Riding horses at Big South Fork.jpg

Big times in the Big South Fork

Let’s do Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area by the numbers.

The Big South Fork spans 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Kentucky.  It offers 180 miles of horse trails, 150 miles of hiking trails, and countless miles of water for paddling.  It shares borders with Pickett State Rustic Park and Daniel Boone National Forest so the scenic natural area seems even larger than it actually is.

Another important number is visitor count. It has significantly fewer visitors than Great Smoky Mountains National Park does. This means more outdoor experience, fewer tourist crowds. Only three highways cut across this huge land parcel so it is a tad hard to reach. Casual tourists may pass it by, but outdoor-minded folk see this inaccessibility as a bonus. The primary entrance is on Route 297 near Oneida’s exit 141of Interstate 75.

The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River laces the sylvan landscape. The Clear Fork and the New River converge to form the Big South Fork. The water moves north and spills into Kentucky, fed by creeks bearing names from the frontier era: Parch Corn, No Business, Difficulty and Troublesome.

From ridge tops, visitors can see how the river has cut deeply through the plateau’s sandstone layers. Elevations climb from 800 feet along the riverbed to 1,800 feet along the highest ridges. Waterfalls, rock shelters, and arches are destination points for hikers. The Twin Arches Trail, set in the heart of the recreation area, rewards hikers with access to one of the highest arches on the plateau (70 feet) and one of the longest (135 feet). The pair is located less than one mile from the trailhead and near Charit Creek Lodge, an overnight accommodation reachable only by foot, mountain bike or horse.

Hikers discover like the challenging, 5.5-mile Honey Creek Loop, which leads to an overlook of the waterway running through dense woodland punctuated with rock outcroppings.

While hiking is an ever-popular activity, paddling, mountain biking and horseback riding are also primary reasons people come. White water enthusiasts have added names to the map: the Washing Machine, the Ell and Double Falls Rapids. Angel Falls is a class IV rapids. Gentle stretches of water carry leisure paddlers through scenery marked by remnants of abandoned homesteads and logging operations.  Off-road cyclists get close-up views of the dramatic erosion of the plateau. Equestrian visitors benefit from blazed trails and excellent facilities, such as Station Camp Horse Camp and Bandy Creek Stables.

Bandy Creek Campground has 96 campsites for recreational vehicles, 49 sites for tent camping, swimming pool, and playgrounds.

What has been your best BSF adventure? Let me hear about your favorite trail, camping or paddling experience.



Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My...Read on



    Van Bunch

    Whether at Charit Creek or Southeast Pack Trips, no visit there is complete without enjoying a horseback ride with Larry McMillan and his crew. Do it up, y’all.



    Thanks for posting this article on the Big South Fork. It is amazing how few people know about this park. It is still relatively new in comparison to other National Parks and I am sure that more and more folks will start going when the word gets out.

    Another interesting fact is that the whole Cumberland Plateau region has over 500,000 acres of public land for outdoor recreation (compared to the 517,000 acres at Great Smokey Mountains National Park).

    I appreciate your help in getting the word out. There are some awesome resources online to help people travel the region. Just type in “Cumberland Plateau” into the Google search bar.

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