your paddlesports destination

Upper Cumberland River in Kentucky

Trip Overview

Big South Fork of the Cumberland River

This was the third whitewater canoe trip that my husband and I did on this river. The trips were thru Sheltowee Trace Outfitters and were unguided. We rented the canoes for two days each time. The trip runs around $45-55 per person. Each time was completely different due to how quickly this river rises and falls.

We first ran the river at about 800CFS second weekend in June a few years back. This trip was quite slow for the most part. There were a number of rapids (if you could call them that) where we had to get out of the boat a number of times and walk it thru the shallow parts. That became quite a slow and tedious trip. Although the camping sites along the way were well defined and we had a nice beach to sun on.

Second time we ran it was the first weekend in June about 3 years ago. It was running at about 1100 CFS. This was a beautiful trip. Moderate I & II class rapids that were just fun to ride thru. The river was sooo clear you could see the fish and the occasional snake swimming. You could pick out every boulder under the water. The camp sites were a little trickier to find but still quite nice. We saw some bald eagles and tons of butterflies which were quite cool as well.

This past week we ran it, the river was running quite high at about 2000 CFS due to rain the Monday Tuesday before Memorial weekend to beat the crowds. This trip was a little more stressful than we bargained for. The river was quite a bit murkier and you could see that they must have had a good size flood since the last time we were there with a lot of downed trees and debris all over the place. The class I and II were now pushing II and III which were at times quite hairy. We had to get out several times to scout the rapids before going thru. Two days after we ran the river we met another couple who were on the trip but wrecked their canoe and a couple before them wrecked their canoe. So we found ourselves quite fortunate that we were able to stay afloat.

There is a portage near the end of the trip at Devils Jump. The outfitters tell you to look out for a grassy knoll and then take out immediately on the left for a quarter mile portage. The grassy knoll is not very grassy anymore with it now having trees up there plus the area that you have to take out on was either underwater or washed away. We had to take out with some tricky paddling about 10 feet from the entrance of the rapid to embark upon our portage. The portage was flooded in parts and uphill so that was challenging. Our usual camping spot was underwater so we had to climb straight up to get to a good spot.

In the end we still had a good time and were quite proud of ourselves. But it was a good thing that we ran this river twice before so we were able to figure out where we were and avoid some possible hazards.

Sheltowee Trace Outfitters are not too bad. Unfortunately they are the only outfitters there and they know it and do everything on their terms. They are not very flexible. They told us going down the last time to call them when we are at the take out and they will come pick up the boats never giving a time. We got there and did that only to find out that we were an hour late and they charged us a $60 late charge. We stayed at a camp-inn there which was more primitive than just tent camping with way more bugs. I have never seen a camp-inn THAT shoddy before. The canoes do not look like they have been replaced in a while. They are quite cracked up with many repairs upon repairs. But they work. The place looks ok from the outside but the inside is, well, interesting.

The only other gripe I have with the place is the map. This I believe could be potentially dangerous to new paddlers. The map of the river is a sketch at best. They do have a disclaimer on the map saying that it is not to detail or scale. If it wasnt for the fact that we did the river before when that map was more accurate we would have probably gone over Devils Jump. But the outfitters are rather cheap in comparison to most outfitters there. I guess you get what you pay for. They get the job done and I guess in the end that is all that matters. Just be prepared. Get the information on the river yourself, know your skill level, and be flexible. Be safe though. I would rather pay the late fee knowing that we ran the river safe rather than rushing.

Once again, this last time we went doing is not the average river condition. It has been quite a beautiful trip in the past. Try running it late spring at around 1100-1300cfs it will be delightful. Plus I think this trip would be a lot of fun even in the higher conditions with a duckie! When the water is running high I think that whitewater kayakers would have a great time.

Overall we had fun, it was a lot of work, but it was worth it.


On the river, you must camp about 200 feet up it is all primitive. If doing a two day trip about half way you will see on the left a little cave on the right you will see a number of boulders and a black beach then on the other side of the beach you will see more boulders. There are spaces for about 4 tents and a fire. When the water is down you have a nice beach plus a nice swimming hole.

At the outfitters you have primitive camping and primitive camp-inns. Camping in your tent beats the camp-inns; even if it is raining! Plus the Camp-inns are $33-40 a night. There are some nice campgrounds around the area. If you are doing a two day trip the outfitters refuse to take you from their place to the put in and refuse to pick you up. So it would be better to camp closer to the take out where they will pick you up before your trip (around Yamacraw or Blue Heron). Then your car could already be there when you get back and you could camp there again once you return.

Remember you take everything you bring in take out!


17' canoe, I think duckies would be great as well as whitewater kayaks when the water is higher.


To park you need a $5.00 over-night permit. You can get this at the outfitters, park office, or even some gas stations. Make sure that you ask them about this so you don't get in trouble with the rangers. They forgot to tell us...


Located on Hwy 90, 10 miles west of I-75 at exits 15 and 25, and 5 miles east of Cumberland Falls State resort park


The map the outfitters give you is VERY SKETCHY!! get a map talk to a guide if you can flag one down so they can tell you about different parts of the river. Especially if it is running high.
  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip