Big South Fork National Recreation Area Overview
Fans of Big South Fork tout its relative emptiness as compared to nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within Big South Fork's 123,000 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau are myriad possibilities for adventure. Park visitors cite the abundant natural arches and bridges, waterfalls and swimming holes, and miles and miles of trails as their reasons to spend time in the park. And then, of course, there's the powerful Big South Fork itself. A 600-foot gorge carves through the plateau, cradling the ever-changing river.
On a calm day you'll see green to blue-green water flowing lazily towards Kentucky. On a rainy spring or summer day the river becomes a torrent of muddy soil and rock. Seasonal changes in the river's character are accompanied by changes on land: Summer brings warm lazy days on both the plateaus and in the gorge. The cool laurel-laden ravines help to break the heat on warmer days. From any of the many vistas, the panorama of fall color will take your breath away. The winter will give you snow to leave your footprints in and cascades of iced waterfalls to see the sun's prisms of color. Let's not forget the spring with its profusion of wildflowers and rain that awakens the river in the gorge.
There are over 80 miles of navigable river here for paddlers to ply, with Class I through Class IV rapids. Hikers have over 150 miles of trails to explore, from easy day hikes, to long multi-day loops. Opportunities for mountain biking and horseback riding also abound.
Warning: Call ahead to find out if your visit falls within hunting season. If so, GORP recommends that you wear a bright orange vest.
The Big Fork National River and Recreation Area Visitors' Center is located 10 miles west of Oneida, Tennessee on TN 297. The closest commercial airports are in Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee and Lexington, Kentucky.
Canoe the South Fork
The winter thaw and runoff creates Class I through Class IV rapids—some falls will be too dangerous to cross and you should be prepared to portage. Paddle the section above Leatherwood Ford from New River put-in, passing such rapids as Washing Machine, Double Falls and Jake's Hole. This run offers some of the wildest and most remote whitewater in the eastern United States. Before leaving, stop by one of the interesting rock formations, such as Needle Arch or Twin Arches.
Camp Bandy Creek
Bandy Creek Campground is situated in the heart of the Big South Fork with four sections, one of which is exclusively for tent campers (no RVs!). You can let the hot showers flow after an active day exploring the Big South Fork on the hiking and biking trails that depart from the campground.
Hike the John Litton Farm Trail
Of the 150 miles of trails in the area, we suggest you take the John Litton Farm Trail, which departs from Bandy Creek and passes by the pioneer homestead of John Litton. It's a great 6-mile loop that takes you to Fall Branch Falls and back.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication