Explore Tennessee: Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

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.

Twin Arches Staircase
Staircases on the Twin Arches Trail

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!

Twin Arch
One of the Twin Arches

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!

Charit Creek Canteen
Charit Creek Canteen
Charit Creek Lodge Porch
Charit Creek Lodge Porch
Charit Creek Bath House
Charit Creek Bath House
Charit Creek Lodge
Charit Creek Lodge
Charit Creek Cabin
Charit Creek Cabin

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.

Bella and Leo at Big South Fork
Bella and Leo learned to use the foot bridge!
Rock Shelter in Big South Fork
Rock Shelter in Big South Fork
Big South Fork Bridge
Creek Bridge in Big South Fork

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

4 thoughts on “Explore Tennessee: Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area

  1. Love it! I’m so happy that I happened across your blog. It reminds me of the travel adventure blog I had while my wife and I lived just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. For a year while I traveled for my job. Feel free to check it out: http://soundtravel.blogspot.com
    We have traveled quite a bit in our great country in the past. We don’t do much traveling now as I’m permanently disabled. This is the main reason I enjoy your blog so much.
    I hope you get the chance to check out the blog. I think you would enjoy it.
    God bless and safe travels!


    1. Charles,
      Thank you for reading and for sharing your blog with me. You had many great adventures during your year in Massachusetts, and I am enjoying reading about them! Of all the places I’ve traveled so far, I’ve never been to MA, so it’s fun for me to learn about it through your blog posts. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy reading my blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s