Wilson Creek

North Carolina

A two-year partnership, exemplifying bipartisan support between county governments, local communities, and the U.S. Forest Service, culminated in designation of Wilson Creek on August 18, 2000. Jack Horan, Outdoors Editor for the Charlotte Observer, aptly describes Wilson Creek's special resources: "Kayakers and canoeists plunge through Boatbuster and Thunderhole Rapids. Anglers probe the greenish pools for brook, brown and rainbow trout. Sunbathers stretch out on massive boulders after a dip in the chilly waters. Wilson Creek long has been an easy-to-reach mountain oasis in the Pisgah National Forest. The free-flowing creek rises on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain in Avery County and, 20 miles later, makes a frantic dash through a 200-foot deep gorge before joining the Johns River in Caldwell County."


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Designated Reach

August 18, 2000. From the headwaters below Calloway Peak to the confluence with the Johns River.

Outstandingly Remarkable Values


Wilson Creek is classified as B-Tr-ORW by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality (NCDWQ) from its source downstream to the confluence with the Johns River. In this classification system, B refers to the systems suitability for primary and secondary recreation, aquatic life propagation and survival, fishing, wildlife, and agriculture. The Tr refers to the systems suitability for natural trout propagation and maintenance of stocked trout populations. Wilson Creek has been classified as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW) by the NCDWQ, which indicates that the system is unique and special waters of exceptional state or national recreational or ecological significance, requiring special protection to maintain existing uses.


Wilson Creek exposes formations of the Grandfather Mountain Window, a significant geologic feature. Rocks exposed in this area are among the oldest in the Appalachian Mountains. Rock exposure is extensive in the headwaters and in the lower river segment through Wilson Creek Gorge. 


Many of the historical values of the corridor are centered around the Mortimer-Edgemont area. Mortimer had a population of approximately 800 at the turn of the century and was the center of county activity with motels, summer homes and industry. The Mortimer Recreation Area was the site of the Camp Grandfather Mountain Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp from 1933 to 1942. The historic settlement and logging of the area, generally concentrated above the gorge, was closely tied to the river.  The Carolina and Northwestern Railroad spur line provided access to these communities. Much of the development was destroyed by flooding in the 1940s and was not rebuilt.   Sections of the river corridor have a high probability for archeological sites. Upper Wilson Creek (above the gorge) was part of a major prehistoric thoroughfare connecting the Upper Piedmont and high mountains. The old CCC camp at Mortimer is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 


Current recreational use in the area of the stream includes fishing, hiking, primitive camping, hunting, and viewing scenery. The 15.4-mile section from below Mortimer Campground to Johns River is a canoe/kayak run with a range of Class I-V rapids. The most difficult section with Class III-V rapids occurs in the gorge. Water levels are generally sufficient for paddling after rain events. Upper reaches of Wilson Creek are also paddled after rain events. 


The stream and surrounding corridor have common characteristics for the area, except for the section through Wilson Creek Gorge and the headwaters on private lands. The river through the gorge has a moderate to steep gradient and rapid/pool flow characteristics with many cascades and small waterfalls. The gorge is steep and narrow with extensive exposed bedrock. The streambed is rocky with numerous large boulders. The Grandfather Mountain section of the river corridor is steep with huge rock outcrops.


Managing Partners And Contacts


Recreational Scenic Wild
Recreational — 15.8 miles; Scenic — 2.9 miles; Wild — 4.6 miles; Total — 23.3 miles.
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