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Upper Cumberland River in Kentucky

Trip Overview

Big South Fork of the Cumberland

Heath and I met up at Pine Knot, KY and drove down to Alum Ford and left my Honda there. Then we drove down to Oneida, Tenn. to get our permits at Big Oranges quick stop. Along the way we discussed how the USGS gauge readings were pretty high after the recent rains. We got our permits and drove down to Leatherwood Ford.

We got down to the river and after packing put in down by the river walk. It was Class I-borderline Class II at the ford itself. It was very nerve racking in our 16 footer whitewater canoe. There were 6-7 foot Swells and it was a very fast 1.5 miles to Angel Falls. The portage took forever and we were very exhausted. The river was very fast and angry it seemed that it was just one big rapid after another I's, II's, and III's. We did another Class II-III and beached on the right for the night. I put a stick at the highest wave point on the beach and we made a fire and had some drinks. The next morning I checked the stick the river had gone down 1.5 feet. The patch of Class II that we did the day before was full of boulders that were waves the day before.

We set off and this was a very relaxing day with not much in the way of rapids we did have a Class II that started out with a long set of riffles and then banked left and then became a class II and did a hard right and ended with a flat spot full of riffle and whirlpools. We found a river gauge on our right in a creek and hauled the canoe upstream to a sand bar just below the horse trail. It was so pretty there with all the hemlocks, and we decided to stay the night there.

The next morning we got up late and saw cat prints all over the place, everywhere we went we found fist sized cat prints, glad I brought a machete and a good blade. We set off and found that the river had calmed down. We fished and had some drinks, and found a nice spot just 10 or so miles south of Devils Jump to camp. It was right on the shore just below the horse trail on the right. The next morning Cat prints again.

That next day was full of Class I's and riffles. The boulders in that river are huge, about the size of two story duplexes. We portaged at Devils Jump on the left after realizing that the sign had gotten washed away. Devils jump looked like an evil table saw ripping water white. It was deadly that day. Not like you see in the videos of folks going over in low water during the summer This was RABID like a pit bull vs a kitten. We portaged and a Bald Eagle started out ahead of us. He flew in front of us for 2 hours, and when he finally stopped we found a beautiful sand bar to camp for our last night There were huge chunks of Bituminous coal everywhere. We didn't need that much wood.

The next morning we set out early, and got to Alum ford, I was worried that my Honda would be gone but there she was same as I left her On the way back to Pine Knot we saw two guys with a dog that looked like a wolf on the right, and the bridge right after the church on the right has some interesting adult graffiti on it


Whitewater 16 canoe


back country permit and state fishing licenses


- Nat Geo Topo maps of Big South Fork
- please check USGS gauge readings as this river can be dangerous
  • Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip