Want to take an peaceful paddle along the river, enjoying the birds singing from the trees along the shore and maybe casting a line for a smallmouth bass? We’ve got that.
Looking for a white-knuckle grip on your paddle as you maneuver your vessel through the whitewater that crashes with fury against the boulders that litter the river? We’ve got that, too.
The Big South Fork River and its major tributaries offer something for every skill level when it comes to paddling. Kayaks, canoes and even rafts frequently navigate this untamed river, which ranges from Class I to Class IV whitetwater.
Because the Big South Fork is not controlled by dams, its streamflow is completely dependent on rainfall, meaning the whitewater paddling season typically begins in late winter and, for the most part, is over by late spring.
A few stretches of river we recommend:
• Brewster Ford to Burnt Mill: This 10.5-mile float from Brewster Bridge on S.R. 52 near Historic Rugby to Burnt Mill Bridge on Honey Creek Road near Robbins, Tenn., offers some beautiful and peaceful river scenery on the upper reaches of the Big South Fork system. The float is along Clear Fork, the river that merges with New River to form the Big South Fork. The gorge sides are forested instead of cliff-lined and, while there are plenty of huge boulders littering the stream-bed, there is less whitewater this far up — little enough to make this stretch of river ideal for canoes, but enough to make it interesting.
• Leatherwood Ford to Station Camp: This 8-mile stretch is perfect for beginners. It encompasses the Big South Fork River from Leatherwood Ford bridge on S.R. 297 to Station Camp River Access on Station Camp Road near Williams Creek Retreat. It is mostly flat water, making it suitable for canoes. The exception is Angel Falls, a dangerous, Class IV rapid that should be portaged by all paddlers. The rapid is not signed in advance.
• Confluence to Leatherwood Ford: This 9-mile run is the most popular one along the river, and it is almost constant Class III and Class IV whitewater from the start at the “Forks of the River” off John Long Road near Oneida until you reach the O&W Railroad Bridge two miles above Leatherwood Ford. The first several miles incorporate the famed “Big Three” rapids of The Ell, Double Drop and The Washing Machine, all Class IV whitewater, before the river enters the rugged Pine Creek Canyon. Canoes are not recommended, but this stretch of water is perfect for rafts at the right streamflow.
For more information, visit the Scott County Chamber of Commerce’s tourism website.
Did you know? Williams Creek Retreat is located just minutes from the river access at Station Camp, a popular take-out for paddlers — particularly recreational paddlers who are floating the river from Leatherwood Ford.