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The Watauga River is a large stream of western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It is 60 miles long with its headwaters on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain and Peak Mountain in Watauga County, North Carolina.
The Watauga River is formed by the confluence of the Shanty Spring Branch and the Green Ridge Branch in Watauga County, North Carolina. The river then flows across the Tennessee state line at Johnson County. Crossing into Johnson County, the Watauga River is first impounded by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Watauga Dam, creating the 6,430-acre Watauga Lake. This earth impoundment of the Watauga River receives two important tributaries, the Elk River and Roan Creek, whose former valley of bottom land forms a very large embayment of Watauga Lake.
Watauga Lake is bridged by Tennessee State Route 67 at Butler Bridge just as the watercourse enters Carter County, Tennessee. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Watauga River at Watauga Dam.
Just below Watauga Dam on the Horseshoe section of the Watauga River is the TVA Wilbur Dam, an impoundment which forms a much smaller but very deep reservoir known as Wilbur Lake that releases approximately 130 cubic feet per second of discharged water back into the Watauga River during the summer months.
The Watauga River flows generally north and then west into Carter County where it forms the northern limits of Elizabethton, where the Watauga then receives the Doe River. Further downstream on the Watauga River at the boundary between Carter County and Washington County is the old TVA Watauga Steam Plant.
A considerable portion of the boundary line between Washington County and Sullivan County is formed by the Watauga River. Boone Lake is located below the slackwater confluence of both the downstream end of the Watauga River and the South Holston River. The distance afloat between the TVA Watauga Reservoir and Boone Lake is approximately 20.6 miles.
Whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fly fishing, and angling with fishing reels are all popular recreation activities pursued on the Watauga River. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and striped bass are all caught in the Watauga River.