Before people were coming to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area to pedal their bikes, float their boats or climb our rocks, they were coming here to ride their horses. And they still are.
The Big South Fork NRRA is truly an equine smorgasbord. In fact, the BSF has the largest network of public horse trails east of the Mississippi River, which is quite impressive. There are 180 miles of horse trails here, almost all of them offering spectacular rides through scenic wonderlands.
No wonder, then, that the Big South Fork has long been recognized as one of the Southeast’s top destinations for horseback riders. And more and more trail-riding enthusiasts are finding out about our quiet little corner of the world every year. If life is truly best viewed from the saddle, it’s even better when those views are of the unique terrain that makes up the Cumberland Plateau.
Big South Fork Country is truly a horseback rider’s paradise. The network of trails range from short day trips to strenuous rides that will require several days to complete. The trails roam through beautiful river gorges with towering cliff lines overhead, past rock houses and natural arches, along open ridge lines with views of the surrounding countryside, and through shaded creek bottoms crowded with hemlock and other evergreens.
There is almost no bad time to ride at the Big South Fork. The winter opens up the landscape, affording riders with views that are unparalleled just about anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. The spring brings blooming redbuds and dogwoods and an abundance of wildflowers. Cumberland azalea, rhododendron and mountain laurel bloom in the summer. And, of course, the fall foliage beneath a clear, blue October sky in the Cumberlands is simply in a league of its own.
The network of trails and the concessions and businesses that cater to horseback riders in and around the park make the Big South Fork NRRA one of the most horse-friendly parks in the nation . . . and make a trip here a must.
In all, the Big South Fork trail system consists of 180 miles of trail. The trails range from easy, short rides that can be completed in a matter of hours to long, strenuous rides that require several days to complete. A negative Scoggins test for swamp fever is required to bring a horse into the park.
Because the network of trails in the Big South Fork NRRA is so extensive, the National Park Service recommends that all horseback riders purchase a National Geographic Trails Illustrated map, which is color-coded and includes all trails within the national park. The map is available from the Scott County Visitor Center on U.S. Hwy. 27 in Helenwood, or the Bandy Creek Visitor Center in the Big South Fork.
Bandy Creek: The Bandy Creek Equestrian Trailhead is located west of the Bandy Creek Visitor Center off S.R. 297. A corral and water are available. The North White Oak Loop is an 18.5-mile ride that includes the Leatherwood Overlook. The Jack’s Ridge Loop is an 8.2-mile ride. The Charit Creek Lodge is 7.1 miles from Bandy Creek by way of the Jack’s Ridge Loop Trail. The Duncan Hollow Trail is a 5.8-mile trail (one way) that provides access to Laurel Fork and Station Camp creeks.
Cumberland Valley: The Cumberland Valley Trailhead is located on a gravel road that exits S.R. 297 just west of the Big South Fork’s west entrance. Cumberland Valley Loop is a 15.9-mile ride that includes the O&W Bridge and access to Zenith.
Station Camp: The Station Camp Trailhead is located on Station Camp Road just east of the Station Camp Horse Camp. It provides access to the 15.0-mile Pilot Wines Loop Trail, one of the most popular rides in the Big South Fork NRRA.
An equestrian campground is available at Station Camp, offering 24 sites. Each site is equipped with water and electricity, table, grill, tie-out for four horses, access to restrooms with hot showers, a dump station and immediate access to miles of horse trails. To make a reservation or for more information: (423) 569-3321.
Bandy Creek Campground offers 96 trailer sites with water and electric hookups and 49 tent sites, along with two group camping areas. Bandy Creek Stables adjacent to the campground offers boarding for horses for riders camping at the campground. Stall rentals and long-term boarding are available. For more information: 423-286-7433.
True West Campground, Stables & Mercantile is located on Leatherwood Road and offers 34 easy-access campsites, all with electric and water hookups. Nine of them have sewer hookups, as well. For more information: 931-752-8272 or www.truewestcampground.com.
Primitive camping in the backcountry is permitted as well. A Backcountry Camping Permit is required. Riders will have little problem finding suitable camping areas along the trail.
Charit Creek Lodge
Overnight lodging with meals is available in the Big South Fork backcountry at the remote Charit Creek Lodge. The lodge is accessible only by foot or horseback. Stalls are available for horses. More information.