The Horse Shoe Bend
The French Broad River from its headwaters to Tennessee has many personalities to explore, from the floating parties through Asheville's River District to the pulse-pounding rapids near Hot Springs. But you'll find few stretches to float that are like the Horse Shoe Bend.
From the time you leave the put-in at Highway 64 behind until you take out at Lazy Otter HQ at Banner Farm Road, you'll see not a single road, home, factory or building. Great Blue Herons will escort you through the calm waters as you admire the natural timber sculptures and pick your path through them. Keep an eye out for the playful river otters, and count yourself lucky if you can snap a photo - they're quick!
And you don't need to make a long trek to enjoy this remote-feeling sweep of the French Broad. Just 10 minutes from Hendersonville, 20 minutes from Brevard, and about 40 minutes from much of Asheville, the float itself is a comfortable four miles long, an easy two hours to fit into an otherwise busy day.
While the Bend is a relaxing place, it is also rugged. Adventure Tubers must keep in mind that there will be obstacles such as tree trunks to avoid, so participants must have sufficient upper body strength to effectively paddle their tube (with the paddle we will provide). Participants should also be strong swimmers in case of a popped tube, since there are no roads to walk out on. Tubers must be a minimum of 13 years old, and an adult must accompany minors.
We took our camera along on a tube ourselves on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 to show you what a float was like on that day. The water was flowing at about 400 cubic feet per second at the time, or about 60 percent of the usual flow thanks to a severe drought. (You can check the current flow here.) These photos are only a snapshot of one trip and aren't meant to point out any particular features or hazards because those can and will change all the time. But they can give you just a taste of the Horse Shoe Bend. Come and see it for yourself with Lazy Otter Outfitters!
You'll start your trip down the Bend at the public access on Highway 64 at Cummings Cove Road, just a three-minute shuttle ride from Lazy Otter HQ. There's an easy boat ramp and dock, and you'll float immediately under the old railroad trestle that will someday become part of the Ecusta Trail linking cyclists and others to Hendersonville and Brevard!
Most of the river is wide open. When fallen trees are blocking a substantial part of the channel you can generally see it from a distance, so with the gentle current you have time to find an opening to slip right through. Stay as far from obstacles as you can, and never try to punch through a strainer.
There is an area not too far into the float with a number of obstacles breaking the surface, especially in low water. But there were still multiple paths through, and birds sure seem to appreciate the many places to perch!
It takes just a few minutes to leave the road far behind and enjoy the natural beauty of the trees, the sky and the drifting water.
While your float with Lazy Otter is self-guided, don't be surprised if you do have an escort. Great Blue Herons seem particularly fond of leading visitors to their river downstream, with frequent stops for poses atop a log.
A giant stone slab helps guide the flowing water into its horse shoe shape.
While you won't see a single road along the Bend, as you near the end you'll rejoin the old railroad track, which has been unused for more than a decade. Friends of the Ecusta Trail is working hard to move efforts to create what will be the best rail-trail in the state forward, and this will be one of the prettiest segments. They could use your support!
And you've arrived back at Lazy Otter HQ. Our private take-out is on river right, and is exclusively for the use of Lazy Otter customers. A short walk up the hill and your car is right where you left it, with no need to wait for another shuttle!
Someday, a tree trunk like this will fall. But until it does, it's easy to appreciate the artistry of its natural form.
There it is, Johnson Bridge on Banner Farm Road, the first roadway you've seen since you put in. The end of your float on the Horse Shoe Bend is in sight.