Hiking the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Participants: John South (trip leader), Joe Sullivan, Charles Bullock, Nick Fullenkamp, Gary Boehle

Big South Fork is located roughly 20 miles west of I-75 between Kentucky and Tennessee.

We left Noblesville at 8:30 Monday morning for a 6-hour trip to Big South Fork. The government shutdown preceding the trip had us looking at different options, but fortunately the combatants sheathed their swords (tongues) and the shutdown was over in time for the trip. One casualty of a Monday start was a brain fade. Gary left his boots behind and decided to forge on hiking the distance in his leather loafers.

This trip had a few different wrinkles. The hiking consisted of two day hikes and two backpack hikes. We hiked in three distinct locations in the park and were in two states. Each hiker provided all his own food and stoves. Some prefer to provide their own food to save weight and eat what they want. There were some good discussions about food preparation and dehydration methods.  The merits of alcohol, propane and multi-fuel stoves were also discussed. If you want a quick meal, leave the alcohol stove at home but it is easy to find rubbing alcohol even in a small Tennessee pharmacy.

After arriving on Monday afternoon we had a nice 3-mile shake down hike to our campsite next to the Clear Fork. Making sure that water was available was a prime concern for locating campsites. Most streams were still running well.

Tuesday was a day-hike on the 5.6 mile Honey Creek loop. This is considered one of the best, but most difficult, trails in the park. I would not attempt this trail with wet conditions. Backpacks are not recommended due to the rugged terrain, bending and climbing.  The trail passes by tall rock faces and overlooks the Clear Fork. The jewel is hiking up the Honey Creek ravine/valley back to the uplands. The ravine made me think of Turkey Run’s water trail on steroids. The trail twists and turns and is sometimes hard to follow.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: This loop trail had some interesting challenges and great scenery. We visited numerous rock shelters, tall rock faces, the Twin Arches (tallest east of the Mississippi), Slave Falls and Charit Creek lodge. By the map we hiked between 6-8 miles each day but Charles’ GPS said we were doing more like 8-11 miles. The views atop the Twin Arches were great and the fall colors were on display. Charit Creek is a lodge/hostel for hikers and horseback riders. The warm stove, coffee, soft drinks and candy lifted the spirits after walking in a light rain that morning. It was a great place to stop for lunch and relax.

The weather did not disappoint us. Most days were in the low 70’s to the low 50’s at night. We hiked in a light rain one morning and it rained one evening. Campfires each night helped take the chill off. Friday night did drop into the 30s. Pancakes and sausage helped warm us up on Saturday morning. Most days were sunny and warm with perfect hiking/camping conditions.

On Friday, after taking a shower and setting up camp in deserted Blue Heron modern campground, we looked for a place for a celebration dinner. We asked a local policeman where to find a good steak and beer. We were informed that we were in a dry county with only average places to eat. We ended up at the local 1950’s Drive In. The food was surprisingly good and inexpensive.

Saturday we spent some time looking over the Blue Heron Mining Community outdoor museum. There were many displays that tell the story of the abandoned mining town. A six mile hike was completed at a quick pace to start for home by 2:00. We returned safely to Noblesville by 9:00.