The Middle Creek Nature Loop offers one of the largest concentration of rock shelters found along any hiking trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
Located off Divide Road on the western side of the BSF, the loop trail takes hikers by and inside several large rock shelters, each one seemingly larger than the one before. Some of the shelters are home to rare plant species, such as Lucy Braun’s snakeroot. Beneath one particular rock shelter, a wooden fence is in place to keep hikers from unintentionally trampling the rare plant, which is found in only a handful of places along the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Middle Creek Nature Loop begins and ends at the Middle Creek Trailhead on Divide Road, just off S.R. 154 north of Jamestown, Tenn. It is a popular starting point for backpackers who are embarking on multi-day hikes, as it networks with a large number of other trails to allow access to such points as Bandy Creek, Twin Arches and Blue Heron Mining Camp. Trails that begin at Middle Creek also link with the John Muir Trail and the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, two long-distance trails that traverse the Big South Fork.
The loop trail is about 3.5 miles, and not difficult. It is best hiked in a clockwise direction, which requires hikers to take a left turn shortly after departing the trailhead.
For the first mile of the hike, the walk is largely uneventful. The trail parallels Divide and Fork Ridge roads, and travels through a mixed hardwoods forest along a ridge top. Eventually, though, the trail turns downhill for a short distance, going beneath the bluff line and doubling back to the west, where it begins its tour of several large rock shelters.
A number of the rocks seep water even in dry weather, and there are several wet-weather waterfalls along the route. The only particularly difficult portion of the hike involves a scramble up hill through a series of boulders. For the most part, though, the Middle Creek hike is an easy one that is suitable for hikers of all ages and experience levels.
After a little more than a mile along various rock shelters and rock formations, the trail ascends back to the top of the ridge and follows an old road bed back to the trailhead.
Getting there: To get to Middle Creek Trailhead from Oneida, take S.R. 297 west through the Big South Fork River Gorge and the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. At the intersection with S.R. 154, turn right and travel north for approximately two miles on S.R. 154. Divide Road will be located on the right. After the right-hand turn onto the gravel road, it is less than half a mile to the trailhead, which is located on the right.
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