Big South Fork’s Twin Arches draw rave reviews
For decades before Congress established the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area in 1974, it was rumored that there were spectacular rock formation butting up against one another deep in the wilderness west of the Big South Fork River.
Few people, though, actually knew where these natural rock arches were located. They were far from the beaten path; the only way in was along rutted, muddy logging roads that required a half-day’s drive by vehicle (and even longer than that in the horse-and-buggy days).
These days, there are nice gravel roads that lead to near the Twin Arches, and they are the most-visited site in the backcountry of the 125,000-acre national park that Congress established in 46 years ago.
And for good reason: together, they form one of the longest land bridges in the entire world. The North Arch is 62 ft. high with a clearance of 51 ft. and a span of 93 ft. The South Arch is even more impressive, at 103 ft. high, with a clearance of 70 ft. and a span of 135 ft.
You don’t realize how truly big the Twin Arches are until you try to photograph them — and then you realize that your standard camera, with a standard lens, will hardly do the arches justice.
Making the arches even more impressive is the natural tunnel that runs through the southern-most base of the South Arch.
The 1.4-mile round trip from the parking lot to the arches and back includes lots and lots of steps, with three steep staircases, but the hike is a beautiful one, offering a variety of terrain types. Hikers will pass through a forest of scarlet oak, chestnut oak, white oak, red maple, sourwood, black gum and hemlocks to reach the arches. After viewing both arches, a staircase leads to the top of the North Arch, where the vegetation changes to what can withstand the harsh conditions of sweltering sunlight and shallow, dry soil — mostly mosses and lichens, along with blueberry and huckleberry bushes. The arches are also home to the rare Lucy Braun snakeroot and Cumberland sandwort.
From the top of the second staircase, panoramic views of the Station Camp Creek and Parch Corn Creek valleys are offered to hikers.
It might seem hard to believe that such a grand geological wonder was once mostly unknown and only speculated about. But there are other impressive rock formations within the BSF backcountry that remain mostly the stuff of legend and rumor even today. And, even with modern roads and well-maintained hiking trails, there are still people who live in Scott and Fentress counties who have never ventured to Twin Arches for themselves.
That’s a shame, really. Because people come from across the country each year to visit the Twin Arches. And, almost to a person, they’re amazed by what they say.
Here are a sampling of comments from the website Trip Advisor, left by visitors to the arches.
We enjoyed the short hike — beautiful vistas and magnificent arches, and all so close to home! The hike included two sets of very steep stairs, but nothing this senior duo couldn’t handle
We had a party of 3 couples that decided to go see the Twin Arches on a Sunday afternoon. Glad we did; it was only a 0.7 mile hike! We will definitely be back to take more photos and hike more trails!
Easy hike with excellent views. We enjoyed the fall foliage. We got lost on the way in and ended up on gravel roads for about 25 miles, but it was an awesome drive. The arches are amazing.
We made a half day trip out of this hike. The hike was not strenuous. There are multiple stairs that must be climbed; one set is very steep. The arches are beautiful and the views are great. We took a picnic and ate after the hike at the tables.
Awesome views from top and fascinating from below! Just breathtaking. We went to Devils Bridge in Sedona a few years ago and this reminds me of that trip, but it’s right here in my back yard!
Talk about gorgeous! The hiking trail itself was easy and full of lush, dense forest. The arch is stunning, to say the least. What a gem of a find and there was not a single person on the trail during the holiday weekend. Do yourself a favor by not missing this trail!
San Rafael, Calif.
This is a must-do activity in the area. We brought along our three kids and two bigger dogs. We ate lunch beneath one of the arches and couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves any more than we did. The sites, sounds and wonder of the area is 5 stars.
My husband and I stayed at the Charit Creek Lodge and visited the Twin Arches twice. Once was in the evening and we were able to climb the stairs and go out on the overhang of one of the arches and watch the sunset. It was absolutely beautiful and we recommended it to everyone we came into contact with over the next 2 days!
Some might say it’s just sandstone. We saw it as the “apple’s eye” of the park. :) Simply beautiful! For two seniors it was a good workout. Total of around 200 steps down and back up. The view under the arches is simply breathtaking.
Though the journey by vehicle may be somewhat long, the walk to these mega rock arches carved into the massive solid rock berm rising and running through the deep woods is fairly easy and well worth a day trip. The drive through the park is bucolic and the last leg is several miles of gravel road through the forest. The location is remote and quiet. No highway noise. There is lots of interesting geology and topography. I have lived for over 20 years in Tennessee across the state, now in East Tennessee. The Smokies can’t be beat but I often like to avoid the crowds and explore the few places I haven’t been in the Cumberland Plateau or further east in North Carolina. The Twin Arches are a definite Tennessee favorite of mine.
We’ve seen many of the great arches of the western U.S. Stunning and crowded. These arches are equally impressive and adjacent to each other but situated in lush landscape and we had the place to ourselves for 30 minutes. One of the best hikes in TN! It’s worth the long drive and the short hike.
The loop trail is short and easy but we got to see one of the best preserved arches. The arches are big and impressive. It’s also fun to explore the nooks and crannies around the bases of the arches. We encountered two black bears on the way and that made the trip even more interesting.
What a great hiking experience! I was somewhat prepared for the massive arches (although I still found them awe inspiring), but I wasn’t prepared for the huge bluffs leading up to the arches. Great photo opportunities for those who are into wildlife/wildflower/geological feature photography.
We did the 6.0 mile arch loop hike and loved every minute of it. The arches are a beautiful sight to behold. I am in love. We climbed on top of the arch and watched the sun start to set and it was amazing. I couldn’t get over how we only saw six people the whole day plus some park rangers. It was great!
I was thinking that BSF was going to be similar to the Smokies, but it was very different. The Twin Arches are a must see as is the rest of the loop hike. Be sure to stop at the Charit Creek Lodge for a snack; everyone there is very friendly.
The round trip of 1.4 miles is a small sacrifice for what you see when you arrive here. Step softly because you can feel the moccasined feet who went before you. You can walk on top of these arches and under them. There is even a cave at the end of one of them.
The 0.7 mile hike to the Twin Arches is well worth the effort. The scenery along the way is beautiful. I can’t wait to go back and do this hike again in the fall.