Elevation: 1,109 ft
GPS: 36.48, -84.663 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
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Shared By: saxfiend on Jun 18, 2009
Admins: saxfiend, Brad "Stonyman" Killough


Let's say you're a 21st century southern climber; you got your start in the local climbing gym, then graduated to real rock at places like Sand Rock. Before long, you started leading at more serious Tennessee and Alabama crags, and when you wanted a bigger challenge, you moved further afield to the multi-pitch granite of North Carolina. Now you're looking for something more remote, more wild and uncivilized . . . and Big South Fork beckons. The question is -- are you ready for it?

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is one of the south's last climbing frontiers. It's a stunningly vast system of river gorges stretching from northeastern Tennessee into Kentucky; word is that there's more rock here than in any other part of the southeast. Though there's been climbing in the BSF for at least 20 years, the potential for route development has barely been tapped.

Documentation of the history of climbing in the BSF is sparse, but it's known that Bob Wheeley and Phil Barkesdale began establishing routes there in the mid 1980s after Wheeley started a rafting service in the gorge. Their first ascents include routes like the Original Route on the O&W Wall. A few years later, Jeff Noffsinger and partners began pioneering new lines in the Main Gorge and elsewhere; Noffsinger continues to be a prolific author of first ascents to this day. Others responsible for route development include Jeff Dopp, Frank Jackson, Ian McAlexander and Kelly Brown.

If you plan on climbing at the BSF, don't expect things to be easy or comfortable. Trails are not well marked or are non-existent; information from guidebooks is sparse; wildlife like rattlesnakes, bears and biting insects are plentiful; and rockfall is a serious concern. The BSF is a truly wild and remote area, so be prepared.

NOTE: Though the Big South Fork straddles Tennessee and Kentucky, all Mountain Project data on the area is included under Tennessee. There is a placeholder in the Kentucky section, but no routes should be added there.

Getting There

How you get to Big South Fork depends largely on what section you're headed to and where you're coming from. Detailed directions will be posted in the various sections.

In the most general terms, from points south of Knoxville, take I-75 north to Huntsville/Oneida, then go west on TN 63 to US 27. Go north on 27 to TN 297 then go west into the park. From points west of Knoxville, take I-40 to Monterey and head east to US 127, then north on 127 to Jamestown. Take TN 154 a short distance to TN 297; turn east on 297 and head into the park.

91 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at Big South Fork

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
More Classic Climbs in Big South Fork »

Weather Averages

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Prime Climbing Season
When does the season end for Big South Fork? May 8, 2013
Big South Fork, TN
NOFF   Big South Fork, TN
You can climb all year depending on your tolerance to heat and cold. By mid July it's starting to get pretty muggy, but if you climb early, you can go swimming when it heats up too much. Watch out for ice fall during a wet winter. You might even want to wear a helmet hiking along the base of some routes. May 26, 2013
Knoxville, TN
paul.adams.3   Knoxville, TN
I've been climbing in Big South Fork for about 3 years, so I am no means an expert or a local, but I am someone who loves this place and has spent a great deal of time exploring it. I've climbed many of the classics and many more off the beaten path. My partners and I have spoken about this special place, and I decided to post my 2 cents to give some perspective. Take it for what it's worth.

What makes Big South Fork special to me is the fact that there remains the potential for adventure. It is rare nowadays to find a place where you can climb something ground up with little or no previous knowledge as to what the route will entail. The sense of accomplishment in finding a new route and climbing it is immense. For whatever reason, much of the climbing that has been done in Big South Fork is undocumented. While there is enough information out there to get your feet wet (or get you lost...), there is also a great deal of rock just waiting for the intrepid climber. I'm certain that many of the routes that I have climbed have been climbed before me, but I am thankful for having had the chance at climbing them in the first ascent style, with only the information gathered by myself or my partner.

All that is to say, please think before you post a route here. No one is the internet police, and you can freely do as you choose. All I ask is that you consider what is lost when a route is posted. While it's great to share that route that may be the next classic, it also deprives the next person from discovering it for themselves and having the "FA" experience. If you still think it's worth posting, then that is your choice to make. I hope this place can remain one where adventure climbing is alive and well. Happy exploring! Jul 14, 2018
kyle howe
Knoxville, TN
kyle howe   Knoxville, TN
Really well said Paul. Aug 1, 2018
So let me say. I love the Big South Fork. I’ve climbed plenty of places and I think you can get the “FA” experience anywhere. Just leave your guide book at home and go climb a route that looks inspiring. Sure, maybe someone has climbed these routes before. But this place is no secret. It’s in a guide book. I get inspired seeing posts of people out there getting after it. Snooze you lose. This site is specifically for information on places to climb. I’m stoked to go try these lines. I think you should post whatever. If it’s a big enough deal to a lot of people then mountain project should take this place off the map. I mean what jerk put suicide blonde pictures up?? Anyway, have fun out there and put your seatbelt on so the ethics police doesn’t give you a ticket Aug 30, 2018
Decatur, GA
saxfiend   Decatur, GA  
For the benefit of anyone intimidated by other comments on this area page, please feel free to post routes and/or photos of the Big South Fork climbing area. BSF is not a secret crag or privately owned, and it has been published in guidebooks, so there is no reason for it to be quashed on Mountain Project. Anyone who feels that going to BSF without any prior knowledge of the area is important should simply avoid reading published information on the subject, including here on MP. Aug 30, 2018
Knoxville, TN
paul.adams.3   Knoxville, TN
I hope no one would feel intimidated by my comments, but I appreciate the comments back and certainly respect that others don't agree with me. Like I said, it's just something to consider to think about a different perspective. It's something I've discussed with partners as well, and felt it was worth posting. I have talked with others who don't agree with me and that's cool too. I think we all come from the same place of loving to climb and explore here, so my main hope is that we can preserve this special resource. That said, I'll be patrolling out there this fall and handing out ethics violations to anyone who does something I disagree with, so watch out! Aug 31, 2018