|Hike Name:||Big South Fork NRRA - John Muir / Laurel Fork|
|Directions:||From Cincinnati, Ohio, take I-75 south to Williamsburg, Kentucky. Take exit 11 and turn right on Kentucky 92. Travel approximately 19.9 miles and turn left on US 27 South. Travel another 13.6 miles and turn right on Industrial Lane. Go a short 0.7 miles and turn left on Tennessee 297 (Leatherwood Ford Road). Continue on 297 until you cross over the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River at Leatherwood Ford. Take the steep climb up out of the river gorge and look for Bandy Creek Road near the top. Go to the Visitor Center at the Bandy Creek Campground to check in.|
|Total Hike Distance:||21.00 miles|
|Hike Difficulty:||Moderate to Difficult|
|Hike Type:||One-Way, Shuttle Hike|
|Hike Starts:||Leatherwood Ford|
|Hike Ends:||Bandy Creek Campground|
|Trails Used:||John Muir, Laurel Fork Creek, Black House Branch, Jacks Ridge Loop, and Katie Trails|
|Backcountry Water Sources:||Streams, Rivers|
|Management:||National Park Service|
|Contact Information:||Big South Fork NRRA
4564 Leatherwood Road
Oneida, Tennessee 37841
|Best Season:||Spring, Summer, Fall|
|Road Conditions:||Primary Paved Roads, Secondary Paved Roads|
|Hike Summary:||The Big South Fork was established in 1974 as both a National Recreation Area and a National River. The area encompasses approximately 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, and protects the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. There are miles and miles of hiking trails with an abundance of scenic gorges and sandstone overlooks. Trails range in length from short, single digit loop trails to longer, multi-day hikes through more rugged terrain.
I have completed similar versions of this one-way shuttle hike in both directions three times over the course of the last 13 years. One time in the direction described under this hike:
And another two times in the direction described herein. For this direction, the hike begins at Leatherwood Ford, and travels approximately 2 miles along the banks of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River via the John Muir Trail. At the end of this 2-mile section, the trail narrows, and rises steeply over the course of another mile to the Angel Falls Overlook at the junction with the Grand Gap Loop Trail. Here, the hiker can choose to take a quick cut-off, or continue for another 7 miles along the ridge of the river gorge on the Grand Gap Loop Trail. For this hike, the cut-off was utilized.
The next 10 miles or so parallel the Big South Fork from approximately 600 feet above. This section of the trail includes multiple sandstone overlooks, and a large population of pine trees. A large portion of this population was damaged between 1998 and 2002 by the southern pine beetle. However, by now, the year 2015, the damage is barely discernable. At the end of this 10-mile section, the trail dips approximately 550 feet in elevation to the Laurel Fork Creek Trail below.
Along the Laurel Fork Creek Trail, which parallels its namesake creek, there are numerous patches of hardwood forest that beckon the hiker to long respites along the banks of the free flowing creek. Any plans of a rigid schedule could easily be abandoned here.
Near the confluence with Black House Branch Creek, the route turns and continues mostly southward via a combination of the Black House Branch, Jacks Ridge Loop, and Katie Trails, along with a multiple use trail (ATVs, 4WDs, horses, mountain bikes, and hikers). The hike ends at the Bandy Creek Visitor Center.