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
On July 15, 2017 four friends and family, and our water-loving Boykin Spaniel, took our rec kayaks to Big South Fork Recreation area to paddle the Cumberland River from Station Camp to Blue Heron, camping just before the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. After a much later arrival than we anticipated we dropped a truck at the takeout and set off late in the afternoon with the Leatherwood Ford gauge reading around 600 CFS. With amazing weather in the mid-80s, our first-ever overnight paddle began around 4PM where we paddled the 8 miles of predominately flat water with intermittent ripples, hitting just one set of class II rapids until just past the KY border where we planned to camp near Difficulty Creek and Bradley Branch. Upon arrival and scouting the area just as dusk set in we realized it was not a safe place to camp in the event the water levels rose overnight. We paddled back up river to what we dubbed Mushroom Rock where we had seen some flat ground above the water line. With darkness setting in we quickly got our fires going and setup camp. The climb up was tough on the sliding sandy hill, but what a beautiful place to camp if you just have a tent or two, a third would not have fit comfortably do the the rocky terrain with limited flats, but if you just have a single tent this place would have been the bees knees. We cooked on the large flat rocks by river's edge to mitigate the chances of running into one of the park's black bears, eating an amazing campfire cooked steak dinner around midnight and took in the stars on a clear mid 60 degree night. There were curious frogs all around us that were in no way phased by our presence which only added to the charm of what we dubbed Frog Island, knowing that it isn't an island at all.
The next morning we slept in until 9AM and then cooked a big breakfast spread on a small butane stove before packing up camp. In the daylight we found a small pond right by our camp which explained the numerous frogs, some as small as a horsefly, we had been seeing all around us. The girls ventured further up the hill to find some privacy for relief where they quickly stumbled upon a large campsite complete with firepit, grate, and two woks. This one also had ample flat space where you could easily fit 10-15 tents if needed. I went up to check it out and followed a trail a hundred or so yards upstream that went down to a much easier access for parking boats and moving gear to that campsite. We'll definitely be making use of that spot next time we paddle BSF.
We shoved off around 2PM, river running at around 400 CFS, again passing Difficulty Creek and Bradley Branch (look kids, Big Ben...Parliament) where we found our first set of many class I & II rapids we would traverse during the day's 11 mile paddle. None of them caused much trouble for the rec kayaks other than taking on a little water here and there in my old Jackson Daytripper 12. My wife who was padding a borrowed Jackson Cruise 10 with our dog took a few tumbles on some of the larger sets where the drops were more extreme, mostly because she neglected to do any sort of compensation and just went down with the ship like a tree trunk with its roots. By the time we arrived to take on the most exciting portion of the trip, Devil's Jump, at mile 18 darkness was beginning to set in. We stopped just above the rapid, river left, to scout the situation. I continued on a little closer river right to get a better look and setup a camera. I coaxed my wife to paddle down to me where I sent her and the dog around the right side and I dropped her boat down the smaller, not runable, rapids which were also fairly steep. She collected the kayak on the other side in the eddy below and I sent them on downstream to the takeout as the last bit of light began to fade away. This, IMHO, is a much better way to get boats around Devi's Jump than the long left side portage trail. I quickly and carefully hopped from rock to rock grasping against the current to get back to my boat where I took on Devil's Jump in the last light. The Class III+/IV rapid was easy to navigate, even in my long and loaded boat, just make a hard right turn as you go down the first section and you've made it with relative ease. If you don't turn hard right your bow hits direct on the left side rocks and the current grabs your hull, spinning you around backwards where you can hopefully, but not likely, recover before flipping and riding the end of it a little too close for comfort to the rough riverbed. My lone injury (or should I say injuries) of the trip occurred as my first attempt to climb from the eddy below back up the rock face to retrieve my GoPro suddenly ended in a 10 ft tumble back down into the water, where I became reacquainted with a decades old knee injury. Worn out and feeling defeated, I carefully scaled it again and made by way back down. Our two other paddlers weren't quite as adventurous and chose to portage both their kayaks around the long river left trail. By the time I helped them get those two boats down the rocky reentrance it was complete darkness. I rigged up a Maglight to my hat so I could see down river and headed on down to the takeout to make sure all was well with my wife and pup. As I approached the Blue Heron ramp I saw her light a feeling of relief set in and I was thankful they had arrived safely and not missed the takeout in the dark. We waited patiently as our friends finally emerged from the darkness, where we shared stories of our trials before loading the boats and heading back to Station Camp to collect my SUV before making the long drive back to middle Tennessee.
All things considered this trip was really amazing, the most fun paddling I've experienced to date, but I would urge anyone that does this to allow ample time to get from start to finish daily. We plan to make it a 3-day trip next time, where we may attempt to put in up at Leatherwood Ford and hopefully arrive a couple hours earlier to get our trip timeline to play well with the sunlight. Paddling in the dark is never a good idea and we would have enjoyed the trip even more had we not been rushed at the end of both days to get off the water. Our 2-day, 19 mile paddle took a total of 10 1/2 hours, paddling around 6 1/2 total hours with an average speed of 2.8 MPH. Video of our trip is on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/Z33oQ5z8PCo
At around 600 cfs this was a nice trip. The put-in and take-out on the map provided are pretty far off. Here are GPS coordinates that are closer:
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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 there...you 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 Devil.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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!
The gauge is 8 miles upstream of the put-in location.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
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Canoeing Devils Jump
Bottom of Devil's Jump
Dancin' with the Devil
Angel Falls Rapid and Unknown Paddler
Angel Falls Rapid
Vikings on BSF
Vikings On BSF
Vikings On Bsf
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