Backcountry Camping

sunlight shines through the trees with a green tent set up below on the forest floor
tent set up in the backcountry

Scott Phillips

Hunters, mountain bikers, horseback riders, paddlers, and backpackers enjoy roughing it in the backcountry of Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Please help protect our public lands and enhance the backcountry experience for all by using minimum impact techniques and observing all regulations.

Backcountry camping permits are required. You may obtain a permit from one of the parks’ visitor centers, or online at
. Permits are valid for a single camping trip not to exceed 14 days at one site. No person, party, or group shall be permitted to camp for more than a total of 30 days in a calendar year. For more information, please call
(423) 286-7275.

Backcountry camping is defined as any camping outside of a developed area. Although there are no designated backcountry sites, you can help minimize impact by using an existing site rather than creating a new one. No campsite shall be left unattended for more than 24 hours.

Camping is not permitted at a location within 100 feet of the centerline of or visible from any paved road.

No camping is permitted at developed parking areas. Camping is allowed near developed parking areas when the campsite is at least 100 feet from the parking area and is not visible from the parking area. Camping is not allowed within 300 feet of the Leatherwood Ford day use area north of the Leatherwood Ford parking area.

Developed parking areas are those designated by the 2005 General Management Plan and/or as signed: Yahoo Falls, Alum Ford, Yamacraw, Blue Heron Overlooks, Blue Heron and access areas along river, East Rim Overlook, Leatherwood Ford, West Entrance, Charit Creek, Twin Arches, Burnt Mill Bridge, Peters Bridge, Bear Creek Overlook, Brewster Bridge, and Honey Creek Overlook.

In addition all areas immediately adjacent to the East Bandy Creek Road, from State Hwy 297 west to Scott State Forest and West Bandy Creek Road to Scott State Forest, are closed to camping (This area is otherwise known as the Bandy Creek Fee Area).

Camping is prohibited within 100 feet of a cultural landscape, cave, rock shelter, arch, or trail and within 100 feet of a grave site or historic structure. Camping is also prohibited in all historic cabins or other historic structures or sites. Established and obvious campsites that currently exist outside the above areas will be allowed if not in conflict with other provisions. Tent camping only at the Station Camp River Access Area.

Pending development and approval of a river management plan, the superintendent has designated the river flood plain as open to camping following the backcountry guidelines. The Big South Fork is a whitewater river. KNOW YOUR SKILL LEVEL. Be aware that the river can rise quickly!

Campfires are allowed unless current conditions dictate that a temporary restriction be enforced. Campfires are prohibited in or within 100 feet of historic structures, cabins, cemeteries, arches and rock shelters. Additionally, fires are prohibited on ledges of cliff faces. Whenever possible, use an existing fire ring. Never leave your fire unattended and make certain that it is completely out before leaving it. Only dead and down trees may be used for firewood. Dead standing trees provide habitat for a variety of animal, insect, and bird species and must be left standing. The use of chainsaws to cut wood is prohibited.

All coolers, grills, cooking utensils, horse feed, food not in use, and anything with food odors must be placed inside the locked compartment of a vehicle, trailer, or designated bear storage unit (not inside a tent). For backcountry camping,use the standard method (10 feet up; 4 feet out) of hanging your backpacks and food sacks. Find two trees about 30 feet apart with limbs 15-20 feet high. Throw a rope across the limbs and allow enough slack to attach your packs. Once attached, pull the rope tight and the packs should stabilize high enough where a bear cannot reach. Cook your meals some distance from your sleeping area and do not sleep in clothes you have cooked in. Plan your meals carefully so that you do not have excess food left over.

Pack out what you pack in. Do not throw trash in fire rings. Toilet use must be at least 100 feet from a site/water. Human feces must be buried 6” deep. Glass containers are prohibited within 50 feet of the river.

Berries, nuts, and edible fruits of plants may be gathered in reasonable quantities (2 gallons of berries, 1 bushel of fruit). The destruction of plant life by picking or digging is prohibited. Know your fruits and berries. While many are delightful, some are deadly.

Wildlife sightings are an exciting part of the backcountry adventure. Never harass any animal. Be aware that poisonous snakes also live here. Pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. Never leave a pet unattended or tied to an object.

As a recreation area, hunting is allowed at Big South Fork. Tennessee and Kentucky hunting seasons follow their respective state schedules. If you are out in the backcountry, especially during big game season, you should wear blaze orange.

Last updated: April 3, 2024

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Mailing Address:

4564 Leatherwood Road
Oneida, TN 37841


423 569-9778

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