It’s a wonderful thing when the weather is so nice in January that I can spend an entire day outside enjoying the sunshine, made even better when I find a new place to explore and that allows me to bring along my two dogs, Leo and Bella. Living in the middle of central Kentucky’s beautiful landscape, it’s surprising how few hiking trails near Lexington allow dogs to join their humans for a bit of out outdoor recreation. My favorite place nearby is the Pinnacles at Indian Fort Theatre in Berea, Kentucky, but since Mr. WACH and I made a resolution to have new local adventures in 2015, we broadened our search for a trail a bit. Browsing a Google map of the area near Lexington led us to a large nature area in northern Tennessee, just across the state line. The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau with many hiking and horseback riding trails traversing its expansive landscape. A few quick internet searches revealed striking photos and positive reviews, so our decision was made.
We started our journey heading south on I-75 from Lexington, exiting at Mt. Vernon and heading south through Somerset and Monticello. We crossed over the Tennessee state line, and shortly after, we entered the west side of the Big South Fork NRRA. Despite recent ice and melting snow, the roads were in good condition as we drove deep into the back of the park toward the trailhead of the Twin Arches Trail. The recent winter weather must have made all of the smells of the forest come alive because we could hardly contain Leo and Bella once they got out of the car and began guiding us down the mountain for the first leg of our hike. The Twin Arches Trail spans 0.7 miles each way, venturing mostly downward with two steep staircases along the way. At the bottom are two of the largest natural rock arches in the eastern United States, the “Twin Arches.” The North and South Arches, as they are known, were carved by nature, side-by-side out of the same rocky ridge that still connects them. According to the National Park Service, “[t]he North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its deck is 62 feet high; South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its deck is 103 feet high.” Truly an impressive pair!
From the arches, we headed about 400 feet father down the mountain to investigate Charit Creek Lodge. What a great decision! Nestled in a valley, the Lodge is a collection of log buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are the oldest buildings in use by the National Park System. The main lodge building was built in the early 1800’s and remained a private residence until 1959, becoming a part of the Park System in 1982. Accessible only by hiking, mountain biking, or horseback, the Lodge provides guests with an experience to truly get away from the city and relax off the grid for a night, or several. Guests can stay in the main lodge or in one of the nearby cabins, and they can choose between full service (includes linens and full meals) or limited service (bring your own linens and food for grilling out) rates for a night’s stay. All of the buildings are heated with wood-burning stoves, have screened in porches, and several benches and rocking chairs for enjoying the beautiful scenery in every direction. The Lodge property runs next to a mountain creek that would be great for wading in the summer or just sitting nearby and enjoying a book. For those coming in on horseback, the Lodge property contains a barn for overnight accommodations for equine guests. Dogs are welcome as well, and the concessionaire’s two dogs were very friendly to us and our pups. Our trip didn’t include a stay at Charit Creek Lodge this time, but it is definitely on our list of places to visit this summer!
From Charit Creek, we continued around the Twin Arches Loop trail for 6.0 miles. Our trek guided us along a rocky mountain stream that provided great background music for an afternoon in the woods. The trail was very well made and included footbridges across muddy areas, even though Bella and Leo mostly chose to run in the mud instead of taking the high road. Climbing back up towards our starting point, we walked past several impressive overhanging rock shelters and bluffs made all the more beautiful by the icicles melting down the colorful rock faces. In years past, the shelters and caves were used by Native Americans and early settlers as they sought shelter when traveling through the area. Most of this part hike had a gradual increase in incline with only a few steep hills every now and then, bringing us back around to the other side of the Twin Arches from where we began. To finish our day, we climbed three very steep staircases to the top of the arches and walked across the rock bridge to the end of the trail. We were so glad we saved this climb for the end of the day because seeing the wide vista of the park from the top of the Twin Arches was a great reward for our tired legs and tired puppies.
What a truly wonderful way to spend a day and earn the delicious cheeseburgers and fries we treated ourselves to for dinner! I’d highly recommend making the trip to Big South Fork.
© Copyright 2015 Amelia Adams