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Big South Fork NRRA

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Located an hour and fifteen minutes northwest of Knoxville, the vast watershed of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland has etched an extensive canyon system through the tablelands of the Cumberland Plateau. During the winter and spring months or an occasional wet summer, these isolated canyons will often be flush with water. With the proper equipment and experience, there is no better way to take in this wonderful place than from the seat of a canoe or kayak. Depending on how much water is in the system there are a number of excellent whitewater trips in the Big South Fork drainage, ranging from easy floats on larger streams to steep and exciting creek-boating on smaller tributaries. Certain sections of river that offer long distances between access points can be ideal for an overnight paddling adventure — an incredible way to soak in the magic of the Big South Fork.

The Big South Fork is formed at the confluence with the New River and the Clear Fork. Both of these streams have pleasant class II and III rapids in a remote setting punctuated by large boulders and small bluffs. The Clear Fork has many sections to choose from. Whether putting in at Gatewood Bridge and paddling down to Brewster Bridge just above Historic Rugby, or starting at Brewster Bridge and continuing down to Burnt Mill Bridge, you'll be guaranteed many miles of solitude as the river winds quietly from one corner to the next, with occasional easy rapids. White Oak Creek, a tributary to the Clear Fork accessed at the Hwy 52 bridge just east of Rugby, travels through one of the more spectacular small canyons in the region, containing exciting class II+ whitewater down to the confluence with the Clear Fork. Below Burnt Mill Bridge, the Clear Fork picks up the pace down to its confluence with the New River.

The four miles downstream of the confluence travels through the most majestic stretch of the Big South Fork, known as the Big South Fork Gorge. Sheer canyon walls soar to the sky, framing a river filled with difficult class III-IV rapids and large house sized boulders, recommended only for experienced whitewater paddlers. The stunning scenery may be hard to notice while negotiating this section. One mile upstream of the O&W trestle, Pine Creek crashes into the Big South Fork via a mile of intense and dangerous class V rapids which challenges even local experts. Shortly downstream of the O&W trestle, North White Oak Creek flows into the Big South Fork from the west. This seldom-paddled canyon is sometimes descended as an overnighter, as good camping exists near the confluence of North White Oak and Laurel Fork. Day trips are also feasible, though the shuttle is long. The Big South Fork Gorge ends at Leatherwood Ford where Hwy 297 crosses. Downstream, there is 27 miles of class I-II floating ideal for canoe camping split into two sections; one taking out at Station Camp, and the other taking out at Blue Heron. There are two rapids downstream of Leatherwood Ford at Angel Falls and Devils Jump. These are usually portaged.

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