River crossing - BSF

Trail Riding the Big South Fork

The horses plunge single file down the steep, dry creek bed, hooves sliding on smooth sandstone boulders, instinctively picking out the surest path. I stand in the stirrups, giving Red enough free rein to keep his balance and blend my body’s rhythm with his own. We allow plenty of distance between each horse. Finally he reaches the sandy trail and we stretch into a short trot to the river. The reward! He joins Caylee up ahead of us, shining tall and white in a shower of spray, foot splashing exultantly. They both drink deeply, and Julie grins, totally soaked. “That was quite a descent! You did great!”

I’m a novice horse rider, but my friends are great encouragers. I love to ride! They’ve explored many of these trails in Tennessee’s Big South Fork, even though Julie has a reputation for getting lost. But that’s half the fun! We always find our way home.

The trail winds among a forest of tall pines, thick carpets of needles covering the earth, moist green moss clinging to rocks in the gurgling stream. The temperature is several degrees cooler than the rocky bluff we left just 20 minutes ago.

Back on the ridge, we ride through hardwood forests fragrant with rhododendrons and mountain laurels. Occasionally, on a trail clear of obstacles, we’ll break into a giddyup, blood rushing through our veins, wind in our faces, manes and tails flying.

The 125,000 acre Big South Fork National Recreation Area is considered the last pioneer territory in the east, embracing some of the most rugged and remote territory on the Cumberland Plateau. Over eons of time, the Cumberland River has carved a spectacular 600-foot gorge through wild country criss-crossed with sandstone trails, rocky ridges, outcrops, breathtaking overlooks, streams, waterfalls, forests of poplar, oak, maple and pine, caves and natural stone arches.

Larry McMillan, himself a pioneer who started the first commercial horseback riding business in the park 24 years ago, is passionate about Big South Fork, with its 300 miles of horse trails, the second largest network of public horse trails east of the Mississippi River.

Custom rides are his specialty, catering for all ages and levels of expertise, offering 2- hour, half day, all day, and overnight camping trips up to seven days with Southeast Pack Trips. Boy scouts, girl scouts, church groups, reunions. All custom rides. Dutch-oven meals, campfire cooking.

“We use all Tennessee Walking Horses, for that smooth ride. We want you to be able to walk after three days!” Larry laughed. Many of the day rides radiate out from Charit Creek rustic wilderness lodge located in the center of Big South Fork, accessible only by horse or on foot.

Back at camp we sit around the fire toasting marshmallows and gazing up at the black velvet night glittering with a million stars. Nashville is 150 miles away, but why would we ever want to leave?

Sign on for an exciting new adventure each week…and let me know where you’d like to go next!

Hi! I’m Dayle Fergusson. As a transplanted Aussie living in Middle Tennessee since 1986, I have been a freelance travel...Read on



    Julie De Vos

    This is a beautiful time of year to ride at Big South Fork. Let’s saddle up and hit the trail!

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