Cumberland, Big South Fork - Station Camp to Blue Heron, KY (19 miles)

Cumberland, Big South Fork, Kentucky, US/Tennessee, US


Station Camp to Blue Heron, KY (19 miles)

Usual Difficulty II+(IV) (varies with level)
Length 19 Miles
Avg. Gradient 5 fpm

Dancin' with the Devil

Dancin' with the Devil
Photo of Zach Nelson by Jay Thomas taken 05/30/05 @ 350

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03410210 500 - 10000 cfs I-II(III) 00h29m 581 cfs (running)
Low to moderate whitewater flows.

River Description

It should be noted that this reach (as listed here) has a fair stretch of mostly flatwater, but which contains a good (class III/IV) drop, Devils Jump. Photos of that drop do exist on the photo tab.

John Foy contributed:

Great canoe camping river. Give yourself two days for Station Camp to Blue Heron, three for Station Camp to Yamacraw Bridge. Basically flatwater/lake beyond Yamacraw. Good fishing for smallmouth and catfish along the entire river. Be careful during rainy periods as this river rises very rapidly. I like it best between 100 and 500 cfs at Stearns.

A fine reference for this is Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Tennessee, B. Sehlinger



StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-09-14 03:31:25


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
7.0Piss Your PantsII+
8.0Chicken's FootII
18.9Devil's JumpIVHazard Waterfall

Rapid Descriptions

Piss Your Pants (Class II+, Mile 7.0)
This rapids name comes from the scare you'll get after paddling the predominantly flat/class I water before. No real danger, it's just a long wave train that should be run right and then left at the bottem to avoid some rocks.

Chicken's Foot (Class II, Mile 8.0)
A three chute drop that us prone to having wood in the middle chute. Run the far left line, the right usually is too low to run, unless the water level is over 2500 cfs.

Devil's Jump (Class IV, Mile 18.9)
Noted by two high overlook platforms on the rim of the gorge on river right. The river narrows down to about a 10 ft chute and drops about 4 feet and then washes into an undercut rock at lower levels. The higher the water the easier to avoid the undercut. The rapid requires an S-move similar to Nantahala Falls. At flows above 1,000cfs a right class III line opens up, but use caution if you are not a class IV boater, because getting out of the main current and into the big eddy above the right line is difficult. This line has a 4 ft drop onto a slightly undercut rock that with enough momentum will be missed completely. There's a pretty good recovery pool at the bottom.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 30 2017 (27 days ago)
Jonasx (159055)
Just completed a run from station camp to Yamacraw around 21 miles total. We put in around 11am
local time with a flow of about 2500 cfs in a couple of open top/sit in 12 ft fishing kayaks. As a
note, to save you some trouble. My friend and I didn't see the ramp put in at Station camp until
after we were on the river. We ended up lowering out kayaks down a rather steep sand bank. The
easier ramp put in is about 100ft before the parking lot , just at the end of a short trail that
runs off the road. The flow was quick with some nice little bumpy class 1's to boost us along for
the first few miles. Around mile 5 (guessing) we hit out first wave train, really bumpy with some
weird cross currents near the middle, I got turned sideways somehow and enjoyed the last 200 feet
backwards. Took on a bit of water but pressed on. About another half mile down, we ran into a
loooong rough wave train...guessing a good 1/4 mile. 3 foot maybe a couple of 4 foot waves in some
places. Still chicken from the last rapid, i portaged the first half until I got tired of dragging
the kayak and decided to go for it. I got about half a boat full of water, , my buddy who ran the
whole thing got about the same. After we emptied, we encountered a couple of more bumpy class 1/2
and made camp just across the TN-KY border at around mile 7.1. There was a nice sand bar/island on
river left. The river split here with a small channel running around the left side. We parked the
kayaks there, hiked up the rise toward the main channel and setup camp on top, about 10 feet above
the water line, really nice spot. Saw deer/bear/goose tracks in the sand. Plus we were treated to a
bald eagle sighting early the next morning. The next day started out more exciting that the
previous, a succession of class 1/2 wave trains for the first 4-5 miles of the run. We had to stop
and drain about 4 times before we made it to devils jump. Me being only a solid class 2+ guy and my
buddy being a class 3+ guy, we had decided to portage Devil's Jump before the trip. There's a worn
trail just before the "pre-rapids" on river left. Due to the really heavy rain earlier in the week,
the first portions of the trail has some pools to wade through. The total portage is about a
quarter of a mile, with some little hills to drag up initially. I took the rocks next to the rapid
back after carrying the first gear load, and got a really good look at DJ. It was raging. According
to the the readings here, when we were there it was around 1800 cfs. Portaging done, we got back in
the river and made the trip down to yamacraw. There was a nice current about half way, the last 2.5
miles was completely flat water. The river gets really wide here and I assume deep as we saw
several fishing boats with big outboards. In my opinion the stretch has the best views, high cliffs
and big boulders in the river. At this level, with my limited experience it was challenging and
fun. Definitely going back!
April 24 2016 (398 days ago)
Layol16 (158150)
My friends and I started a 3 day float on 4-21-16 at Leatherwood Ford paddling up to Yamacraw
Bridge taking out on 4-24-16. The river at the put-in around 1030am was probably around 420-440
cfs, give or take. We were in 3 separate canoes. One canoe carried 2 guys and gear, while the other
two canoes, paddled by myself and and another friend, carried 1 dog each and gear. Below this level
the shoals and bends in the river become more shallow. We had no problem running the shoals,
outside a few rocks here and there, no one flipped, just took on a little water here and there. We
got rained on Thur night as we slept, but it wasn't enough to bring up the river too much. The
portages around Angel Falls and Devils Jump weren't too bad with gear and dogs just took our time.
My friend Will ran Devils Jump in a Mad River Adventure 16 with nothing in it, the rest of us
portaged. My main reason for posting this is to let people know you can run the river below 500cfs,
but when you get to 420 or less be prepared for more dragging your canoes or heavy laden boats
through the shoal areas.
August 11 2011 (2116 days ago)
csdunn1us (153406)
Boats: Dagger Animas and a Perception Swifty A friend and I did an overnight trip starting out at
Station Camp on 7/30/2011 and terminated at Blue Heron on 7/31/2011. We were treated to two hugely
different flow rates: About 400 CFS on 7/30, and 4000 CFS on 7/31. On 7/30, we bumped some rocks
prior to reaching Big Island on a couple of occasions. There was a ledge we went over, I didn't
read it quite right, and I got hung up at the top of the ledge. So closer to 400 cfs, there will be
spots where you will hit some rocks. We were kind of bummed about the low level, but it was still a
good float. We camped somewhere past Big Island, not far from Bear Creek. When looking for a
campsite, pay attention to sections of the river where ledges exist along either side of the river
bank, especially river right. They will be about ten feet above the waterline. Upon picking our
campsite (river right), we discovered a trail that paralleled the river. I don't how long it was,
but I would assume that there are several good camp sites along this trail. Our campsite was great!
We took the suggestion about hanging the food (take some rope with you). Then, that night, the
thunderstorms came…… We didn't know it, but by the time we set sail (about 11am), the flow was at
4000 CFS. All of the flat water was moving. We went through several wave trains that were class II,
III. We probably would have been scraping in those the day before. The Animas handled the wave
trains with no problem. This is a wide river, with lots of room to maneuver and lots of eddies at
4000 CFS. Had I not been using a spray skirt, this would have been a long (and dangerous) day. My
buddy didn't have a spray skirt, and his boat was swamped many times. At one point, his boat almost
completely sank. Some of the waves might have been bigger than class III. My friend told me that,
at times, once I would get over a wave that I would completely disappear until I went through the
next wave. We saw folks in open canoes on the second day, and they were gun shy about going through
these waves. I would have been as well. I think one group of them opted to get off the river and
camp an extra night to allow time for the flow to drop. There is mention of an observation deck in
the 6/14/2003 posting that is high up the hillside on river right near Devil's Jump. When looking
for the river left take outs prior to Devil's Jump, start looking river left when you are nearly
perpendicular to this observation deck (which is on river right). The first take out is a very
steep, tree root covered, soft sand hill with a length of about twenty feet. The second is less
steep with more rocks to traverse. There is somewhat of a clearing at the second take out, and a
very large V shaped tree close to the entrance. Miss this second take out, and you're going to go
over Devil's Jump. I suggest that if you really want to miss Devils Jump, take out on river left
where you see the first steep take out, climb up the bank, and turn right down the trail to scout
the other take out. Then decide where you want to start your portage from. We took the first take
out because we didn't know at that time that the second take out existed. Had we known about the
second one, we would have taken it. We felt like we could have maneuvered to it, even with the high
flow. Take your time with this portage, especially if you have a lot of gear. This portage is why I
suggest that you should pack as light as possible. We were off of the river at Blue Heron at about
5pm. We had spent some time during the day draining the Swifty, about an hour for lunch, and
playing at Bear Creek for about an hour or so. Check the other postings here for additional details
of landmarks and such. Here are some other things I took from this trip: 1. Wear your PFD. Wear
your PFD. Wear your PFD. We always do, and it probably saved my friends life at least once. 2.
Before this trip, I had never put much thought into the term 'wild river'. I get it now. 3. Pack
light. This will make your portage around Devil's Jump less painful (not pain free). 4. On this
river, a spray skirt is your friend. 5. The second day for us was really intense, but much more
fun. We're used to class I and II. I would take 4000 cfs over 400 cfs on that section any day. On
the second day, were more comfortable after the first three wave trains. It was a good test for us.
We were definitely out of our comfort zone at 4000 cfs. I think the lower flow rate (400 CFS) was
actually higher than normal for late July. 6. If you're used to class I & II, and are taking a rec
boat, try to allow for an extra day if possible, especially if there is a good chance for decent
rain. You might need it. 7. Get a good look at the take out at Blue Heron before you start the
trip. It's almost right after Devil's Jump on river right, and marked by a somewhat washed out
concrete boat ramp. 8. I wouldn't recommend floating this section below 500 cfs. 9. Bring along a
hatch cover. I didn't, and I had a lot of spiders in the boat on the morning of the second day.
Once I was back on the water, I found out quick that I didn't get them all out. 10. We brought a
water pump, and carried very little water. There are a number of small cascades along this section
on the river bank where you can collect clear water (the river was muddy on our trip). 11. We found
the fishing at this time of year to not be so great. The water was warm and muddy. I had a
collapsible fishing rod with me. These are very easy to camp/float with. 12. Both of our wives
being out of town (with the kids) at the same time made this trip possible for us. You can chuckle
now. We had a great time, and we can't wait to go back!
December 13 2010 (2357 days ago)
Brandon HughettDetails
Ran this in long boats on 12/12/2010 at 3,000cfs. It was a great long boat run and level. This
level kept all the pools moving and there were more class II shoals than I thought there would be.
Devil's Jump's outflow went into a boulder downstream on river right with half the flow being
deflected left of the boulder and the other half being deflected into a bad undercut on the right.
We put-on at 10:30am, stopped to build a fired and cook lunch at Bear Creek, and took off at Blue
Heron at 4:15pm (this included scouting and portaging Devil's Jump). This is a beautiful run with
high cliffs along the way. It's perfect for an overnighter in canoes or small boats at low flow, or
even better for a one day trip in long boats at 3,000cfs. We paddled a Pyranha Speeder and a
Liquidlogic XP10.
July 11 2008 (3242 days ago)
Paddled from Blue Heron to Alum Ford with the gauge reading 383 cfs. One wavetrain below Blue Heron
and another just below Yamacraw bridge with a 2' wave in the middle to catch on the fly. A few
other shoals and 1+ rapids, but mostly flatwater. It's worth it if you just want a lazy run with a
little interest.
June 12 2007 (3637 days ago)
Matt ParksDetails
Wow... Ran the BSF - Station Camp to Blue Heron at a super low 98 CFS. Great float, but tons of
flatwater and alot of dragging through the shoals. Berthas Bump was still a good class II though,
it is about .25 mile before Devils Jump. As far as Devils Jump goes though.. It was a 10 ft section
of flatwater going between 2 boulders with a submerged rock in the center. If you run it at this
level with a fully loaded canoe, you have to squeeze to the right of the rock in the middle get out
on top of the rock and push your canoe through. Great ride though.. Just be warned, tons of
flatwater at this level. Also, we camped river left on an enbankment right after a severe
thunderstorm. 30 minutes later, we had a big black bear in our camp and had to switch to a
different site 300 yards before. Always hang your food, change clothes before getting in your tent
and cook at least 100 yards away from your camp. Beautiful scenery though.. If you are a novice
paddler, this trip at this level would be for you.
March 17 2006 (4089 days ago)
James LockeDetails
I paddled from Station camp on March 7, 2006 to Blue Heron. The flow was around 600cfs while we
were on the river. We planned to camp the first night at Big Island, but it was nothing more than
something the river had washed through. I expected there to be at least 5 or so miles of flatwater,
but was surprised to find 10+ miles of flat water. Some of it had an underlying current that helped
a little, but not much. While this proves to be a great over-night, it's not much of an whitewater
overnighter. Leave this one to the boy scouts. Devil Shoals was the exception. At that level it was
an easy 3-. The only reason I would even give it the 3 rating was because there were some undercuts
that might cause a beginner a problem. I could see at higher levels that this might move up into
Class 3+ territory. All other rapids, if there were any were forgettable. The second half of the
run was very scenic.
The huge "silo" object that was mentioned in previous comments is a water guaging station
at Bear Creek. Next time I'll run the Upper gorge for my over-nighter
October 9 2005 (4248 days ago)
Gregg ShepherdDetails
An Alternate Put-In...
Bear Creek Overlook Access Point, Kentucky. Park at the Bear Creek Overlook...there is a parking
lot. Park there, and walk through the small field to an old logging road. This road will lead you
to the mouth of Bear Creek into the BSF. The descent is similiar to Earl's Ford, and Woodall Shoals
access points and hard on the shoulders!
But once have a 3 to 4 mile run on beautiful class II water with the option of running
Class IV Devil's Jump.
Rapid's on this stretch are Big Shoals...Nice wave train, Bertha's Bump, and of course the
Scenery is absolutely beautiful.
You can access from the other side of the river as well, but it takes some skill to find the
logging road.

Not a bad short run if you're in the area.
June 7 2005 (4372 days ago)
Jay ThomasDetails
500cfs could be a reasonable low, however our Memorial Day weekend canoe trip shoved off at 450cfs,
and with no rain the whole weekend we probably ran Devil's Jump at @350cfs. I have to say we had a
great time, and that I don't remember ever having to drag the canoe full of gear through a shallow
area. Not to say there weren't plenty of rocks to dodge and bump on the class I+'s, but there was
enough water to create a bit of carnage out of the other weekend paddlers. In summary, I'd love to
tackle the BSF with a bit more water, but I felt that there's still plenty of scenery and
excitement to enjoy at <500cfs.
November 4 2004 (4587 days ago)
Billy WrightDetails
I came, I floated, and I'm going back! I cut my whitewater teeth on the Chattooga sec.III and IV
when I lived in Ga. Now that I live in Northeast Ky I have found a new home. The whitewater was
testy and the scenery was awsome!
October 30 2004 (4592 days ago)
Daniel KreykesDetails
This is one of mine and my families favorite runs. We run it every year from Station Camp to Blue
Heron in two days, usually with a couple of friends. Starting out from station camp there is a
class one and then pretty much flatwater on down to Big Island. After Big Island, which can be run
on either side, there is more flatwater broken up with a few class 1's. After a couple miles of
this there is a creek that comes in to the side, a class 1 and then a bend in the river with a
large bluff above it. Around the bend is the first class 2. Its not very hard but a lot of canoes
swamp in it and so everyone usually pulls out and empties there boats. This rapid usually shows the
start of faster water, but any flatwater on the BSF is very slow unless the river is above 5000
cfs. A few class ones and then comes three landmarks that I forget the order of but they are Bear
Creek, Big Shoals, and the take out for the overnight. Bear Creek is right next to a horse trail
and has a large silo looking object right at the confluence. Big Shoals is a class 2 wave train
that should be run river right as close to the shore as possible. The camp take out is about 1 mile
from Big Shoals and is signified by faster water and a big rock about 100 yards from the start of
the rapid.take out and there is a little small creek and a trail if you walk up the creek about 50
feet. The campsite is well above the water line and has a nice fireplace. The next morning start
out and run the end of the rapid river left and pull out in the swimming hole. Swim out to the big
rock and climb up and take a jump. Its pretty deep. After the swimming hole is a small 2 foot
ledge/slide depending on where you run it. Then you get to Bertha's Bump which at low water is a
large standing wave, and at above 800 cfs is hardly worth mentioning. The last rapid is Devil's
Jumps. Always run left no matter what unless the river is above 5000 cfs, but at that level you
should just portage. The portage trail is river left but usually we park the boats river right and
scout the rapid. There is a nice rock to jump off into the water and is a good place for people to
take hero shots of people running the rapid. After Devil's Jumps its about one mile to Blue Heron.
June 14 2003 (5096 days ago)
Aron SmithDetails
June 14, 2003
I joined two other kayakers for a 19 mile float last weekend, and must say that I was extremely
impressed as this waterway afforded me one of the best river excursions ever experienced in the
great the state of Kentucky. The river provided us with a flow rate close to 900 cfs, was
reinforced why we were able to easily float 12 of the 19 miles needed to complete our trip on the
very first day. At this water level, we experience numerous class I/II rapids, leveraging many
rodeo and/or surfing opportunities. We pulled out below a class II and make camp on a flat area
well above the water level, as this river can flash flood with the best of them. The second day
provided us with many more rapids similar to those from the day before. However, toward the end of
our 19 mile float, we exercised extreme caution as we approached Devils Jump. A small wooden
observation deck high-up on the ridge line well above the water line on river right is an excellent
reference point to know you're getting close. Shortly thereafter, you'll see a path on your river
left that provides the portage for this section. Ample scouting can be achieved by climbing over
massive boulders to ensure the approach into and out of the chute is clear. Remember to exercise
extreme caution if you choose to scout and/or float this rapid as the large boulders offer numerous
slip hazards in very close a proximity to churning water. I recommend keeping three points of
contact on each bolder as you make your way to a clear vantage point. For those that venture down
to the waters edge, remember to pack a water proof camera because once you find yourself above or
below this rapid you'll wish you had a camera to snap a couple of pictures for old time sake. I
opted to float this section, but only after ensuring there was no obstruction blocking my approach
into or out of the narrow chute. I took a tight river left line, and the river dropping me out the
other side right where I wanted to be. Since the river becomes extremely narrow here, it often
hides associated hazards during times of elevated water flow by dropping the undercut rocks below
the water line. This combined with the numerous multi-directional currents make this section an
extremely difficult chute to attempt successful navigation. This rapid offers numerous challenges
even for the moderate skill set, therefore I seriously recommend any novice or foul-hearted
want-a-bees leverage the portage and continue on down the end mile or so to the takeout without
incident, otherwise you will(not maybe - but will)greatly elevate the risk to life and limb.
Exercising good judgment will ensure you get to take home many positive memories of your time on
this beautiful waterway.
May 17 2003 (5124 days ago)
AJ WoodworthDetails
I have canoed the BSFCR from Leatherwood to Blue Heron the last 2 years, every memorial day, and
plan to until my last breath. It is a truly spectacular river, flowing in throughout a gorge with
steep, tree-lined banks and feisty whitewater.
The run begins at Leatherwood, and is about a 1 mile strech of Class II whitewater until you hit
Angel Falls, which is in my belief, a serious Class IV. One person dies every year on avearage in
that rapid, so use extra caution. The tricks to doing it are 1) DONT PANIC! and 2) Hard, serious
turns after the 1st boulder that forks the flow at the entrance to the main run. Make sure you dont
flip in the Class II entrance rapids, and if you do, make a quick swim to the bank, and forget
about the boat.
After Angel Falls, the river turns into a virtual lake. A few Class I riffles are there to keep you
from dying of bordem. I recommend you set up camp about 2 miles past Angel Falls, so you get enough
rest to paddle strenuos dead water after that 1/4 mile portage.
The second day is flat, dotted by a few Class I rapids, mostly after Station Camp. Station Camp is
reconizable by horse trails and a small campground on the bank, plus a small rapid that runs
through it. After Station Camp, the run gets a bit more livley, a few more Class I's show up,
including a landmark, Big Island, which is a huge 13 acre island cutting the river in two. Run the
left around Big Island. A Class II rapid cuts through Big Island, which is a deligtful place to eat
lunch. After Big Island, the run gets faster. Class IIs start to show, and get more numerous. About
the Tennesee/KY border is a huge cliff up on your left, which if viewed correctly, looks like a
indian chief. This is where you should end your day, because the camping gets further and further
apart past it. On the 3rd day, you enter the Big Shoals, which is a series about 7 miles long of
almost continuious Class II, and one borderline III rapid, just upstream of Devils Jump. The
whitewater is fun, and is prodominated by 2 ft waves, strong currents, small ledges, and long
rapids. About 7 miles downstram of the KY/TN border, you should see a high mountain, which has a
overlook on top. This is your signal to get on shore. Get out, and about 300 ft upstream is Devils
Jump. A solid Class III, and in some books, a Class IV chute. It is where the entire river (100 ft
wide) closes to a 5 ft wide chute, between massive boulders. At levels higher than 1500 cfs, the
rapid should be portaged, because of possible hydracuils. But if you want to run it, run your boat
straight at the chute, then turn your boat hard right, and you should go through no problem. After
Devils Jump, about 300 yards is Blue Heron, marked by a small boat ramp. This is the main takeout,
unless you want to go another 5 miles of dead water to Yamacraw Bridge.
The run is appox. 27 miles long, and is a good 3 day trip, but can be run in 2, but to have maximum
fun, run it in 3. The fishing on the river is awsome, with smallmouth, walleye, and catfish the
primary species. It is truly one of the greatest rivers in the south, and if you go down on
Memorial Day weekend, and see about 8 canoes, full of guys, yelling WACO!!!, say hi, thats me and
my group, and we'll help you out and point you in the right direction. This just may be my 3rd
year, but some of these guys have been running it for ages!

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