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 MountainTrue developed and oversees the trail and is home base for Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. Each year the group hosts the French Broad Riverkeeper Float, a multi-day river adventure guided by Carson for fun and education on the river and the environmental issues surrounding it. MountainTrue 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.
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 years, immersed in its ecological and political issues. Participants in the float learn about the effects that a industrial plants along the river have on water quality and may do a water sample along the way.
The Float includes a paddle through Biltmore, as well as stretches of flat water, rural, urban, and remote parts of the river. 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 along the water.