This weekend I decided to follow thru on a plan to go camping with my friend Jacie to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
I’m a terrible planner, but I’m great at throwing out ideas for cool places to go and fun activities to experience,; so having Jacie was truly a godsend. My travel style is somewhere between that of a vagrant and glamping. I basically like to just show up to a place and figure it out from there, but within that context I tend to bring the kitchen sink of amenities such as all of my painting gear and clothes and gear to last me awhile. All of the efforts that go into preparing for a trip tend to overwhelm me so I just shrug them off.
I think in a perfect world, I’d be one of those billionaires who carries a credit card in his pocket (probably just a phone with apple pay would be sufficient in the modern era – but I’m not tech savvy enough yet to try this) and carries nothing else with him, just buying what he needs when he needs it. Note that I’m saying HIM instead of HER because I’ve actually never read about any female billionaires who do such things – though, it is certainly not beyond the scope of possibility. If anyone has insight into wealthy women who do- please link me up.
Big South Fork spans two states: Tennessee and Kentucky and two time zones: Central and Eastern standard time. One can physically step over time zones in this park, which can be confusing if you’re using your phone to navigate or keep an eye on the clock to get back to your tent before dark.
I’m an outdoor enthusiast who happens to make my living by working on trails within the National Park Service. While my gig in the Smokies (the most visited park in the US) is quite nice, I make it a point to explore the greater South East. In my experience speaking with outdoor enthusiasts, coworkers, locals, and visitors, I’ve found that most people have never even heard of this place! With the age of the internet, the weekend warrior on Instagram is sure to put this place on the map of must-see destinations, but for now it remains a relative secret, and I quite like it that way.
So what is so fantastic about Big South Fork? One word : Arches
Big South Fork is home to hundreds of arches, with the Twin Arches serving as a standout feature of the park. The Twins are also called the North and the South Arches. They are accessible by a short hike (.7 miles) from a parking area. The website for Big South Fork states, ” In the eastern United States very few bridges are as high or as broad as the South Arch. If both components of the Twin Arches are regarded as parts of a single landscape feature, then very few natural bridges in the world equal the Twin Arches in size.”
Before visiting the area on a whim a few years ago, I had not even been aware that such arches were even possible in the Eastern United States, but have since learned that arches are not uncommon here, nor elsewhere in the world. In a quick google search I located several in Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee alone. I don’t believe that they are less interesting than those which have formed in the more notable Arches National Park, in fact they are quite impressive formations, but due to being less publicized, and more immersed in a forested environment perhaps they have managed to escape the notoriety of similar land forms.
In addition to being able to hike beneath the arches, the trail also leads the hiker up a staircase to stand on top of them!
As I’d mentioned, the Twin Arches are just two of hundreds of arches within the area, but the park trail map which they give out at the visitor/information center does not provide trails or coordinates to the locations of other geological formations. For that, you’ll have to do a bit of exploring and investigation! But for those who are curious you can find the gps coordinates and listings of other known/named arches here . I plan to use avenza maps to plot my coordinates and go off trail to find some others.
There’s a wealth of other recreational opportunities at Big South Fork, including Mountain Biking, Camping, Fishing, Swimming and Boating, with some picturesque natural waterfalls and cave like formations, as well as a scenic railroad!
I plan to explore the area in greater depth and will share my findings in future blog posts.