While the New River segment of the Cumberland Trail runs through eastern Scott County (originating at Frozen Head State Park in adjoining Morgan County and ending 40 miles further northeast at Cove Lake State Park in neighboring Campbell County), much of the hiking here is centered around the 123,000-acre Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
This list is not all-encompassing; rather, it is a list of some of the more popular trails enjoyed by visitors.
Angel Falls: A 4.0-mile round-trip hike, the Angel Falls Trail is accessible from the Leatherwood Ford Trailhead on S.R. 297 near the east entrance of the Big South Fork NRRA. Level and wide, the Angel Falls Trail offers an easy stroll along the Big South Fork River to Angel Falls, a powerful, Class IV rapid.
Angel Falls Overlook: The trail to Angel Falls Overlook is a portion of the John Muir Trail linking the Leatherwood Ford Trailhead to the Grand Gap Loop Trail. The hike to the overlook and back to the trailhead is 5.6 miles. The trail climbs from the river’s edge to the top of the gorge, an elevation change of 500 ft., and is rated moderate. From the overlook, hikers can continue along the Grand Gap Loop Trail, which is 6.8 miles in length.
Grand Gap Loop: The 6.8-mile Grand Gap Loop Trail offers some spectacular views of the Big South Fork River gorge. The remote trail is shared with bicyclists on weekdays. It is rated moderate. Grand Gap is one of the few trails in the Big South Fork NRRA not immediately accessible from a trailhead. It can be reached from a gravel road exiting Bandy Creek Campground, or by hiking from either Bandy Creek or Leatherwood. The total loop to and from Leatherwood Ford is 12.4 miles and includes a portion of the John Muir Trail. The total loop to and from Bandy Creek is 17 miles and includes the Fall Branch Trail and a portion of the John Litton Farm Loop Trail.
John Litton Farm Loop: The John Litton Farm Loop Trail is a 6.3-mile loop that begins and ends at Bandy Creek Campground/Visitors Center. Rated moderate, it shares a portion of the Duncan Hollow Road and Litton Farm Road. The trail hikes through the John Litton Farm, one of the few remaining homesteads in the 123,000-acre national park and a classic example of the subsistence farms that once dotted the landscape of the northern Cumberland Plateau. The farm was built by John Litton in the early 20th Century and later settled by General Slaven, who resided on the farm until it was sold to make way for the national park in 1979. Hikers can also continue along the Fall Branch Trail to Grand Gap Loop, for a total loop of 17 miles beginning and ending at Bandy Creek.
Oscar Duncan Farm Loop: The Oscar Duncan Farm is another example of the subsistence farms that defined the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Big South Fork region. The 3.6-mile trail is rated easy. It is mostly level and follows Bandy Creek, the stream for which the general area draws its name, as well as a portion of the old road bed that was once the main route to Leatherwood Ford. A small portion of the trail is shared with bicyclists. Hikers can also connect with the West Entrance Trail, which continues on to the Laurel Fork Trail.
Laurel Fork: The 6.6-mile Laurel Fork Trail is accessible via the 1.7-mile West Entrance Trail. It follows Laurel Fork Creek to the John Muir Trail near the Big South Fork River. Along the way, there are more than two dozen stream crossings. The trail is rated difficult. Hikers can also connect to the Slave Falls Trail.
Slave Falls: The Slave Falls Loop Trail is a 3.2-mile, easy trail accessible from the Sawmill Ridge Trailhead off Divide Road in the western portion of the Big South Fork NRRA. The trail features the tall, narrow waterfall and the 90-ft. by 75 ft. Indian Rock House. A 2.5-mile connector trail enables hikers to connect to the Twin Arches Loop Trail. Hikers can also connect to the Laurel Fork Trail.
Twin Arches Loop: The Twin Arches are perhaps the most famous geologic feature of the Big South Fork NRRA. The massive sandstone arches represent the largest natural land bridge in the eastern U.S. The trailhead is accessible from Divide Road in the western portion of the park. The inner loop trail, which descends to the arches and back to the trailhead, is 1.4 miles. The larger loop is 5.5 miles and includes Charit Creek Lodge, the Big South Fork’s rustic backcountry hostel. Hikers can also connect to the Slave Falls Loop Trail.
Leatherwood Loop: The most easily accessed trailhead in the Big South Fork NRRA is the East Rim Trailhead, located near the east entrance of the park on S.R. 297. Leatherwood Loop is a 2.3-mile loop that travels from the plateau to the bottom of the gorge and back to the top again. Like the Oscar Duncan Farm Loop on the opposite side of the river, Leatherwood Loop Trail follows a portion of the Old Leatherwood Road that was once the main route through the river gorge. A portion of the trail shares the John Muir Trail between O&W Bridge and Leatherwood Ford. The trail includes a 0.1-mile spur to Leatherwood Overlook, which offers an eagle’s-eye look at the river crossing and the surrounding gorge.
Sunset Overlook: This easy, 2.6-mile round trip leads to an unprotected rock outcropping that provides a beautiful place to sit and watch the sun set over the Big South Fork River gorge. The hike begins and ends at the East Rim Trailhead.
Burnt Mill Loop: The 4.3-mile Burnt Mill Loop Trail begins and ends at the Burnt Mill Trailhead at the Clear Fork River, which combines with New River to form the Big South Fork. The trail is mostly level, except for the uphill stroll out of the gorge and across the ridge before descending back to the river. The trail is well-known for its wide variety of wildflowers. The trailhead is accessible from Honey Creek Road, off Mountain View Road, which is itself accessible from U.S. Hwy. 27. Additional directions can be obtained by contacting the Scott County Visitors Center, 800-645-6905.
Beaver Falls: Beaver Falls is the southern segment of the John Muir Trail that links Burnt Mill Loop to Honey Creek Loop. Eventually, the John Muir Trail will travel all the way from Peter’s Ford on the extreme southern end of the Big South Fork NRRA to Picket State Park on the northwestern side of the park. As of yet, the portions of the trail from Peter’s Ford to Burnt Mill Bridge and from Honey Creek Loop to O&W Bridge have not been completed. The 3.0-mile connector trail is rated easy. The waterfall from which it draws its name is located off-trail, but you can hear the water cascading over the rocks when crossing the stream.
Honey Creek: Formerly known as The Pocket Wilderness, the Honey Creek Loop Trail is perhaps the best-known and best-loved hiking trail in the Big South Fork NRRA. The 5.9-mile loop is rated difficult and hikers should allow a good portion of the day to complete it. The trail descends into the gorge and back to the top of the plateau. It is an all-encompassing trail that includes several water falls of varying sizes — from the wet-weather Ice Castle Falls to the much larger Honey Creek Falls — along with enormous rock houses. The trail includes the Honey Creek Overlook, which provides a spectacular view of the Big South Fork River. The trail is accessible from the Honey Creek Trailhead on Honey Creek Road. Additional directions can be obtained by contacting the Scott County Visitors Center, 800-645-6905.