Canoeing and Kayaking in Madison County, North Carolina

The French Broad River north of Asheville, NC, is much wider and, at places, rougher than it is in the Asheville area. For those who would like to enjoy the beauty of the French Broad River from their personal canoes or kayaks, Madison County offers four places for river access. Enjoy the beauty of the river and the surroundings in a less crowded stretch of the river as it flows through Madison County toward the Tennessee border north of Hot Springs, surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Consider trying out a portion of the French Broad Paddle Trail – a recreational water trail that begins at the headwaters of the French Broad River in Rosman, North Carolina and winds to Douglas Lake, Tennessee. For campers, there are public campsites approximately every 8-10 miles on the banks of the river along the way. Or stop at one of the many lodgings or restaurants in Marshall or Hot Springs.


Directions to Access Points:

Barnard Access: From US Highway 25N/70W between Marshall and Hot Springs, turn onto Walnut Road (left turn coming from Marshall; right turn coming from Hot Springs) and then make the first turn onto Barnard Road which will take you to the French Broad River and Barnard Park.

Stackhouse Access: From US Highway 25N/70W between Marshall and Hot Springs, turn onto Stackhouse Road — State Road 1139/1319 — (left turn coming from Marshall; right turn coming from Hot Springs). Stackhouse Road which will take you to the French Broad River. The Forest Service has a primitive access site here.

Town of Hot Springs-Nantahala Outdoor Center Access: From the town of Hot Springs, go south on US 25 and just over the French Broad River, turn left on River Road and make an immediate left to go under the highway/bridge (It’s Silvermine Road but it is not marked). The Access is on the right side of the road and parking would be on the downstream section of the area.

Murray Branch Picnic Area Access: From Hot Springs, take NC Highway 25/70 North to Tennessee. Turn right at the Murray Branch Picnic Area (SR 1304) and go 6 miles to the US Forest Service’s Murray Branch Recreation Area.

Area between Barnard and Hot Springs (about 8 miles):

This stretch is a pretty run with little development on the riverbank. The River is wider here compared with the section between Asheville and the Madison County line. Many of the commercial outfitters put in at Barnard for a whitewater run to Hot Springs. There are some class 3 rapids and, when the water is up, one class 4 rapid (Frank Bell Rapid). At the 5 mile point, you will pass Stackhouse and can see the Victorian house built in 1904 by Amos Stackhouse who ran a store and sawmill at this location after the Civil War. About 1 mile after this, Big Laurel Creek joins the French Broad River and, if the water level is up, you can have some challenging paddling. If you prefer, you can take out at this point at Stackhouse rather than continuing to Hot Springs. The next 3 miles have some rapids—the intensity varies with the water level. You might want to consult with professional outfitters who are familiar with this section before paddling this area because of the rapids.

Area between Barnard and Stackhouse (about 4 miles):

This is a shorter, gentler run. See above for description.

Area between the Town of Hot Springs and Murray Branch Picnic Area (about 4 miles):

Spring Creek joins with the French Broad River in Hot Springs creating a stretch of an exciting run. Two miles after the put-in point maintained by the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Paint Creek enters the French Broad River and you can see Paint Rock. Legend has it that human and animal figures were painted by the Cherokee. This is also the point at which a blockhouse was erected to protect early settlers from attack.


  • Spring Creek and Big Laurel River which enter the French Broad River are only for the highly skilled.
  • Hazards between Asheville and Marshall: Capitola Dam is an 8-foot structure on the outskirts of Marshall and Redmon Dam is a much larger dam just beyond Marshall.
  • Hazards near Stackhouse—when the water level is low to medium, there are some iron rods which are the remains of an old sluiceway.

River Levels:

The best levels are in the Spring. To check the current level from the gauge placed near Marshall

More Information:

Contact one of the commercial outfitters in Madison County or Riverlink in Asheville at 828 252-8474