The French Broad, a Tennessee State Scenic River, has a rich history and compelling variety along its course through Cocke County. The river winds and tumbles for miles through the wild wooded mountains of the Cherokee National Forest and the dispersed community of Del Rio. By and by, the French Broad sweeps trough a rolling pastoral countryside, to be joined by the Big Pigeon, and then the Nolichucky River. Here, the waterway broadens through the floodplains and seasonal wetlands of Rankin Bottoms, Ten Islands, and Dutch Bottoms as it forms the headwaters of Douglas Lake.
Drive the highways and byways that parallel the river through the mountains and foothills to view its changes. Of course, you'll get the most complete experience by traveling on the French Broad in a canoe, kayak, or raft.
Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and scenic drives through the mountain forests are enjoyed throughout the French Broad watershed, especially in the Cherokee National forest. Max Patch, the "Jewel of the Appalachian Triail", with its panoramic mountain views can be reached by driving up into the Cherokee on Highway 107 through Del Rio. The forest road across Rocky Top ("Good ole Rocky Top", as in the song), has spectacular views of the river gorge.
The French Broad enters Cocke county near the Paint Creek Camping and Recreation Area, and flows around the Weavers Bend Cultural Area, prime for short, challenging hiking routes and dispersed campsites. The river can next be accessed at a Forest Service boat launch just west of the Wolf Creek Bridge, an architectural treasure on Highway 25/70. The French Broad widens as it passes through the village of Del Rio, where the USFS is improving a boat launch at The Sandbar, on Old River Rd., one mile east of the Hwy 107W railroad crossing. The last rapids on the river start at the Falls, spill through the scenic Stone Mountain River Gorge, and end at the new boat launch at the Huff Bridge, 4 miles east of Newport on Highway 25/70.
The French Broad flows on past rocks and riffles, limestone bluffs and rolling pastureland. There's an access point at the Highway 321 Bridge near Newport, and another at the Holt Town Road Bridge boat ramp at the head of Rankin Bottoms, an Audubon Society Important Bird Area. In the summer, this is the upper reach of Douglas Lake; in the cool seasons, the river meanders past the TWRA Boat Ramps at Leadvale (on Leadvale Rd., White Pine) and Walters Bridge (on Hwy. 25E) to Dutch Bottoms. In the winter, the river transitions into Douglas Lake as it enters Jefferson county.