Horseback Riding in the Big South Fork
Fentress County claims the title “Trail Riding Capital of the Southeast” and offers excellent equestrian trails and facilities to ensure this title isn’t an empty boast.
“Horseback riding is a popular pastime in Fentress County. It’s an agricultural region, and a lot of people do ride,” explains Leann Smith of the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce about the riding tradition. With the approach of autumn, horseback riding becomes more popular than ever because of the spectacular fall foliage in the region.
Trails on privately owned farmland are supplemented by those in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Big South Fork (BSF) covers about 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau; it stretches across Fentress and Scott Counties and into Kentucky.
“The park has done a lot to nurture horseback riding and make trails and stables accessible to more riders,” Leann notes.
Dave Carney of BSF says the trail riding’s popularity comes from the diverse scenery of rock canyons, sandstone bluffs, meadows, flowing creeks and scenic overlook. “Every sound echoes through the mountains — the rapping of the pileated woodpecker to the breathing of the horses,” he says.
BSF staff works hard to keep the 212 miles of horse trails in good repair. “We get a lot of compliments from people about how safe the trails are for their horses and how convenient they are to come on to,” Carney says. The blazed trails vary in length and degree of difficulty. BSF facilities include Charit Creek Lodge; the Bandy Creek Stables, adjacent to the Bandy Creek Campground; and the Station Camp and Bear Creek Horse Camp.
Custom guided trail rides are available through Southeast Pack Trips whose motto is “The best way to see the Big South Fork is from horseback.” Experienced guides help less seasoned riders feel comfortable in the saddle and move at a pace suited to the rider. Trail rides can go for two hours, half a day or several days.
Riders at East Fork Stables have access to more than 100 miles of trails running across 12,000 acres of private land on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. They cross fields and forests to waterfalls, overlooks and an old coal miner’s home. Some people make 22-mile trips in a day, others simply ride for a couple of hours and have picnics at tables overlooking steep gorges. Guided trail rides and organized events are available with advance reservations. East Fork Stables has about 150 sites at its campground and it offers cabin rentals. For horses, there are 224 covered stalls, five barns and paddocks.
Cabin rentals and resorts with equestrian facilities are located throughout the area. Laurel Fork Rustic Retreat has trails on its property that lead directly into the Big South Fork horse trail network. Guests can stable their horses at select cabins. Restaurants in Jamestown, Rugby and Clarkrange offer diverse dining options to visitors. Bacara’s Family restaurant is a local favorite.
Have you explored the Big South Fork? Tell me about it in the comments!