TN 3 day trip suggestions

Planning a trip for one kayak one canoe with 2 inexperienced paddlers. Need a easy 3 day / 2 night trip for them to cut there teeth on, they will be in the canoe and we have camp gear just need some sites to land on. We are in the middle TN area but don’t mind driving up to 3ish hours. We are planning on going the end of this month in a little over a week.

LBL is hard to beat for flat water. Dive to a secluded cove and rough it with a back country pass or stay at a campground with all the amenities. Either way you are camping on the water. We will be there sometime soon for some much needed relaxation

popular middle TN canoe/camping streams
Take a look at the Duck, the Elk, and the Sequatchie. The Buffalo is also a possibility if water levels permit.

An even nicer 3 day/2 night trip is the Big South Fork of the Cumberland from Leatherwood Ford to Blue Heron mine, but this stretch has some rapids on it and flows through a gorge from which help, in the event of a mishap, might be 6 or more hours away, so it is probably not the best choice for your group.

water level ?

a long drive to many waters…

On that reach of big south fork can we portage the rapids or are they not that bad?

mountain lakes of east Tennessee
Are an option. Fontana and Calderwood being two good options.

two significant rapids
There are two significant rapids between Leatherwood

Ford and Blue Heron which many canoe campers paddling loaded boats choose to portage. Both can be portaged without extreme difficulty.

The first is Angel Falls just about 2 miles downstream of Leatherwood Ford. The second is Devil’s Jump which is only a few hundred yards upstream of the Blue Heron take out.

Apart from that there are a fair number of Class I-II rapids. Difficulty varies considerably with water level. For the most part they can be run by paddlers without a lot of whitewater experience but some of them can be problematical for those with marginal boat control.

I believe we may try that section of the Big South Fork from leatherwood to blue heron and just portage around angel falls.

Where would you suggest camping those two nights and are there any decent trails for some day hiking?

Lastly, where can I find required water level and current water level?

Thanks for the information from these boards!

Fontana Lake
I’ve been wanting to paddle that lake, are there lakeside campsites anywhere or do they allow backcountry camping in the national park?


– Last Updated: Jun-24-15 6:36 PM EST –

First, here is the official National Park Service website for the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area:

You can basically camp wherever you like but you need to get a backcountry camping permit:

I don't know too much about hiking trails but you can probably get some information here:

If you plan to paddle and hike the gorge it is probably worth your while to get a good map such as this:

You can refer to this pdf file for the official NPS map:

One hiking trail I do know about is worth a side trip if you can find it. Referring to the park map I cited above, take a look the section of the river downstream (north) of Station Camp. You will see a trail paralleling the river on its left side. That trail departs from the river and climbs up to a natural feature called "Maude's Crack".

Regarding the river level, the best source of information is from the USGS gauge at Leatherwood Ford:

The river is a bit low right now but that can change very quickly with rainfall.

There is some worthwhile information regarding the Big South Fork on the American Whitewater website. This includes some photos and shuttle directions. The information is broken down into two segments, the first being the 8 mile stretch from Leatherwood Ford to Station Camp:

The next section is the 19 mile stretch from Station Camp to Blue Heron:

Note that both Angel Falls and Devil's Jump are described as Class IVs by American Whitewater. At current river levels they would likely be more properly described as Class IIIs and if run correctly might not seem to be much more than fast chutes. But they can be significantly more challenging than they look, and Angel Falls, especially, can be dangerous. People have drowned in undercuts on both sides of the chute.

Do not confuse the Big South Fork below Leatherwood Ford with the BSF Gorge section upstream of Leatherwood. The stretch above Leatherwood is a serious whitewater run demanding significant prior whitewater experience. If you want to read about that stretch of the BSF you can do so here:

You will want to put in at Leatherwood Ford where there is a big parking area and bathrooms. You can take out at Blue Heron or you can go a bit farther and take out at Worley or the Yamacraw bridge. Below Yamacraw you are basically in the backwaters of Lake Cumberland and it gets very flat with no current.

A couple of caveats. The BSF is a popular canoe/camping river and is frequently paddled by folks with little or no whitewater experience. The vast majority of these people not only survive but have a good time. But there are some potential hazards. The first, of course, are the two rapids mentioned, Angel Falls and Devil's Jump.

Angel is almost exactly 2 miles below the put-in so you should know when you are getting close, especially if you have a GPS that can receive in the gorge. There is a Class II rapid not far above it which would probably be rather technical at current river levels. Get out and scout/portage on river right.

Devil's Jump can be recognized by a wooden overlook structure high up on river right as you approach it. You might have to look pretty hard at the gorge rim to notice this so start looking when you think you are getting close. The scouting/portage trail is on river left and I would suggest looking for a landing site as soon as you see the above-mentioned structure. There is a drop just upstream of Devil's Jump that can also result in capsizes. Once you get past Devil's Jump start looking for the Blue Heron take out ramp on river right a few hundred yards downstream.

Another potential hazard in the gorge is weather. This gorge seems to be a magnet for thunderstorms and they can come up very quickly. When they do, the river can rise very quickly. Check your weather forecast just before you put on, but be aware that storms can arise even when none are predicted. This has happened to me and several other people I have talked to. It is a good idea to know about the alternative access points at Station Camp and Bear Creek just in case trouble arises. From Station Camp to Blue Heron is a fair stretch with no good access (Bear Creek is not good for anything but emergency access) and in this stretch help can be a long time and a long hike away.

Because of the possibility of rising water I would advise you not to camp on islands. It is no fun evacuating an island in the wee hours of the morning to avoid rising water by putting on a rapidly rising river in the dark. As you paddle downstream you will come to multiple flat areas suitable for campsites high up on the banks. Most of the time you will not be able to see these flat areas from the river but you will see evidence they are there from trails ascending the sandy banks where people have climbed up from the river side.

Sheltowee Trace Outfitters
Their number is on their website and they will also give info on water levels and suitablilty as they offer shuttle services. Be careful as we did the lower reach (Blue Heron to Alum Ford) as a very inexperienced family. Although the kids had a blast, we had an encounter with an under-cut in low water conditions and will not paddle that water again until we are more experienced and have better boat control. Did not sleep very well that night from thinking what could have happened. Just the dad in me coming out- have fun.

Has marked campsites on the park side of the lake. I think reservations are needed at a few. I haven’t camped up there in a long time. I’m more of a calderwood fan. Its closer, less people and more interesting for my money. It is smaller with less paddling needed however.

Backcountry Site
I was just looking at Fontana since the water levels are so low at big south fork. Looks like backcountry sites available on the north side of the lake.