The Cherokee named the wide river “Ayuhwasi” which means “river of the meadow.” Paddling and fishing the standard lower reaches of the Hiwassee certainly earns this accurate description. But before the river spreads out and allows it’s flow to join the mighty Tennessee beneath the mountains, it spills a few turbulent secrets within a Gorge that only a few of the many who know the Hiwassee River today could guess about. ..
The Upper Hiwassee, or “Dries,” is a remote section of river located between the Polk County towns of Turtletown and Reliance. Exploited by a conduit hydro system built for the WWII effort by the Tennessee Valley Authority, this section of river doesn’t flow with quite the same constant intensity that it once did, especially during the summer months. Yet, the pristine pools and drops still exist, hidden beneath a well preserved canopy of southern deciduous forest land. Although they have been partially silenced, Upper Hiwassee’s rapids roar back to life many times during a typical year. When the upstream inflows exceed 3400 cfs or maintenance outages are necessary at the Apalachia powerhouse, water rises to surround the dry boulders and cascades over them violently. It happens at a frequency that most aren’t aware and the fullness of appreciation has yet to realize it’s value to the Polk County economy. A thriving whitewater interest in the region (Ocoee) which has begun to stagnate could perhaps experience a second awakening with the freshness of a new river adventure, the Hiwassee Dries!
One very distinct big rapid is hidden up there. “Hollywood Bowl” is actually comparable to Sweets Falls on the Gauley at some levels. Plenty of big wave trains intermingled with upper Ocoee style tree dodging are the norm. Towards the end, the “Narrows” is a fairly long rapid with boils and one enormous large boil exiting from under the river right wall. The origin of the water which makes that boil seems to appear from nowhere. It’s visually bizarre and impressive!!
The Hiwassee Dries is a quality class 3+ to 4+ run, depending on water level. It could be downgraded to class 3 if one puts in below Hollywood Bowl at lower flows. It flows directly into the standard Hiwassee run, a beginner staple and scenic paddle through a meadow (well said by the Cherokees).
Last thing… If you do make a trip to the Upper Hiwassee (Dries) please note the level and make sure to take the American Whitewater survey located here: