ONEIDA, Tenn. — The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area’s Centennial Challenge is embarking on the hottest part of the National Park Service’s 100th year, which makes this week’s ranger-led hike more than fitting.
This week’s hike visits Laurel Fork Creek deep in the Big South Fork backcountry. The rugged trail is rated moderate to difficult, and with its many stream crossings it is one of the most strenuous hiking trails of the hundreds of miles of trail within the national park.
But it is those same stream crossings that make Laurel Fork Creek a perfect hike for this time of year. The stream crossings make for a perfect opportunity for hikers to slip out of their shoes and cool off a bit from the heat of the summer sun.
The hike, which will be led by Big South Fork interpretive ranger Mary Grimm, will begin and end at the Sawmill Trailhead off Divide Road on the west side of the park.
At 4.4 miles, Saturday’s hike will not encompass the entirety of the Laurel Fork Creek Trail, which stretches more than five miles from near the BSF’s West Entrance off S.R. 297 to near the Station Camp river access area.
For its entirety, the trail follows Laurel Fork Creek through the gorge that encases the stream. The trail fords the creek a whopping 18 times before Laurel Fork finally merges with Station Camp Creek. Along the way, the trail passes through a bottomland of hemlock, rhododendron and hardwoods, sometimes following an old roadbed and sometimes passing through the sandy sediment deposited by the creek’s flood waters.
Laurel Fork Creek is a popular backpacking trail in the Big South Fork, and because it makes for such a difficult one-day hike in and out, it is rarely hiked in its entirety by day-trippers. Instead, it is used by backpackers who access it from such trailheads as West Entrance, Middle Creek and Charit Creek, along with Sawmill.
Saturday’s hike is part of the Big South Fork’s Centennial Challenge, which encourages visitors to the park to hike, bike, paddle or ride 100 miles of the national park’s 125,000 acres to celebrate the National Park Servicce’s 100th anniversary.
The challenge began in January and will conclude with a special ceremony in December, which will celebrate those who have completed the entire 100 miles. The challenge is self-paced and self-guided, and relies on the honor system, with users logging their miles on a sheet that can be downloaded from the BSF’s website, nps.gov/biso.
Every other week, the BSF offers a ranger-guided hike as part of the Centennial Challenge. This week’s hike will depart from the Sawmill Trailhead at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Hikers should take water, snacks and comfortable shoes for hiking. Well-behaved dogs are welcomed, but must be leashed.
Ranger-led hike at Laurel Fork