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 00h34m 760 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 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: 2007-04-27 21:02:38


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.

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