Autumn’s last gasp


Pictured: The Big South Fork River at the O&W Bridge in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Photo: Sarah Dunlap.

A combination of warmer-than-average temperatures and other environmental factors have led to a later-than-usual foliage season across much of the eastern United States — including here at home on the northern Cumberland Plateau.

Even as the calendar flips from October to November, fall colors are still at their peak from the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area to the Cumberland Mountains and all points in between.

That means more time for local residents to get out and enjoy the scenes that nature conjures up this time of year . . . and we don’t have to travel far from home to find them.

There are plenty of highways and byways throughout the plateau region that lead to perfect vantage points for foliage-viewing, from Lookout Mountain to Fall Creek Falls to our very own Big South Fork.

The Cumberland Plateau is often overlooked when it comes to its autumn colors. You won’t find many scenes from the northern plateau on wall calendars or computer desktops, while places like the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Alleghenies and the Taconics steal the show. But what you’ll find here is no less breath-taking.

For the next couple of weeks, conditions will be perfect for leaf-peepers across the northern plateau region. And there are a number of places well-suited to take in the colors from above.

In the Big South Fork, a number of overlooks offer a bird’s-eye view of fall, ranging from easily accessible overlooks suited for all, to those that are a little more difficult to reach. Here are a few of the best:

■ Angel Falls Overlook: There are few scenes in the entire 125,000 acre national park that are photographed more than the view from Angel Falls Overlook north along the Big South Fork River (see photo at right). Though the hike to the rock outcropping that is the overlook is not a difficult one, Angel Falls is one of the most least-accessible overlooks in the park, requiring guests to hike from the bottom of the gorge along the John Muir Trail (begin at the Leatherwood Ford parking lot, 5.9 miles round trip) or the John Litton Farm Loop and Grand Gap Loop trails behind Bandy Creek. The view is well worth the hike, offering a stunning, 250-degree view up and down the gorge. (Unprotected and dangerous for pets and small children.)

■ O&W Overlook: This unmarked overlook has long been a favorite of locals, though it isn’t an “official” overlook. There’s no marked trail, but an old Jeep road spans the distance from S.R. 297 (at the park’s eastern entrance) to the overlook. Part of the route lies directly along the park’s eastern-most boundary, with private property to the left-hand side of the road, before the old road-bed finally crosses over into the park for good. The rock outcropping offers a view high above the O&W Railroad Bridge, but it’s most spectacular offering is a view downstream along the Big South Fork, towards the mouth of North White Oak Creek and the territory beyond. (Unprotected and dangerous for pets and small children.)

■ Sunset Overlook: After departing the trailhead on East Rim Overlook Road near the BSF headquarters, the Sunset Overlook trail winds along mostly flat terrain for 1.3 miles before emerging on the edge of the gorge. As the National Park Service describes on its website, “the hike out is not remarkable, but the view definitely is.” The Leatherwood Ford bridge is visible downstream, and the mouth of North White Oak Creek is visible upstream.

■ Honey Creek Overlook: Honey Creek is the first of the easily-accessible overlooks offering picture-perfect fall scenes. Hikers wanting more of an adventure can hike the surrounding Honey Creek Loop Trail (formerly the Pocket Wilderness), the most strenuous hike in all of the BSF (5.5 miles). Most folks choose to drive directly to the overlook, which is protected and is handicap-accessible. The overlook, just a stone’s throw from the Scott County Airport as the eagle flies, offers views up and down some of the wildest portions of the BSF River, just south of the confluence. The overlook and trailhead are accessible via Honey Creek Road and Burnt Mill Ford in Robbins.

■ East Rim Overlook: It’s accessibility and location make East Rim one of the most-visited locations in the national park. Just off S.R. 297 near the park headquarters at Leatherwood, the view from East Rim is no less remarkable than any other in the park . . . in fact, it far surpasses most. For a place to snap some quick photos on a Sunday afternoon at the height of autumn, it’s hard to beat East Rim.

The preceding article originally appeared in the November 1, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald. It is reprinted by permission.

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