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Five Big South Fork day hikes

The Big South Fork National Recreation Area along the Kentucky and Tennessee border in the Cumberland plateau is a large swath of federally protected wilderness centered around the Big South Fork River. The Big South Fork encompasses the National Recreation Area, but there is also Pickett State Park to the west and a huge section of the Daniel Boone National Forest to the north. This post features five Big South Fork day hikes

Five Big South Fork day hikes Angel Falls overlook Big South Fork

Five Big South Fork day hikes – The iconic Big South Fork vista from the Angel Falls overlook

There are great overnight hiking opportunities in the park with the 269 Sheltowee Trace Trail, the John Muir Trail, and over 150 miles of trails overall in the park. There are tons of day hikes in the park ending with waterfalls, natural bridges, and overlooks. These are not the five best, but just five trails that I have hiked and recommend.

Angel Falls Big South Fork

Five Big South Fork day hikes – Angel Falls rapids in the Big South Fork

Five Big South Fork Day hikes

Angel Falls Trail – 2 miles one way from the Leatherwood Ford Trailhead near Bandy Creek

Angel Falls is actually not a falls, but it is a powerful rapids. Those hiking this trail expecting a beautiful waterfall may be disappointed. They shouldn’t though as it is a nice hike along the river with many opportunities to explore the shoreline with sensational views of boulders along the river and bluffs towering over the river.

Five Big South Fork day hikes

Five Big South Fork day hikes – Big South Fork at its best – Beautiful river with gorgeous rock faced bluffs

The trail is quite easy with little elevation change thanks to hugging the river and is wide with good footing. Once you hit the rapids you can explore hopping along the boulders to get better views of the rapids. Be careful hopping on the boulders as they can be slick and also look out for snakes. Copperheads and water moccasins are both common in the park.

Angel Falls Trail

Five Big South Fork day hikes – Angel Falls Trail

Angel Falls overlook – 2.8 miles one way from the Leatherwood Ford Trailhead near Bandy Creek

From the Leatherwood Ford parking lot there is usually a low water bridge to cross the river and get to the trail on the other side. This bridge is currently under repair. With the current financial crisis seizing our government, who knows how long this will take to fix. You will need to go out to the road and cross the bridge on the road.  Once you cross the bridge there is a stairwell to the right that immediately descends to a trail once the bridge is passed.

Five Big South Fork day hikes

Five Big South Fork day hikes – The under construction low water bridge taken from the road bridge

I thought this trail would be exactly like the trail on the other side of the river, but with different views of the bluffs, but it was a little different. It goes up a little higher and farther away from the river therefore giving nice views of the river and it is more of a woodland trail than a river trail.

Big South Fork

Sun shining on the Big South Fork

Once you cross Falls Branch Creek the trail goes straight up to the Angel Falls overlook. The last .8 miles are just about straight up. You then flank around the rock outcropping and come up to one of the most beautiful overlooks in the eastern United States. You can also get to this overlook from Bandy Creek.

Angel Falls Overlook Big South Fork

Big South Fork Angel Falls Overlook

Twin Arches – .7 miles one way for short option – 6 mile loop for longer option – Twin Arches Road off Divide Road

Twin Arches are two natural bridges right next to each other. It would be a phenomenal picture to get both in one picture, but it is difficult enough to take a picture of one arch. The arches are right in the middle of the woods, so if you get too close it is hard to get a whole arch in and if you get too far away there are too many trees in the way.

Twin Arches Big South Fork

Five Big South Fork day hikes – Twin Arches

This is a nice hike through the woods and fairly easy if you do the shorter route. There are a couple of stairways that make the hike a little easier.  I did not do the longer option, so I cannot describe what that route is like.

Twin Arches Big South Fork

Twin Arches from a little farther back

Yahoo Falls – Out and back to the falls is just under a mile – There is also an 8.5 mile loop

Nice trail through the woods in the Daniel Boone National Forest, but the main attraction is Yahoo Falls, which is the tallest falls in Kentucky. Unfortunately, it was Yahoo trickle when I visited. Save this hike for the spring or after heavy rains the rest of the year.

Yahoo Falls

Yahoo trickle – Need to return when there is more of a flow

Leatherwood Loop and Overlook Trail – 5 miles total – Near Bandy Creek

My favorite aspect of a trail is options. I prefer a loop to an out and back. The best thing about this trail is you can do a loop or an out and back depending on where you start and your objective. You can also skip the hiking all together if you just want to see the fantastic East Rim overlook. The road goes ends at the overlook parking lot.

Leatherwood Trail overlook

Five Big South Fork day hikes – Another view from a Leatherwood Trail overlook

Due to several different trailheads you can do the whole section out and back, which would be a 10 mile round trip hike or you can do a smaller route. The hike from the last trailhead on the East Rim Drive to the Sunset Overlook is 3 miles total.

East Rim Big South Fork

East Rim Overlook

The Big South Fork is an underrated park. Every time I go there I am amazed at the paucity of people I run into. It is overshadowed by the Great Smoky Mountains, but with 150 miles of trails and many great day hikes, it is a spot that will keep me coming back again and again. Check out their website for more information.

Adventure on!

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26 Responses to Five Big South Fork day hikes

  1. Trips By Lance November 19, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Very nice Ted. I’m crazy afraid of snakes so maybe I’ll attempt this in the colder months. The trails look like the type my son and I could do pretty easily. Not sure if my wife would be game, though.
    Trips By Lance recently posted..Red Cat House: A Haven in the Heart of Taos

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:35 am #

      Thing about snakes is they are deathly afraid of humans. If you practice a little caution you probably will never even see one. I went walking around Lumpini Park in the middle of Bangkok and later read they have deadly pit vipers there. Not unusual seeing this part of the world has tons of dangerous snakes, but crazy they live even in downtown Thailand.

  2. Christy November 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    I love rivers, so Angel Falls looks perfect for me. I wish I had time to do some hiking when I was in Tennessee a few weeks ago. Thanks for sharing!
    Christy recently posted..See What You’re Missing in Southeast Alaska

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:36 am #

      This would be a great river to canoe, raft, or fish on. The views of the bluffs from the river are superb.

  3. Pola (@jettingaround) November 22, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    I’m a city girl first, but mountain woman a close second. LOVE the views!!!! You’re making me want to go and hike that area. Really.
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Featured Photos: Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:36 am #

      Great place to hike and not too crazy far from Chicago.

  4. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) November 23, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    I really need to check this place out. You know I’m a big proponent of national parks/recreation areas/etc., yet Big South Fork has eluded me. It looks so beautiful in your photos!
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..#JAchat topic: Street photography. Focus: Istanbul.

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:37 am #

      For most, Big South Fork is a sign along the interstate. I have passed it many times until I finally went three years ago. Now it is a favorite.

  5. lola dimarco November 23, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    What beautiful fall hikes! no snakes for me either puhlease!
    lola dimarco recently posted..It’s #Movember – That Means Mustaches & #ManlyMoments

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:38 am #

      I think it was a little late for snakes with the cold nights.

  6. Jeff November 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Each an every photo is beautiful. I love nature and i prefer to explore and bitten by a spider or snake rather than not to. Thanks Ted for a great article.
    Jeff recently posted..America On Wheels: Planning Your Road Trip

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:39 am #

      No desire to be bitten by a snake either Jeff.

  7. @mrsoaroundworld November 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    No snakes for me please… love the photos!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..The Luxury Travel Blog Network – November 2013 Edition

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:40 am #

      No snakes seen on this trip. I am in SE Asia now though, so I hope to see a couple here.

  8. the lazy travelers November 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    well, veto on the snakes, but we could maybe risk our lives for some leaf peeping. maybe. liquid courage might help matters, too.
    the lazy travelers recently posted..laws to travel by – #48

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:41 am #

      I once saw a copperhead coiled up in a bunch of dead leaves. I would have walked past him and been two feet from him had I not seen him. I doubt he would have done anything though unless I stepped on him. A little liquid courage always helps.

  9. Erin at The World Wanderer November 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Aww this makes me miss hiking. I haven’t been in forever, and you’re getting me inspired! I’ll have to do these day hikes eventually.
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted..Street Art of London: Photo Essay.

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:42 am #

      Hope you get outdoors and start adventuring again soon.

  10. Mary Anne November 25, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    your photos are crisp and fresh looking.. so much so that I could almost feel the clean, fresh air on my skin. These are my kind of hikes.

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:44 am #

      Thanks Mary Anne. Easy to photograph such a beautiful place.

  11. Raul (@ilivetotravel) November 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Looks not only like a beautiful place but a beautiful time go see it!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

    • Ted Nelson November 26, 2013 at 12:44 am #

      I missed the best time by about a week or two, but the good thing about this is less people after the leaves fall. I had the park to myself except for deer hunters.

  12. Leigh November 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    There is not one of those hikes that doesn’t look amazing – even if they are short. Can you snowshoe on any of them in the winter?
    Leigh recently posted..A Hike to Nigel Pass in Jasper National Park

    • Ted Nelson December 2, 2013 at 6:02 am #

      You probably could, but they don’t get a lot of snow. This area is south of the snow line, but since there is elevation involved, they do get some.

  13. Jack February 15, 2017 at 10:03 pm #

    Ted, there are no water moccasins in the Big South Fork. Only dangerous snakes are Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes.

    • Traveling Ted February 15, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

      Hello Jack,

      Thank you for letting me know. I guess I just assumed that there were since there are water moccasins in southern Illinois, but looking at their range, I see you are correct. I also thought they were found in the Smokies, but I see they do not inhabit that park either.

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