French Broad Float

Courtesy of David Wilson, Creative Commons
Courtesy of David Wilson, Creative Commons David Wilson
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The French Broad is one of the world’s oldest rivers and one of the most important natural assets in Western North Carolina. In 2012, the 140-mile-long French Broad River paddle trail was completed improving recreational access with eight paddle-in-only campsites, every 12 to 15 miles. Environmental nonprofit Western North Carolina Alliance developed and oversees the trail and is home base for the river’s Riverkeeper, Hartwell Carson. Each year the group hosts the French Broad Float, a multi-day river adventure, guided by Carson for fun and education on the river and the environmental issues surrounding it. This year, there are two floats with a two-day and five day option, offered in May and July, traversing 115 miles of the trail. No boat? No problem. The Alliance provides boats for those who don’t have them and supplies all meals: just show up with a tent, jump in a boat and you’re off.

Boaters on the French Broad, Courtesy of Joanne Sullivan
Boaters on the French Broad, Courtesy of Joanne Sullivan

“It’s great for people who haven’t done backcountry camping before,” says Kirby Callaway, assistant French Broad Riverkeeper.  The trip’s support team arrives at each stop in advance and gets meals set up and takes care of breakfast in the morning, too. The trip attracts people of all ages (kids are welcome) and it’s designed to be easy enough for newbies to paddling.

What sets the trip apart from solo adventures is the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look with the person who probably knows more about the river than anyone else. Carson has been the French Broad Riverkeeper for over six years, immersed in its ecological and political issues. Callaway, an Americorps volunteer, says that participants in the float will learn about the effects that coal ash plant alongside the river has on water quality and may do a water sample along the way. But there will also be fishing and as the river winds through the Biltmore Estate, a stop and tasting at the winery. With another stop at Asheville’s top barbeque spot 12 Bones, so the trip isn’t exactly roughing it.

Paddling the French Broad Paddle Trail, Courtesy of Save the Float
Paddling the French Broad Paddle Trail, Courtesy of Save the Float

The Float includes stretches of flat water, rural, urban and remote parts of the river, including paddle-in-only campsites that were established as part of the trail and public campsites. There are small areas of class II and III rapids along the route, but nothing too challenging. There’s no shortage of outfitters along the French Broad, but the Float offers a unique experience that combines education, fun and food (and spirits) along the water. “The trips always sell out, so those interested should register soon,” says Callaway.

May Trips

May 17-18 (Headwaters Outfitters to Riverbend Campsite)

May 17-21 (Headwaters Outfitters to Asheville Outdoor Center)

July Trips

July 12-13 (Asheville Outdoor Center to Marshall)

July 12-15 (Asheville Outdoor Center to Paint Rock, Tenn.)

For more information, contact WNCA Assistant French Broad Riverkeeper Kirby Callaway at (828) -258-8737, ext. 212.

Registration is open now at




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