Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

Park Regulations & Safety


Backcountry permits are required for all visitors who will be in the backcountry for one or more nights. These permits are good for the length of stay, and fees range from $5.00 to $25.00 depending on group size.

These permits may be obtained at either visitor center, or from a number of local vendors in surrounding communities.

Special Use Permits are required by the National Park Service to assure that park units act to conserve park resources "unimpaired" for the enjoyment of future generations. Therefore, any activities that would cause derogation of or detract from the values and purposes for which a park has been established cannot be allowed.

Providing opportunities for appropriate public enjoyment is an important part of the National Park Service mission. Approval of any special uses of the park—unrelated to public enjoyment—may be allowed if not otherwise prohibited by law or regulation. However, the National Park Service can only allow uses that are (1) appropriate to the purpose for which the park was established, and (2) can be sustained without causing unacceptable impacts.

A special park use is defined as an activity that takes place in a park area, and that

  • provides a benefit to an individual, group or organization rather than the public at large;
  • requires written authorization and some degree of management control from the National Park Service in order to protect park resources and the public interest;
  • is not prohibited by law or regulation;
  • is not initiated, sponsored, or conducted by the National Park Service; and
  • is not managed under a concession contract, a recreation activity for which the NPS charges a fee, or a lease.

Please keep these requirements in mind if you are considering a request for special use of facilities or resources at Big South Fork NRRA.


Big South Fork is one of only a few National Park Service units legislated to allow hunting. Popular big game species found within the park are Whitetail Deer, Turkey and Wild Boar. In addition to big game, the area is also rich in small game species such as squirrel, raccoon, rabbit and game birds.

As a unit of the National Park Service, there are additional regulations which apply to hunting in Big South Fork. Apart from for these, the hunting regulations within the Big South Fork are the same as the respective state in which you are hunting. For those hunting in Tennessee, the Tennessee regulations would apply and for those hunting in Kentucky, the Kentucky regulations.

In the Tennessee portion of Big South Fork the licensing requirements and hunting seasons are the same as those identified by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for the state.

In the Kentucky portion of Big South Fork the licensing requirements are the same as those identified by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The hunting seasons for the Kentucky portion of Big South Fork, however, are different then those throughout the state. In Kentucky the Big South Fork is managed as a Wildlife Management Area and the seasons are listed separately in the hunting guide.



Laws & Policies

The following listing of basic park regulations covers some of the most common questions visitors to Big South Fork may have.

Natural and Cultural Features
Do not destroy, injure, or remove plants or other natural features. Reasonable quantities (2 gallons berries or one bushel fruits) of edible berries and fruits and nuts may be gathered for personal use daily.

The harassing, injuring, or killing of any wildlife is prohibited. Help wildlife remain wild by never feeding any animal.

Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or otherwise disturbing cultural and archeological resources is prohibited.

Driving in Big South Fork
Speed limits and all other state traffic laws are enforced on roads within Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Pets are allowed within Big South Fork, however, in order to protect your pet and the parks wildlife, all pets must be kept on a leash (no longer then 6 feet) at all times.

During hunting season, a dog that is actively following game does not have to be leashed. However, when entering a designated Safety Zone hunting dogs must be restrained on a leash, crated or caged.

Firearms may only be carried while engaging in hunting activities during appropriate state seasons. While transporting firearms they must be unloaded and rendered temporarily inoperable. Firearms must be unloaded when carried within marked safety zones, and in either front country or backcountry campsites.

Food Storage
When camping in a developed area such as a campground, place coolers, grills, cooking utensils, horse feed, any food not in use, and anything with food odors inside the locked compartment of a vehicle or trailer. Keep a clean campsite, wipe off picnic tables, grills, and discard aluminum foil used for cooking. Avoid burning garbage in fire rings because it will leave behind grease and food scrapes.

If camping in the backcountry, use the standard method of hanging your backpacks and food sacks between two tall trees. The packs should be in the center of the two trees in cast the bear tries to climb the tree and reach for the packs. Any food not in use should be stored in this manner while in the backcountry.

We encourage all visitors and campers to separate waste and place it in the appropriate receptacles. Dumping of refuse brought into the park by anyone other than private campers. This requirement is intended to ensure the refuse handled by the park is generated by activities occurring within the park.

Federal Laws
Laws are created by Congress and establish the highest order of legal authority over national parks.

  • Many laws, including the 1916 Organic Act that created the National Park Service, affect all areas managed by the National Park Service.
  • Big South Fork Enabling Legislation provides specific instructions and guidance on how the park must be managed.

NPS Policies

Service-wide policy for the National Park Service is developed by the Office of Policy with public input and in accordance with applicable laws. Policies dictate many of the overall directions and procedures used by all parks.

Park Regulations

The Code of Federal Regulations 36 CFR parts 1-199 and the Park Compendium provide a complete listing of park rules and regulations. These most specific rules are developed with public input to implement applicable law.


Pets are allowed within Big South Fork, however, in order to protect your pet and the parks wildlife, all pets must be kept on a leash (no longer then 6 feet) at all times.

During hunting season, a dog that is actively following game does not have to be leashed. However, when entering a designated Safety Zone hunting dogs must be restrained on a leash, crated or caged.

Your Safety

We hope your visit to Big South Fork will be a safe and memorable experience. You can help ensure that your visit is safe by being aware of the potential hazards involved and observing some basic safety precautions.

Hypothermia, the "progressive physical collapse and reduced mental capacity resulting from the chilling of the inner core of the human body," can occur even at temperatures above freezing. Temperatures can drop rapidly. Exposure to frigid bodies of water and sudden mountain storms can turn a pleasant day into a bitterly cold and life-threatening experience. People in poor physical condition or who are exhausted are particularly at risk.

Preventing Hypothermia

  • Avoid hypothermia by using water-resistant clothing before you become wet.
  • Wear clothing that wicks moisture away.
  • Minimize wind exposure and if your clothes become wet, replace them.
  • Avoid sweating by dressing in layers, rather than in a single bulky garment.
  • Pack a sweater, warm hat, and raingear for any hike.

The Warning Signs

  • Uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses and incoherence, lack of coordination such as immobile or fumbling hands, stumbling, a lurching gait, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

Immediate Treatment

  • Seek shelter from weather and get the victim into dry clothes.
  • Give warm non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Build a fire and keep victim awake.
  • Strip victim and yourself, and get into sleeping bag making skin-to-skin contact.
  • If victim is semi-conscious or worse, get professional help immediately.

Swimmers in the Big South Fork will find hazards throughout the park's waters. Holes, submerged rocks, tricky currents and ledges which can entrap feet and legs. It is recommended that swimmers use the Bandy Creek pool which is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day and is staffed with lifeguards.

If you do choose to swim in the river, be extremely careful, do not swim alone and always wear a PFD (personal flotation device) no matter how good a swimmer you think you are.

Drinking Water
Water in Big South Fork may contain harmful parasites (such as giardia, which causes a severe intestinal infection), making it unfit for drinking unless properly treated. It is recommended that all drinking water be boiled for two minutes. Water-purification tablets or a water-purification filter may be used, however, boiling is recommended treatment.

In case of an emergency, call 911, either park visitor center at 423-286-7950 or 606-376-5073 or the Scott County Sheriff's Office at 423-663-2245.


The Big South Fork National River and Recreation (NRRA) has been directed to develop this area's potential for healthy outdoor recreation. Fishing has proven to be a popular recreational activity here at Big outh Fork. As a responsible angler you can do your part to preserve the environment and keep the river clean for the continued use of future generations.

The Big South Fork NRRA follows the same rules and regulations set forth by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. For more information you can contact the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at (423) 286-7275 or visit the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. In Kentucky you can call the Stearns Depot Visitor Center at (606) 376-5073 or visit the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. You may also download a brochure on Game Fish of the Big South Fork as a PDF (300 kb).

Tennessee and Kentucky have reciprocal licensing agreements on boat fishing from Leatherwood Ford (TN Hwy. 297) to Yamacraw Bridge (KY Hwy. 92). Creel limits and other regulations of the state where the license was issued apply.