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Watauga River

One natural feature that all park visitors enjoy is the Watauga River, which flows along the Park’s northern boundary. The park provides areas for wading and play in the shallow, slow-moving waters. The wide-open stretch of river is also a favorite among beginner fly fishermen and women.

Birds, salamanders, fish, and other wildlife thrive in the riparian ecosystem in and around the water. To protect sensitive species, we ask that all visitors follow Leave No Trace principles and to not move river rocks while they play – rocks which provide shelter for aquatic animals.

About the Watauga River

The Watauga River is a large stream in western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It is 78.5 miles long with its headwaters on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain and Peak Mountain in Watauga County, North Carolina, near the trailhead of the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park.

The river flows across Watauga County, North Carolina crossing the Tennessee state line (River Mile (RM) 55.1) at Johnson County, then into Carter County, Tennessee and ends at its confluence with the Holston River’s South Fork (RM 0) on the Washington/Sullivan County border.

The Watauga River Basin is on the western side of the Eastern Continental Divide. This means that the waters of the Watauga River eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico.

At the Valle Crucis Community Park, the Watauga River is approximately 40 feet wide and 2 feet deep, although there is variation throughout the year. Water flow and quality is greatly dependent on precipitation events. On average, water flow is higher in the spring and early summer than during other seasons.

Watauga River Basin

A river basin is the area of land drained by a river and its tributaries. The Watauga River Basin encompasses all of the land surface drained by many streams and creeks that flow downhill into one another, and eventually into the Watauga River. Overall, 279 miles of streams and rivers are located within the Watauga River Basin.

 The basin includes parts of Watauga and Avery counties and only six incorporated towns, including Banner Elk, Beech Mountain and a portion of Boone. Although the year-round population of this basin is low, the area hosts vast numbers of seasonal visitors. The water quality is usually excellent—most of the streams flow undisturbed through the forested mountains of the Blue Ridge.

New construction, paving projects and agriculture can all have effects on the Watauga River. To find out more about how to protect the river, visit: .


Green Floater (Lasmigona subviridis): The green floater, like other freshwater mussels, are filter feeders and remove particulate organic matter from the water column. It is considered a species of concern, rare, imperiled, or critically imperiled in different parts of the United States.

Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae): The banded sculpin is on average 4 inches long. Sculpins are bottom-dwelling fishes that lack a swim bladder. Their flattened bodies and enlarged pectoral fins are adaptations for maintaining a position in stream currents. They are able to modify their color to match their background and are difficult to see as they lie on the stream bottom. Although common in other areas, the banded sculpin is threatened within the Watauga River Basin.

Mayflies: These insects are fully aquatic in their juvenile phase as nymphs. In the summer, the nymph transforms through metamorphosis into a flying insect.

Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis): These endangered salamanders can grow to be a foot in length. Males make depressions beneath large siltless rocks and overhangs for females to deposit 200 to 400 eggs during the fall. This may occur with several different females and the male guards the eggs until hatching. It takes about 2 months for hatching to occur and juveniles stay under the cover object for 6 months or more. A good reason not to move the rocks in the river!

Common Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus): In adulthood the mudpuppy salamander can be 8 inches long, and is recognizable by its feathery, external gills. They reach maturity when they are 6 years old. Females lay their eggs under rocks and logs in the spring. They live an entirely aquatic lifestyle in the basin’s creeks, rivers and ponds.

Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon): Non-venomous northern watersnakes are live-bearers and breed April – June. They primarily feed on amphibians and fish and are often seen basking on banks of rivers or ponds or on branches overhanging the water.