Put-in is just downstream of Bear Creek, following the steep trail down from Eberhart point. It is still fun down to 400 cfs or so, but the final few miles can drag below 600-800. The first mile can be challenging for a beginner. Putting in can be challenging for that matter, though not that bad since they've grown grass on the trail. After a few class III's, the first significant rapid is Eddy Hop. Here, two small drops each feed into undercut boulders on the left. To avoid entanglement, take a small ledge right of center to avoid the first boulder. This sets you up to take the second small drop far right to avoid getting stuffed. After a long pool comes the biggest rapid on Chairlift, Bottleneck. Bottleneck is a forgiving but tricky low IV. At medium flows, the entrance can be navigated by going straight over a ledge on the center right, then through a squirrely slot angled back left into a large eddy. From here, ferry back into the current for the main drop, which you can either take far right over a curler or center boofing over the rock, level permitting. The final drop in Bottleneck often will flip you, but I've never heard of it holding onto anyone. At water above 1400 cfs or so, if you swim on river left, you could go under a nasty undercut.
After Bottleneck it is pretty much II and III-. If you run it at high water, it is bigtime III/IV and Bottleneck is meaty. Towards the end it gets pretty flat, especially for the tired Suicide or Upper 2 paddler. The last rapid is at the confluence with Johnnies Creek at mile 5. The usual takeout at Canyon Mouth Park is still an option, but they have drastically increased the price for a day pass. This has driven people to start parking at the Hwy 273 bridge. To get there, take the 2nd channel on the left after the pool by CMP, and follow the water to the bridge. Be discrete and polite at the bridge, as there is a family across the street from the parking area and the adjacent land owners have expressed concerns about littering.
Another option for those seeking the easiest possible run is to put in on the Powell Trail below the Chairlift. Here Jason Smith offers some low water wisdom: Powell Trail is very hard to find. Driving up from the Canyon Mouth Park, you cross Johnnies Creek, one more small stream, and then just after crossing Chinquapin Creek (unmarked) look for a blue sign on the right. The trail has several major trees down that you go over and or under. The carry in/out is not as bad as some that I have experienced on Chattooga Section III. It's a little over a 1/4 mile. The Chairlift/Eberhart Point trail is shorter, steeper, and better for the carry in.
My friend Tim Cook and I paddled this section in an old tandem Blue Hole with questionable floatation, so we didn't want to deal with the Bottleneck section of the river, thus putting in at Powell Trail. We were in my great old friend Larry Longshore's boat, if anyone remembers Larry - a die hard paddler from the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club who was from the Valley Head area. Larry passed away a little over five years ago unexpectedly. He was one of the first to canoe the Nantahala in the 70's, as well as the Little River sections. In an open canoe, even the 350 cfs run we made was the extreme minimum. A few clean rapids, most were bumpy at this level, and there is one solid class III about two miles down from the Powell trail - better to run it solo. To be honest we flipped it running it tandem. I ran it successfully solo, and then we survived a second tandem attempt, only to T-bone a rock at the lower end of the rapid.
I wouldn't make this run it again unless I had 500 cfs or better. Absolutely outstanding scenery, and water quality should really be zero chickens (editor: there's a little chicken in all Alabama water :-) ). Definitely Class II-III with one sure enough III, and probably solid class III above 700 cfs.
Those that attended were: Mark D', Dave Branham, Curt Ruffing, Kerry Appleton, Mark Duplisea, Hugh O'Brien, John Ellis, Vance Rochelle, Jimmy Gardner, and myself. The level was about 700 cfs. Of the relatively limited number of rivers I have witnessed, this is by far the most spectacular. The water is sparkling clean of a turquoise green color. Looking down, you can see the contours of the bottom with boulders and pools. The bank has mature and weathered pines arranged beautifully as lone specimens. Waterfalls plummet from tortuous crags and sheer rock faces of the towering canyon walls. With the rugged beauty as a bonus came very exciting whitewater. Mark D', Dave B., and Curt R. were good and lucky enough to run the upper 2. The rest of us opted for chairlift. Mark Duplisea figured out that his boat slid easily on the wood chips of the trail and soon we were all sliding our boats with great speed down to the put-in. The upper 2 crew paddled up just as we had finished our lunches and soaked up a little scenery and sun. The first couple rapids were class II+ or III- and had nice eddies positioned well to boat scout from. Our group suffered a couple swims in these. We then approached a class III rapid with a serious looking undercut in the bend. Mark decided that we shouldn't loose Vance and Jimmy on his watch, so they took the terra firma tour. I want to note that you could clearly see the underwater boulders of the drops as you approached. The sunlight was also brightly lighting up these boulders through the clear water. Just as I was observing this on a seemingly benign drop, I was suddenly stopped by a sticky hole at the bottom. All of a sudden it was rodeo time! The hole forced me over, but I braced back up. I surfed violently as Kerry cheered me on. (She thought I was showing off). As I struggled to no avail to remove myself, I thought I saw Mark D' and Dave B. some distance away smiling with great pleasure. I swam out and ended the gratuitous entertainment. Next was Bottleneck (IV). We watched the upper 2 boys run the rapid and got their advice on the lines. The rapid looked technically difficult from shore. The route begins with a couple small warm-up drops and eddy catching. The last few moves are very technical. From an eddy river right, we peeled out and used the slack water behind a boulder in the center to facilitate a move into the bleeding and squirrelly semi-eddy river left. The current in this eddy was just slow enough to paddle high and ferry back across the rapid to the lip of the final drop. Just above the final drop was a boulder on the river right that jutted out and provided just enough slack water (if hit high) to prevent getting sucked down the left side. The left side of the final drop was a vortex looking froth with a poor entrance. After making the right side, all that was left was to ride out the churning froth. Many of us failed to execute the very last move properly and the rapid chastised us accordingly. The complexity and challenge of Bottleneck had everyone pumped. Hugh O'Brien and Mark Duplisea had encountered their first class IV and couldn't have chosen a better one to remember. Someday maybe I will get to experience the world class whitewater and scenery that lies upstream of chairlift. Speaking of upstream, we learned from a park ranger that someone had jumped off the 45 ft. Little River Falls that day for fun. The ranger apparently warned him of the penalties and then watched him proceed. He lived through the jump and the 35-degree water to tell about it.