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.
The rock structure is typical Cumberland plateau sandstone, which locals know and love, but which can be unnerving for visitors to the area. Beware of deep undercuts and sieves and treat every rock as if it had water underneath it until proven otherwise.
There are only a few (3?) actual class IV rapids, but they are classic and fun at a wide range of flows. There are also some very long pools, so go prepared to paddle your way across the flats, or spend a very very long time waiting for the wind to blow you there.
For those who don't want to run the class IV's, it's possible to put in at O&W and join for just the bottom couple of miles of the run. There's some great surfing in the O&W area.
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
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Reading the comment below, yes...Big South Fork National River Recreation Area is closed due to the Corona Virus. Great Smoky Mtns National Park is closed too. Just a reminder to check park websites before venturing into national parks or recreation areas.
River access points are shut down. My friend and I tried to run from confluence to Leatherwood Ford today and parking area is off limits. Had planned on running it around 860 or so cfs in a shredder but were unable to secure safe and secure access without harassment. We ended up speaking with an LE officer with the BSFNRRA who equated it to being like wally world on National Lampoons Vacation. Neither one of us found it too funny the river being off limits. In any event river access closed until further notice. I'm not sure how to do this on here through AW but Simon Krzych I'm interested in speaking to you if you dont mind. Several river related questions. Please reach me at email@example.com. Thanks again everyone. Hope to see you on the river.
We paddled to the O&W bridge with a canoe and two rafts on April 5th, 2020. The level was 1910 and the water was a beautiful bluish-green. 1910 feels pushy, but is a great level. The O&W road was crowded, but we did not see anyone else on the water.
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.
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.
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.
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 Narrows.
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.
4-10-14 Ko. Ste. Artist Charlie. Mostly good for canoe. Fine for hand breaker.
Simon not on this trip. 1900 cfs
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 canoe.
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.
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 water.
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
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.
2200 cfs run summer time http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ4JVgJAHi0
Kudos to you! I hadn't thuhgot of that!
Ok South Fork regulars. Let's see if you can add to this list of sieves on the run.... New
Date: Dec 30 2003, 2:14 GMT
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 undercuts......
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Yippee!).
Much of the flow for BSF comes from New River which drains the Cumberland Mountains north of Oak Ridge and Clinton, Tennessee. When hard rains hit that area, look for BSF to be running the next day.
When running shuttle to the Leatherwood Ford take-out, there is an electronic gage in the gazebo that you can checkout for the latest flow information.
Several of the rapids get more difficult at levels below 1,000 cfs such as Double Drop, Washing Machine, The Ell, and others while large wave-trains form at around 3,000 cfs.
This run has even been paddled at levels above 10,000 cfs. I know of one group who ran it at around 50,000 cfs. Just remember that the river changes character considerably at these higher levels and a swim could potentially be long and very dangerous.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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The Ell is always dynamic
Spring in BSF Canyon
In the fall
Low water washing machine
Slot of First Drop
Big South Fork - Double Drop
2nd Drop of Double Drop
First Drop of Double Drop
Second Drop of Double Drop
Triple Wave/Boof Rapid
Honey Creek Overlook
Honey Creek Rapid/Kreckles
Google Map of Big South Fork
The Ell Swallows Kayakers
The Swallows Kayakers
Hand of God
O&W at 27,000cfs
ells cheese grater rock
hand of god rock
Sieve at O&W Bridge Rapid
O&W Bridge Rapid
Jake's Ledge Hole
Left side of Maria's Rock
Another shot at Jakes
Jakes Cold Hole
Andrew @ double drop...
BSF Canyon Fun
Burnt Mill Bridge over Clear Fork
The Three Sisters
Honey Creek Rapid aka Kreckels
O&W Railroad Bridge
The El- Big South Fork
Dave Wilson caught in the hole at Rion's Eddy
Double Drop of the Big Three
Harry Tutor running Funnel on Clear Fork
Gordon Byrd at Double Drop
Jeff, Eric, Doug and Steve at the bottom of Asskicker
Foley, Codi, Mike and Becky at Asskicker
Gordon Byrd at Boof Rock Rapid
Ever catch both eddies in Double Drop?
The bottom of Asskicker Rapid
Lauren Burress and Jason Foley
Big South Fork Canyon
Gordon Byrd at Asskicker Rapid
Gordon Byrd at Ass Kicker
Gordon Byrd running O & W Rapid
Steve Watters and Ass Kicker
Omer Hall at the Sieve
Delbert Carter in cayon section
Eric Dunphy, Jeff Tibbals, and Doug Watters running Ass Kicker Rapid.
Jason Foley and Crew running Double Drop backwards
Jason Foley, Codi, Mike and Becky at Double Drop
Dave Wilson caught in the hole at Ass Kicker
Adam Thomas at Ass Kicker
James Thaxton and Hugo at the Ell
Bob taking a break on the Big South Fork
Bob at Double Drop Rapid
Dave Wilson gets eaten by the Ell.
Dave Wilson takes on the Ell
Dave Wilson at Double Drop
Dave at Moon Shoot
Dave Wilson at Moon Shoot, Three Sisters
Gordon at Double Drop
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