The dramatic landscape of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is unsurpassed for its massive sandstone bluffs, natural arches, and abundant rock shelters. Trails run along the ridge featuring striking panoramic views that showcase the Cumberland Plateau Valley and the Big South Fork River below. A little over an hour north of Knoxville, the Park features over 180 miles of trails for hikers and trail runners, 35 miles for mountain bikers and around 200 miles for equestrians. In addition, the trails are open to canine companions! Hiking trails are marked with a white blaze and either a red arrowhead, yellow turtle or blue silhouette of John Muir. Geographically divided, the park offers trails in the west side, south end, east side and central section. The Park offers a set of 9 maps, a trail overview, and trail descriptions for both Tennessee Trails as well as Kentucky Trails that lie within the park boundaries. Some of the trails in the Park are remote with no water available, so be sure to carry an adequate supply.
Twin Arches Loop: one of the most unusual and beautiful geologic features in the Big South Fork. The Arches themselves may be reached by hiking a short trail less than a mile one-way, an easy to moderate hike with the exception of some very steep steps. The Twin Arches Loop is 4.5 miles long, moderate in difficulty and showcases rock shelters and cliffs, an old home site and the Charit Creek Lodge. The trailhead is located on the western edge of the park off of Divide Road. trail map
Slave Falls/Needle Arch: A short, easy, 1.5 mile hike takes you to the 60-foot waterfall and a natural arch. Late summer and fall may find very little water coming over the falls but the hike is still worth the trip. Access Slave Falls by way of the Sawmill trailhead located on the western part of the park. Turn on Divide Road and travel one mile from Hwy 154. At the next intersection turn right on to Fork Ridge Road. Sawmill will be on your left just past the Middle Creek equestrian trailhead. trail map
Middle Creek Loop Trail: Often overlooked, this easy 3.5 mile loop trail winds through an upland hardwood forest and past some beautiful rock shelters. A spur trail from Middle Creek Loop connects to Sawmill Trailhead and the Laurel Fork Trail. Middle Creek trailhead is located one mile on Divide Road from Hwy. 154. It is in the western Tennessee portion of the park. trail map
Rock Creek Loop: This moderately difficult 7.1 mile loop follows Rock Creek for part of its distance and overlaps parts of the John Muir and Sheltowee Trace Trails. The trail follows part of the old Stearns Logging Railroad along Massey Branch. There is one steep section from Rock Creek to the Hattie Blevins Cemetery Road. Trailhead is located at the Hattie Blevins Cemetery off of Divide Road on the western part of the park in Tennessee.
Honey Creek Loop: One of the more challenging but very rewarding trails, this 5.5 mile strenuous hike affords hazards that include steep narrow trail sections, numerous creek crossings, slick boulders in addition to a few confusing trail junctions. Due to slick rocks and creek crossings, it's not a recommended hike immediately following heavy rainfall or after severe freezing weather. This remote trailhead is about an hour's drive south of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center off Mt. Helen Rd, west of Mountain View Rd. trail map
Burnt Mill Loop: This easy 4.3 mile trail includes part of the John Muir Trail, which connects it to the Honey Creek Trail. It follows the Clear Fork River for a portion of its length before climbing gradually to the ridges above the river offering great vistas. Trailhead is located off Mountain View Road.
Gentlemen's Swimming Hole Trail: This moderate trail provides access to the traditional swimming hole on the Clear Fork River where the early English settlers of Rugby came to enjoy the cool waters of the river. Short or long — a 0.4 mile one-way hike to the swimming hole and returning to the trailhead at Laurel Dale Cemetery, or the complete 2.9 mile loop which takes you to the "Meeting of the Waters." This junction of the Clear Fork and White Oak Creek's was the traditional "ladies bathing place." The trailhead for the Gentlemen's Swimming Hole is located at the Laurel Dale Cemetery in Historic Rugby off of Hwy 52.
Leatherwood Ford Trail: Two large gaps in the bluffs and a low water ford in the river made Leatherwood Ford a natural crossing. Boardwalks provide a shady path along the river's edge. The area includes Angel Falls Rapid Trail (2 miles one-way), Angel Falls Overlook Trail (2.8 miles one-way), and the Grand Gap Loop Trail (6.8 miles loop), and O&W Trail (2.3 miles one-way). Find the trailhead where Hwy 297 crosses the Big South Fork River. The Grand Gap trail is open to mountain bikers.
Leatherwood Loop and Sunset Overlook: Beginning at the East Rim Trailhead, the Sunset Overlook is an easy 1.3 mile one-way trail that affords a beautiful view. The Overlook is not protected by railings or fencing so use extreme caution, especially with children and pets. The Leatherwood Loop enters the woods on the same side of the road as the trailhead and winds 3.3 miles passing an overlook, before descending to river level at Leatherwood Ford. To continue on the trail, take the steps beside the bridge and follow the guardrail to pick up the trail on the right. trail map
East Rim Overlook: This easy 300-foot walk is a paved walkway to the overlook. The trail is located at the end of East Rim Road, off of Hwy. 297.
Bandy Creek Loop Trail: A quiet stroll through the woods, this 1.3-mile loop trail may be started from the back of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center or across the parking lot at the far end of the pond.
Oscar Blevins Farm Loop: An easy 3.6 mile trail that leaves from Bandy Creek Trailhead and includes a wet-weather water fall, rock shelters and the Oscar Blevins Farm.
John Litton Farm Loop: The John Litton-General Slaven farm provides a glimpse of the subsistence lifestyle once so common in the Big South Fork. From the Bandy Creek trailhead, this 6.3-mile loop uses a 1.1-mile portion of the orange blazed Duncan Hollow Multi-Use Trail and then the Litton Farm Road. Hiking the loop counter-clockwise, turn left on each of these roads to return to the campground. If beginning the hike following Duncan Hollow Road first, watch for the sign that directs hikers to turn right on the Litton Farm Road at the TVA power line.
LONG DISTANCE TRAIL
John Muir Trail: Named for naturalist and conservationist John Muir, this trail commemorates his hike through the plateau in 1867. Starting at Pickett State Park, this long distance point-to-point trail winds 44 miles over to the O.W. Railroad Bridge in Big South Fork Park. There is also an unconnected segment in the Honey Creek Area. Be aware that during the dry months finding a water source can be a problem. If you're leaving a car at the Southern end of the trail, it's recommended that you park at Leatherwood Ford and back-track the 2 miles to the beginning of the trail as the OW Bridge is isolated and not lighted. A 7.5-mile section of the John Muir Trail extending north from the Grand Gap Loop is now open to mountain bikers.
epic mountain biking trails
IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) has named 5 trails in Big South Fork as Epic Rides, making this the first national park unit in the US to receive this elite designation. Note that the Grand Gap Loop and John Muir Trails are open to both hikers and bikers (weekend restrictions have been removed). They can be combined into an 18-28 mile ride, depending on the starting point. Both of these trails pass rockshelters and cliffline overlooks of the river. Be extremely careful in these areas and be prepared to walk your bike when necessary. Also be prepared to walk your bike at some stream crossings and to carry it, cyclocross style, at a ladder. The blaze for the mountain bike trails is a blue symbol of a bike with mountains in the background.
Duncan Hollow Loop: 2.3 miles of singletrack and 3.0 miles of gravel road. Best ridden clockwise, features one creek crossing and one moderate climb. Shared use with equestrians, bicycles must yield. Beginner to advanced.
Collier Ridge: 4.4 to 5.5 miles of singletrack, depending on the route taken. One route option has a short section rated as advanced difficulty.
West Bandy Trail: 3 miles of single-track features rolling single track, creek crossings and short, steep sections. From beginner to advanced.
Grand Gap Loop: 6.4-mile loop trail of mostly flat and smooth singletrack with a few technical sections. The trail rides alongside several rockshelters and cliffline overlooks of the river. Beginner to intermediate skill level, trail is best ridden counter clockwise.
John Muir Trail: 7.5-mile point-to-point segment of the long-distance hiking trail is mostly flat and smooth.
Rock Creek Loop - John Muir Trail - Chestnut Ridge Trails: a network of trails in the northwest corner of the park offering out-and-back and/or loop rides of up to 18 miles. This "lollipop loop" forms the nucleus of longer rides when combined with the park's gravel roads.