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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Paddling's Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

by: Larry Rice


{Kentucky/Tennessee}

Top Whitewater Gorge
Rapids and remote wilderness come together on the Big South Fork River.

The Southeast has rivers the way a well-stocked iPod has songs: one for every mood. But few compare to this largely unheralded stream on the Cumberland Plateau, which has so much diversity in 80 miles it's like a giant paddling anthology. Want something upbeat? Put in at Burnt Mill Bridge and paddle 11 miles of fast-paced whitewater, where a string of Class II-III rapids leads into Double Falls, Washing Machine, and the Ell-all Class III-IV and packed close together in a 1-2-3 punch. The daytrip passes through a spectacular gorge lined with 600-foot cliffs, house-sized boulders, and hemlock-lined waterfalls. Prefer to tone it down? Choose the 25-mile, 2-day trip on the lower river, where you'll find tranquil water and quiet riverside campsites (there are easy portages at Angel Falls and Devils Jump). And these are just two among many options on the Big South Fork. Everywhere on the river, look for otters, bobcats, and black bears.

Get there The gorge section starts at Burnt Mill Bridge, east of Allardt, TN (check status of bridge closure for best access). Take out at Leatherwood Ford, on Leatherwood Ford Road west of Oneida, TN. For the overnight journey, start at Leatherwood and take out at Blue Heron, off KY 742 west of Revelo, KY. Guided trips and shuttles: www.ky-rafting.com.

Season April through June for the gorge, April through October for the lower section (though it can get low in dry years)

Difficulty Easy to Advanced; Class I-IV, depending on section (the gorge is for experienced paddlers only)

Contact Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, (423) 569-9778; www.nps.gov/biso. Camping permits required.




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Pennyyork
Feb 02, 2013

was wondering if anyone knew my father kenneth York he guided the Allagash for years.I would be interested thank you

Markus Harrild
Apr 02, 2012

Although you've listed some great waterways, and have limited space for your article, you know, your readers are going to chide you about not listing their favorites. So, to add to that list of incredulousness, when was the last time you paddled down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Central Idaho. For raw jaw-dropping beauty, aqueous power, a wicked challenge, and a great trip, you've got to list this gnarled ribbon of water that slices through the River of No Return Wilderness. I could understand leaving other waterways off your list, but not this beauty!

Anonymous
Mar 30, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the (insert favorite) river wasn't included. This is the best! Some of the most beautiful scenery is found on the (insert favorite) river....

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Richard M McFadden
Mar 29, 2012

WOW! Do not depend on Larry Rice on this one. First off. The Glory Hole pictured is not even in the Buffalo watershed. Second, the LOWER section will be low in the Fall. The upper half of the river will be virtually dry. The Buffalo is rain dependent, not spring fed. Summer is hot and humid with low algae filled water. The Buffalo is my river. It is by far my favorite river and I spend a lot of time there. Obviously Larry Rice does not. I will be joining Kenneth L Smith tomorrow for a week of trailbuilding on the Buffalo. Ken will be trailbuilding in the fall. If you love trails it is a chance to be in a wonderful place extending the Buffalo River Trail.
rmmcfadden@yahoo.com.

DblKnt
Mar 29, 2012

The Allagash is indeed beautiful in Sept / Oct
but the river sections are very shallow and rocky.
You will likely be limited to the lakes.

Summer months usually have the best river flow.
Bring 100% DEET and a head net!

David Scarborough
Mar 29, 2012

I cant believe yall left out the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a trail that spans from NE Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the Bartram Canoe Trail, a trail that meanders through the beautiful Mobile/Tensaw River Delta.
http://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/
http://www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/bartram/index.htm

Anonymous
Mar 29, 2012

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