ONEIDA, Tenn. — Winter is upon us in Big South Fork Country. And with it comes cold air.
Let’s face it: hard-core adventure types might love to paddle and hike in colder weather, but for most of us, the warm heater in our vehicle is hard to leave when the temperatures drop into the 30s, the 20s or colder.
So, with that in mind, here are five quick ins-and-outs that will allow you to see the beauty of the Big South Fork region without standing out in the cold — too long.
1.) East Rim Overlook: East Rim is more than just one of the best vantage points above the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. It’s also the most easily accessed. Located on East Rim Road just off S.R. 297 along the east entrance to the Big South Fork, the overlook is handicap-accessible, with a paved walking path leading to the wooden viewing platform. It’s less than a five-minute walk to the overlook, meaning you can take time to admire the beauty and wonder of the river gorge and make it back to your car before Jack Frost is nipping at your nose. (Want to make this trip better? See it at sunset!)
2.) Oscar Blevins Farm: The best way to get to Oscar Blevins’ farm in the Big South Fork is to walk in. The Oscar Blevins Farm Loop is an easy, 5.1-mile hiking trail that begins and ends at the Bandy Creek Trailhead near the park’s visitor center. But here’s a secret: you can drive right to it! From Bandy Creek Visitor Center, continue north on Bandy Creek Road. After the pavement gives way to gravel, the farm is located down the first road on the left. You can park your vehicle near the modern farm house and stroll down the drive that bisects the farm. It’s a beautiful place, any time of the year.
3.) Yahoo Falls: This one requires a bit more of a hike, but it isn’t so far that you’ll catch frostbite! At 113 ft. tall, Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Actually, it’s the largest waterfall in all of Kentucky. And it drops in front of one of the largest rock shelters in the BSF, making this a two-for-the-price-of-one feature. The entire walk, to and from your vehicle, is one mile. And it’s an easy hike, with the exception of steep metal steps (be careful in subfreezing temperatures!) As an added treat, when temperatures in our region drop below freezing and stay there for several days, a huge mound of ice develops at the base of the waterfall. Get there by taking Ky. Hwy. 700 off U.S. Hwy. 27 just north of Whitley City, Ky., and then follow the signs.
4.) The O&W: The drive down the historic Oneida & Western Railroad rail bed is spectacular at any time of the year. And if snow has just fallen, it’s even better (although you might want a 4×4 in snowy weather!). From S.R. 297 in West Oneida, take Toomey Road from the top of the plateau into the Pine Creek gorge, where it will meet with the O&W near the site of the historic Welsh colony of Brynyffynon (not marked). The O&W Railroad provided rail service into this rugged terrain during the early days of the 20th century, when coal and lumber were king. These days, the first several miles of the old rail bed are open to motorized vehicles, all the way to the historic O&W Bridge across the Big South Fork River. (You’ll want to park and stretch your legs at the bridge, venturing out onto it to view the rushing waters below and the magnificent cliff wall that towers over it.)
5.) Rugby: You haven’t been to Rugby? Then you haven’t seen where the class of English gentry meets the heart of Appalachian spirit. This 19th century English colony just outside the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is carefully preserved as a living, working community. Once intended for English gentry, the area is home to an eclectic population these days, and many of the original structures still stand. You’ll want to take a sight-seeing trip around town, and you’ll definitely want to stop for lunch at the Harrow Road Cafe (open Thursday-Sunday).