunning in the shallows. One of them gave an aerial show as it hurled out of the water and turned several somersaults before disappearing. Around the first bend, we were able to spot eight wild turkeys pecking around in a grassy field. We saw a number of red-tailed hawks along the river as well. We were lucky enough to view a bald eagle on an overhanging limb. The bird remained on his perch until we were 10 or so yards away. He finally took off, soaring away into the sun.
The river is somewhat easy for the first two miles, but becomes more challenging with some falls and a slight rock maze at about the 2.5 - 3 mile mark. The preferred route is easy to spot, and most obstacles are pretty straightforward.
There are two take-outs available on this section. The first one is a public boat access on NC-251. This access isn't marked, but can be seen easily from the road. Heading north on 251, it would be on the left side of the road. The second access is further down river in a small community called Rollins. There are take-outs here all along the river. We usually find a place to park in the neighborhood (there is a public boat ramp here too) and carry our canoes or kayaks through a vacant field (the road is only forty or fifty feet from the river). Taking out in Rollins provides several extra rapids, but adds only .5 miles or so to the trip.
Overall, this is a good short trip if you are local. I would not drive very far for this section. Better water is downstream (Barnard to Hot Springs). This is, however, a great run for beginners, or anyone wanting a quick outing. Sightseeing is pretty good, but the Barnard - Hot Springs section is probably better in this category as well. We played around, stopped for lunch, and were able to take out by 2:00PM in Rollins.
*the river runs alongside NC-251
- proceed north past Oak Island Park
- go about 5 miles
- take-out is a small gravel pull-off just before road splits into four lanes (if you pass Ivy Hill Rd. you've gone too far)
- proceed past 1st Take-out
- take slight left towards Marshall on BR 25-70
- go 2 miles
- take right on Hayes Run Rd.
- go .1 mile
- take sharp right on Rollins Road