Cumberland, Big South Fork - The Confluence to Leatherwood Ford

Cumberland, Big South Fork, Tennessee, US


The Confluence to Leatherwood Ford

Usual Difficulty II-IV (for normal flows)
Length 6.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 20 fpm
Max Gradient 40 fpm

Honey Creek Overlook

Honey Creek Overlook
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 04/22/07 @ 1200

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03410210 400 - 5000 cfs II-IV 00h28m 3190 cfs (running)

River Description

Big South Fork of the Cumberland is one of the hidden crown jewels of the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee. Formed by New River and Clear Fork near Oneida, Tennessee, this class II-IV run offers a big water adventure through a cliff lined gorge that is accessible only at a few points. Bring a playboat, river-runner, canoe, or raft. This run is truly a wilderness whitewater adventure.

Put-ins and Take-outs

There are several take-outs and put-ins for the Big South Fork. The run documented on this site is from the confluence of New River and Clear Fork to Leatherwood Ford. It is 6.2 miles in length and will take 2 to 4 hours (or longer) to complete.

The main take-out is at Leatherwood Ford where heated changing/restrooms are available. This is the most accessible take-out on this run with paved roads all the way. There is one additional take-out at the O&W Railroad Bridge. This take-out eliminates the last 2 miles of the run, which consists entirely of flat water with two class II rapids. If you put-in at the Confluence and take-out at the O&W Railroad Bridge, the run is only 4.2 miles and takes about 1 1/2 hours to complete. This run consists of almost all the class III and IV rapids on the entire Big South Fork. The O&W road is in much better shape now than in years past. In the spring of 2004, the Scott County Road Department graded, graveled, and ditched the road. Since that time, it has developed several potholes but is still in descent shape for a Scott County back road.

Confluence to Leatherwood Ford Shuttle Information
From Leatherwood Ford take SR 297 east for approximately 7 miles. You'll come to Coopertown Road. Make a right and go approximately 4 miles. Turn right on Verdun Road. Go 1.2 miles and make a right on US Hwy 27. Go 1.2 miles and make a right at the airport sign (formerly a Subway existed here). Cross the railroad and take a left on Detour Rd. Go 1 mile and make a right on Airport Road. You'll then go 1 mile where John Long Road will veer left by some oil tanks. Stay on John Long Road till it ends at the Confluence put-in parking lot. This road is 4.8 miles in length.

O&W Railroad Bridge Access
The O&W Railroad Bridge can be accessed from Verdun Road. About halfway between SR 297 and US Hwy 27 on Verdun Road is the Edgewood Estates entrance. This is where O&W Road begins in a sharp curve. The bridge is approximately 8.6 miles.  The easiest access is upstream from the bridge on river right.

The Canyon Section Run
Two miles upstream from the O&W Railroad Bridge is the Pine Creek put-in. You'll know the put-in by the gated road that drops off beside O&W Road. This put-in is just above Maria's Rock which is the start of the Canyon Section. This playable two-mile section offers big wave trains at around 3,000cfs and is great for those who don't want to run the entire Big South Fork section. Multiple runs on this section can be fun, fun, fun!

Shuttle Map
Here is a link to a Big South Fork area map. The roads mentioned above are very detailed on this map.

Additional Information
For additional information about paddling the Big South Fork, checkout A Guide to Paddling in the Big South Fork.

Other Area Runs
Clear Fork Brewster Bridge to Burnt Mill Bridge 10 miles Class II+
Clear Fork Burnt Mill Bridge to the Confluence 4 miles Class II-III
Cumberland, Big South Fork Leatherwood Ford to Station Camp 8 miles Class I-II (IV)
Cumberland, Big South Fork Station Camp to Blue Heron, KY 19 miles Class II+ (IV)
North White Oak Creek Zenith Mines to Leatherwood Ford 7.8 miles Class II
Pine Creek Bend in Road to Big South Fork 0.85 miles Class IV-V
White Oak Creek Hwy 52 to Clear Fork 6 miles Class I-II (III)

Here is a link for all information on the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Contact the streamKeeper: Brandon Hughett, Knoxville, Tennessee


StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-04-26 15:27:00


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Google Map of Big South ForkPhoto
0.0The ConfluencePutin
0.0Confluence RapidII+Photo
0.2Undercut Rock RapidIIIHazard
0.4Triple Wave/Boof RapidIIIHazard Photo
0.6Big RockII
0.8First Drop of Double DropIII+Hazard Waterfall Playspot Photo
0.8Second Drop of Double DropIII+Hazard Photo
0.9Washing MachineIIIPhoto
1.0The EllIVPlayspot Photo
1.2Oh Sh*tIII
1.6Honey Creek Rapid/KreckelsIIIAccess Hazard Playspot Photo
1.8Hand of God RockIPhoto
2.2Rion's Eddy/A*s KickerIII+Photo
3.0Canyon SectionIII+Access Photo
3.3The SieveIIIHazard Photo
3.4Jake's Ledge HoleIII+Hazard Photo
3.5Canyon Rapid a.k.a. MoonshootIIIPlayspot Photo
4.1Deliverance RapidIII
4.3O&W RapidIIIAccess Photo
6.2Leatherwood Ford Take-OutTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Google Map of Big South Fork

Google Map of Big South Fork

Google Map of Big South Fork
Photo by Karl Whip

The Confluence
New River and Clear Fork meet at the confluence to form the Big South Fork. Access to the confluence is by hiking 1/4 mile down a trail from a parking lot at the end of John Long Road.

Confluence Rapid (Class II+, Mile 0.0)

Confluence Rapid

Confluence Rapid
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 04/15/07 @ 1400

Confluence Rapid is the first rapid which is basically read and run.

Undercut Rock Rapid (Class III, Mile 0.2)
This rapid, sometimes refered to as Diagonal Wave, has a nasty undercut rock on river left. The standard line is right of center, then drive back toward center.

Triple Wave/Boof Rapid (Class III, Mile 0.4)

Triple Wave/Boof Rapid

Triple Wave/Boof Rapid
Photo of Spring 2007 by Brandon Hughett taken 04/15/07 @ 1400

Boofing opportunities exist at this rapid. Simply line up left of center and BOOF!! The other line is run from right to left through 3 waves.

Big Rock (Class II, Mile 0.6)
Most run this class II rapid down the left bank. Just read and run.

First Drop of Double Drop (Class III+, Mile 0.8)

First Drop of Double Drop

First Drop of Double Drop
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 04/15/07 @ 1400

Double Drop is the first of three rapids known as "The Big Three". The main line is on river right with a series of two drops. Catch an eddy on river right above the first drop then ferry across and drop off beside a rock on the left side. This will land you in a boiling eddy where you will then paddle aggresively down the center to run the second drop with a little left angle.

The alternate Double Drop line is extremely far river left. This line is a class II read and run line that lands in a large eddy.
One of the better play spots is located just above this rapid. It is a low-angled, fluffy hole that is great for today's short boats.

Second Drop of Double Drop (Class III+, Mile 0.8)

2nd Drop of Double Drop

2nd Drop of Double Drop
Photo of Brad Sisco by Mark Hammock taken 12/01/07 @ 400cfs

You must paddle aggresively at levels below 1000 cfs due to a pin rock that sits about two feet of the right bank. The second drop will surf you into the rock where water will pile up on your stern. Then, you are jambed into the crack stern down. Several paddlers have gotten pinned vertically in this spot.




Washing Machine (Class III, Mile 0.9)

Washing Machine

Washing Machine
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 01/28/14

Washing Machine is known for it's twisting and sticky action at levels below 1000 cfs. It's a 10ft wide chute that drops into a twisting hole. An alternate route can be cheated on river left over a small ledge. However, this ledge can develop into a nasty hydraulic above 1,500 cfs. At levels above 1000cfs, the sticky hole in the main line disappears and the rapid is simply run from left to right.

The Ell (Class IV, Mile 1.0)

The Ell Swallows Kayakers

The Ell Swallows Kayakers
Photo of Gordon Byrd by Omer Hall

The Ell is the last rapid of "The Big Three". Start from an eddy on river right to boat scout this one. Look for a rock on river left where the river curls from left to right. This marks the final drop and is where you want to aim. Drive hard toward this rock a little left of center while the river tries to pull you to the right. Then, get ready for a ninety degree turn to the right for the final drop. If you flip in this one, tuck hard at levels below 2000cfs due to "Cheese Grater Rock" being only a few feet or less underwater immediately downstream. The center and right side of the final drop is a large hole that can be sticky.

Oh Sh*t (Class III, Mile 1.2)
This rapid is run on river left down a chute. Start left of center, then drive back right.
At flows above 8,500 cfs, this rapid turns into a river wide terminal hole of death.

Honey Creek Rapid/Kreckels (Class III, Mile 1.6)

Honey Creek Rapid/Kreckles

Honey Creek Rapid/Kreckles
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 04/22/07 @ 1200

Honey Creek rapid offers something for everybody. It starts with a play spot, continues with a wave train and holes, and then finishes with a couple of sieves.
Work your way down the left bank to find an awesome play hole. Just downstream, the river bends to the right where a long, wave train begins. Enter the wave train in the center then drive left into a large eddy to avoid "Punch in the Nose" which can be a monster wave hole. Next, ferry out of the eddy into the last half of the wave train to run the final drop right of center. Then drive back left across boiling eddies and swirls.
Just above Honey Creek Rapid on river left is an access point. The trail will take you straight up the side of the gorge to the Honey Creek Overlook.
CAUTION: The last drop at the end of the wave train includes a rock, just left of center, that has a sieve under it. A boater once bumped into the upstream side and was sucked under to resurface on the downstream side. Additionally, there are multiple sieves in and around the large river right rocks after this drop. I know of at least one boat that has been eaten by these sieves.
The last part of Honey Creek Rapid creates a terminal hole above 9,000cfs.

Hand of God Rock (Class I, Mile 1.8)

Hand of God

Hand of God
Photo of Bud Chavez/Pat Mcarty by Christopher Neglia taken March @ ~1200 cfs

You'll have to look upstream to see this rock. It makes you wonder who might have created the Big South Fork gorge.

There's a cave under this rock that you can paddle through at 400cfs.

Rion's Eddy/A*s Kicker (Class III+, Mile 2.2)

Dave Wilson caught in the hole at Rion's Eddy

Dave Wilson caught in the hole at Rion's Eddy
Photo of Dave Wilson by Gordon Byrd taken 2002 @ 1200

The standard line is left of center. Go too far left and you'll land in an eddy that can be difficult to get out of. Run too far right and you'll find a hole that's caught many boaters. A river right eddy makes boat scouting easy.

Canyon Section (Class III+, Mile 3.0)

Canyon Section

Canyon Section
Photo of Canyon Section of BSF by Brandon Hughett taken 12/01/07 @ 400cfs

Maria�s Rock is a large rock in the center of the river, which marks the start of the Canyon Section also known as The Narrows. The Canyon Section consists of mostly fun wave trains and a few surfing waves.
Just upstream, there is an access point from O&W Road at Pine Creek that is popular for those who are camped at the O&W railroad bridge and are only running the Canyon Section.

The Sieve (Class III, Mile 3.3)

The Sieve

The Sieve
Photo of Omer Hall and the Sieve by Jason Foley taken 07/15/04

You don't want to wash into this sieve. It's usually jammed with trees and whatever else happens to float by. Run this rapid on river left by riding the tongue from left to right between two holes. A river right chute appears to be runable but also ends in a sieve.
This rapid turns into a terminal hole at 10,000cfs.

Jake's Ledge Hole (Class III+, Mile 3.4)

Jake's Ledge Hole

Jake's Ledge Hole
Photo of Tyler Cundiff by Jason Foley taken 11/2004 @ ~1200cfs

Jake's Ledge Hole is a riverwide ledge that has two options for running. At flows below 1,500cfs, you can run the boof line which is far left about 2 feet off the left bank. This line will land you in an eddy but, at higher flows it turns into a terminal hydraulic. I saw a boat recirculated for 15 minutes here one day. It has also been said that the left wall is undercut.
The other line is on river right beside an undercut rock. Just line up left of the rock and paddle straight through.

Canyon Rapid a.k.a. Moonshoot (Class III, Mile 3.5)

Canyon Rapid

Canyon Rapid
Photo by Karl Whipp

Canyon Rapid starts with two holes and ends with three waves known as "The Three Sisters". You'll run this one down the center on a tonge that will twist you between the two holes. Next, continue down the center through "The Three Sisters". This is where you'll find eddy service on the right for wave surfing action.

Deliverance Rapid (Class III, Mile 4.1)
After a long pool, which is the original Jake’s Hole, is a sharp bend. This is the start of Deliverance Rapid. Simply go down the center and enjoy the waves.
This rapid got its name back in the day when commercial rafting was on the Big South Fork. When the rafts would come around the bend, a local would streak the customers and run.

O&W Rapid (Class III, Mile 4.3)

O&W Railroad Bridge

O&W Railroad Bridge
Photo by Brandon Hughett taken 04/10/05 @ 2300

This rapid, located under the O&W Railroad Bridge, consists of several waves including one large one. Run this one straight down the middle.
The O&W Railroad Bridge can be used as a take-out thus, eliminating the last 2 miles of flat water. There are also several camp sites at both ends of this bridge.

Leatherwood Ford Take-Out
After an awesome run on one of the plateau's best rivers, you will find that the twin bridges at Leatherwood Ford is a welcome site to see.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 26 2018 (229 days ago)
T4eresa (153294)
Ran the BSF three times this spring and couldn't count the number of tires in the beaches. This run
is in dire need of a river cleanup.
March 13 2017 (638 days ago)
Paulzz (158449)
Paddled this 3/12/17 level was ~9.5ft. or ~3500 cfs a bit pushy with chaotic waves and many boils.
I portaged almost every major rapid. I enjoyed the flow at ~950 cfs or ~6.5 ft. much better 2 weeks
prior. It was a beautiful sunny day didn't see anyone else on the river. Put in near burnt mill
bridge maybe 1 mile downstream along the trail. overall was still an excellent day on the water
would have ran more rapids but was running solo. Hiked in from Leatherwood ford day prior, John
Muir trail, excellent hike as well.
April 8 2015 (1343 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
4/5/15, 2400 cfs, overcast skies but highs in the 60's. G, Adam, Robert, Chris, Eli and CT. We
mixed it up with the maxi me, the new grabner tandem inflatable canoe and the spanish fly. The
grabner did great on the bigger water and ran pretty dry over the big waves. We all ran the left
side of double drop, and Adam and Eli ran multiple laps on the El while we ate lunch. This is a
great level for cleaning up some of the scrapey rocks and the holes arnt that stompy yet. No swims
just smiles.
March 20 2015 (1362 days ago)
On Thursday we launched from Burnt Mill Bridge to Leatherwood. A mixed group, from Canada eh? , of
canoes and me in my kayak. Half of the group stopped at the Confluence and hiked out to the car
parked on the road past the Scott County Airport. The kayak and two open BlackFly canoes went on
downstream. Matching post for Clear Fork section exists. Level was about 1800cfs which was lower
than what I usually see on this section (2000-3000cfs more typical for me in the past). We enjoyed
the heated changing-room at the takout, but noted the set of stairs leading from the high-water
line at O&W Bridge as a possible takeout in the future to avoid the 2 miles from OWB to Leatherwood
Ford. From the confluence it's approx 3/4 mile to the first of the big three and that 3/4s mile is
mostly straight. When the river first starts to turn back to the left, below the Confluence, is
where Double Drop is getting close. Scout from river right. We had more room for the larger canoes
in a higher eddy rather than the eddy that I normally scout from in my kayak. The first drop was
fine, center or slightly right of center into the boiling funny-water before the second drop. We
ran the second drop angled towards the massive boulder pointing our bows river-left to square-up to
the curler wave coming off of the boulder. One canoe flipped and we separated swimmer from boat in
the pool to keep him away from what appears to be a sieve just downstream. Washing Machine gave us
no trouble. Scouted the El from a taller, large boulder in an eddy upstream and then also walked
downstream on river left to get a better look at the curler on river left side of the maw of the
hole. Boat-scouted the rest of the river. Decent surfing waves for my Nomad8.5 in and below The
September 3 2014 (1560 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
Sep 1st 2014 The river was running at 1,050 CFS with a time on the river close to 4 hours. The
water crafts where 2 Spanish Fly's, Mamba, Mini Me and the Maxi Me. Great day full of sunshine. We
had Eli, Crisler, and Golder as our Guides/safety's and G, Steve, Chris, John Christen and I as the
crew. G ran the river great in his Canoe, switching out on just a few rapids that Golder and I ran.
Steve started out great, than had a few trips and lost his composure, letting Crisler paddled the
Mamba the remainder of the river. I flipped the Spanish Fly on a rapid a few down below the Ell.
April 18 2014 (1698 days ago)
georgelindemann (155750)
4-10-14 Ko. Ste. Artist Charlie. Mostly good for canoe. Fine for hand breaker. Simon not on this
trip. 1900 cfs
April 8 2014 (1708 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
7/1/12 Leatherwood Ford the Canyon Section. Water was running at 625cfs and was really nice to see
how much the river changes with less than 300cfs drop. George and Simon with Eli as our guide. We
ran the Probe 12 and the Detonator. Gerge had another perfect run without any falls on the Probe 12
and Simon fell 2 times on the Detonator. Water was low but still great on a canoe, almost better
without as much pushing water and more rocks to man over around. Great day learning how to paddle a
April 8 2014 (1708 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
6/30/12 Leatherwood Ford The Canyon Section. Water was running at 890cfs George and Simon with Eli
as our guide. We took the Prob 12 and the Detonator. Two hour drive from Coal Creek. George had a
perfect run with no falls on the Probe 12 and Simon fell 3 times on the Detonator. Great day with
lots to learn.
April 8 2014 (1708 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
5/23/12 Leatherwood Ford The Canyon section. Water was running at 1,100 CFS 6 mile section and we
did it in 3 1/2 hours. George and Simon with Eli as our guide. We took the Probe 12 and The
Shredder. George and Simon flipped on the Shredder and Eli flipped the Probe 12. Great day on the
April 8 2014 (1708 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
9/30/11 O&W Railroad section. Water was running at 5.5ft and the run is around 2 miles with a time
of one hour more or less. George and Simon with Eli as our guide. We used the Probe 12 and Mini Me.
Easy 10 min shuttle and we ran two laps. 65 degrees overcast and comfortable with drysuits. Next
time we will run the full Canyon Section. Shuttle contact is (606)526-7238
August 15 2012 (2309 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
The Confluence Put-In road by the airport will be closed on Saturday, September 8, 2012 from 1:30pm
till 5:00pm eastern time due to the 9th Annual Wings Over Big South Fork Air & Car Show. The put-in
road is under the safety area of the stunt planes and must be kept clear. Run your shuttle before
1:30, paddle the river, and retrieve your vehicle after 5:00pm.
August 13 2012 (2311 days ago)
Wade HarrisonDetails
2200 cfs run summer time
May 4 2011 (2778 days ago)
x (1)
Kudos to you! I hadn't thuhgot of that!
March 13 2008 (3925 days ago)
Ok South Fork regulars. Let's see if you can add to this list of sieves on the run.... New

Forum: BoaterTalk
Date: Dec 30 2003, 2:14 GMT
From: hardboater

1. Center, top drop of Double Drop - water slides into an undercut which actually sieves out due to
sitting cocked funny on a slab rock.

2. River right side of the pool between Double Drop and Washing Machine.

3. The recently learned of top left of the Kreckles.

4. Bottom right of the Kreckles - water sieves out a crack in the bottom right side of a really
boily/swirley room with an eddy harsh fence blocking exit.

5. Bottom left wall of Ass Kicker - 3/4 of the way down

6. The obvious one that everyone knows about in river center about 1/3 of the way through the
Canyon - always has wood jammed in it....

7, 8, & 9. The far river right of #6. The river drops into a box canyon and filters out through
sieves on the right, left and underneath.

10. Right above the big river right eddy 1/3 of the way through the rapid above O&W (the
longest rapid on the run). Water filters through a slot too small for a boat and into the eddy.

11. Far river left at the very top of O&W.

Crazy how many sieves there are on this class III-IV run. And this post doesnt even touch on the
February 26 2008 (3941 days ago)
wjfarrell (148010)
This was my first time down the canyon and..... words cannot describe the wow factor. Emerald green
water and the orange sandstone cliffs - sweeet. I guess we caught it @ 1400 a really nice level
with lots of play spots - watch out surfing the shallow pour overs/waves. Really nice ender hole
about halfway down and one MACH 3 killer surfing wave.
December 1 2007 (4028 days ago)
x (1)
Had a few guys from knoxville with and worked the jackson crew in their tight little behinds. Flow
was around 370-350 for the day. Got to see a boat getting worked for a moment in washing machine.
When i went through the drop i went under and then poped up below. Pretty sweet to make my way
under the suface in the BLUNT. Even for such a long drive and little water it turned out to be a
great day on the water. Rapids were still fun and there were tons of slots to play around with. If
ya haven't done it its worth it for the fact that its so beautiful in there. Can't wait until a
good flow so i can take my squirt boat. It looks to be like a great place to tap into.
July 25 2005 (4887 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
I paddled BSF on 7/23/2005 at about 1300cfs. Washing Machine was truly what it's called, a
"Washing Machine." The entrance to the Ell was a lot pushier and fun. Moonshoot was the
best surfing spot on the whole river. I had forgotten how much fun BSF can be at low water.
February 19 2004 (5409 days ago)
Andy MesserDetails
The BSF gorge and canyon sections are runnable at least as low as 350 cfs at Leatherwood. I haven't
tried to go any lower, but they're still fun at that level.
December 18 2003 (5472 days ago)
david luinstraDetails
the pin spot is located at the second drop, it is a large seive with a pin spot.
the pin is in play below about 1000 CFS and gets worse as the water level gets lower.
I posted two pics (taken by Wilko) of a boater in the pin spot river right at the second drop. The
Boater did not paddle thru the hole at the second drop of this rapid, was stern squirted and then
surfed into the pin.
this is the way the pin typically happens. I have pulled three of my friends from this spot and
observed two other pins in this same location.

I believe running the second drop on the right is much safer than running the hole. another option
is to run far channel left, but is more difficult than running right, from the squirrelly water
between the drops.

it is difficult to get out of your boat in the eddy beside the pin spot. if you are going to set
safety, hike down from the top of the rapid, or make sure ppl wait until u have time to run the
rapid and get out of your boat. the eddy is deep and squirrelly.
November 25 2002 (5860 days ago)
Nancy KempDetails
My favorite levels are from 700 to 1200 cfs (technical verticle drops; watch out for Ryan's Eddy)
and between 3500 and 4500 cfs (continuous big waves; Honey Creek rapids and Pine Creek CAnyon

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