ONEIDA, Tenn. — Ice. Lots and lots of ice.
That’s the beauty of Big South Fork Country in the winter months. The miles and miles of untamed cliff lines that encase the Big South Fork River and its main tributaries are turned into dramatic ice sculptures during the winter months, chiseled not by man’s hand but by the constant seep of water when temperatures have dropped below freezing.
On foot, from the back of a horse, or from a bicycle seat, there are lots of places to travel to and photo these ice sculptures during the winter months. Here are a few that stand out:
1.) Yahoo Falls
At 113 ft. tall, Yahoo Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. With a large rock shelter as a dramatic backdrop, it is a spectacular site to hike to no matter the time of year. But the winter months can be especially special at Yahoo Falls. When the temperature drops below freezing long enough, a huge mound of ice forms at the base of the waterfall. The longer the temperature remains below freezing, the larger the ice mound becomes — almost resembling a small glacier at its best! When temperatures stay well below freezing for at least a week, the ice pillar at the base of Yahoo Falls can easily exceed 20 ft. in height! Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north from Oneida, into Kentucky. Turn left onto Ky. Hwy. 700 at Marshes Siding, just north of Whitley City. After 3.9 miles, turn right onto Yahoo Falls Road and drive one mile to the trailhead. The waterfall is accessible via a two-mile loop hike. (Photo: Steven Seven.)
2.) Burnt Mill Loop
One of the crown jewels of the Big South Fork’s southern section is the Burnt Mill Loop Trail, a 4.5-mile loop trail that explores the Clear Fork River upstream of its confluence with New River to form the Big South Fork River. The trail offers something different in every season. In the winter, it offers spectacular ice formations as water seeps from the top of the bluff lines. There’s also the Burnt Mill Shower, a waterfall located just off the main trail that freezes over in colder weather. Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south from Oneida. Turn right onto Old Hwy. 27 in the New River community. After 1.5 miles, turn right again, then immediately left, onto Mountain View Road. After 2.3 miles, turn right onto Al Martin Road. After a half-mile, veer left onto Honey Creek Road. The trailhead is located at Burnt Mill Bridge. The trail is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction. (Photo: Ben Garrett.)
3.) Honey Creek Loop
Step-for-step, the 5.5-mile Honey Creek Loop Trail may be the most strenuous hike in the Big South Fork NRRA. But it may also be its most brilliant. Honey Creek has been ranked among the best day hikes in the United States, and for good reason. It is packed with sheer beauty — the best that nature has to offer. And it only gets better during the winter months. After dropping into the rugged canyon through which Honey Creek flows, hikers are treated to a lot of spectacular rock formations that develop tons of beautiful ice during cold weather periods — including several waterfalls that are prone to freeze over if the weather gets cold enough. Getting There: Follow the directions to Burnt Mill trailhead, then continue on Honey Creek Road for approximately three miles. Look for the sign pointing the way to the trailhead, which is located just off Honey Creek Road. (Photo: Michael Hawkins/Trover)
4.) Middle Creek Loop
At 3.5 miles, Middle Creek Loop Nature Trail isn’t a particularly difficult hike — but it’s a beautiful one. And, as an added bonus, it contains what is perhaps the largest number of rock houses of any hiking trail in the Big South Fork. With many of those rocks seeping water even in dry weather, and a number of wet-weather waterfalls along the route, there are lots and lots of ice formations during cold weather, which just adds to the trail’s scenic beauty. 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. (Photo: Ben Garrett.)