Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Location: Oneida, Tennessee

Webpage: National Park

General Description: The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area preserves the South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries in northeastern Tenneessee and southeastern Kentucky.  The Big South Fork region contains the highest concentration of natural bridges in the United States since the prominent feature is the gorge cutting through the softer Mississippian Rock underneath the harder Pennsylvania capstone of the Cumberland Plateau.  The entire area encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau and boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs.  Along with kayaking opportunities in the free flowing river, there are miles of trails for hikers, trail riding, and mountain biking.  There are also two modern campground with multiple RV sites with water and electric hookups, a primitive campground for tent camping, and two equestrian campgrounds.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) We stayed in the Bandy Creek Campground within the park that had numerous back-in sites for RVs along with new bathroom/shower facilities.  All sites had water and electric (30 amp) hookups along with a dump station near the entrance to the campground.  Even during late October, the campground was over 75% full during the weekend and was a favorite for horse trailers.

Campgrounds

2) The bathroom facility was new enough to have solar panels providing at least hot water.  I am not sure if it also provided electricity, but it was sure nice they were heated during the below freezing temperature during the week.

Bathrooms

3) There are many hiking trails in the park and even though we stayed for a week, we only accessed a few of them.  The Visitor Center, which was located just across the road from the Bandy Creek Campground, provided all the necessary details about the hiking opportunities.  Even though we are generally looking for trails, preferably loop trails, of 2-4 miles in relative flat terrain, there were surprisingly quite a few to choose from.  We also got information about a day long train ride in the Kentucky section of the park that we choose not to take advantage of, even though it sounded very nice.

VisitorCenter

4) During our week we took three trails.  The first was the trail to Slave Falls, since it was recommended by the park ranger due to the recent wet weather.  This trails is an easy trail about 1.5 miles one-way that travels along the edge of the bluff.  As you approach the falls the trail dips below the rim where you get some close-up views of the rocky overhangs and finally a nice view of Slave Falls, which drops 30+feet over the lip of the overhang.  From there you can continue Needle Arch.  While not as impressive as some of the other natural bridges in the area, it is still worth the additional distance.

5) The Oscar Blevins Loop trail, a 3.7 mile interpretive loop trail, is another easy trail that meanders through the hardwood forests, dropping below the rim to an impressive rock shelter, Muleshoe, that was used by the settlers to keep their livestock and as a camping spot for early Native Americans.  At the half way point you come to Oscar Blevin’s homestead with the original cabin and a 1950s style home that they lived in until selling their land to the park in 1980.  While there are interpretive signs around the homestead, to get the full benefit you need to pick up the brochure at the Visitor’s Center for the trail with information at 22 numbered posts along the trail.  Unfortunately, they need to update their brochure as some of the features have changed, such as the Den Tree which has been gone for a long time.

6) The final trail we took was the Angel Falls Trail which goes along the South Fork River at the bottom of the gorge to the series rapids at Angel Falls.  Since the trail is along the river, it is another easy trail for the entire 2 mile (one-way) hike.  Along with many great views of the river, you also see some nice rocky overhangs and a couple of creeks cascading down the slopes to the river.