Backpacking in Big South Fork One Day… Nature and Travel Field Trip #1 the Next

This past weekend was a really busy one, but fun filled. It started on Saturday by meeting up with Bryan and Meredith, Justin S, Derek, Dale, and Ann for some backpacking in Big South Fork. They all go to Brentwood Hills CoC. It was kind of an interesting itinerary. Dale’s truck was left over near Bandy Creek Campground. We meet up at Leatherwood Ford. The plan was to camp out just below the Angel Falls Overlook, but first do a day hike from Leatherwood Ford to Bandy Creek, stopping by Angel Falls. The length of the Day Hike was right around 10.5 miles. I didn’t take my GPS this time, so about the only thing I really have to go on is estimating by pace and time. Our campsite was two miles in on the trail. We took a couple of tents to claim our spot. We would carry the rest of our gear when we finished the day hike and returned back to Leatherwood Food. It got cold and started to very lightly rain… and I had left my rain jacket in the car, so I was pretty miserable during the day hike and anxious to get back to the car. After getting our gear, we proceeded to hike back to camp. It is a really flat trail, so that helps when carrying a 31 lb pack after hiking 10.5 miles. After we setup, we started cooking dinner. Shortly after dinner, it started raining again. I opted to take shelter in my tent. I usually have trouble falling asleep when I’m out camping, but this time, I was out pretty quickly. I’m sure I was probably the first one out.

My plan was to leave around 8:00 in the morning since I needed to get ready for the Nature and Travel Photography Field trip later in the afternoon. Derek and Ann also had to go back to Nashville and be there in time for a Habitat for Humanity Dedication for a house their group had worked on. When I saw Derek walking around, I went down to see when they had planned on leaving… if soon I’d hike out with them, if not, I’d just hike out alone. Came to find out he had gotten sick. We originally had planned to have a church service, but in Derek’s condition, it was decided that the best thing was to get him back to the car. I helped him pack up his stuff and then went to check on Ann. She had just gotten up and was starting to pack up. However, she really didn’t have a backpack that was big enough for her stuff. On the way in Dale had helped her carry her stuff (I assume), but since Dale wasn’t camping, he left after dinner. What we decided to do was I’d hike out with Derek and carry some of Ann’s stuff and Bryan would hike out with Ann and carry some of Ann and Derek’s stuff. Then Bryan would go back to camp and hike out with Meredith and Justin later.

So that was a long story, with no pictures… but the moral of it is, it helps to have the right gear, whether it be a rain jacket or a large backpack.

Ok we now for the part of this entry that doesn’t require much writing. A few of us meet up at UT before and drove to Townsend. We then meet up with everyone else at the parking lot just before you get to the Y. As part of the field trip, we only went to two places. The first was Middle Prong on the road past Treemont. The second place was one of the first parking areas you come to after you pass the road to Treemont on the way to Cades Cove. Through work, I have access to a couple of pieces of equipment that I probably won’t ever buy. One is a Canon 40D that has been converted to Infrared and the other is a 600mm f4L lens.

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Big South Fork: Honey Creek Loop Trail

Honey Creek Loop
Honey Creek Loop Elevation

Slot CanyonHoney Creek Trail is probably one of the funnest trails you will encounter in Big South Fork. Yesterday I meet up with Bryan and some others from Brentwood Hills to do Honey Creek. This trail offers a wide variety of things to see and things to do. First off, there are 4 waterfalls along the trail, though being under a level D4 drought at this time, the waterfalls were nonexistent. This trail also offers a few rock caves that are very accessible. There is an overlook which gives you a good view of one of the most violent portions (class IV rapids) of the Cumberland River, but because of the drought it didn’t look all that particularly violent. Also this trail features some of Tennessee’s finest slot canyons. These slot canyons aren’t very big, nor or they all that difficult, especially if you compare them to the slot canyons you’d find in Utah. Tennessee isn’t exactly known for its canyons, so that makes this kind of unique.

Rock House CaveThe rock caves is one of the other features that make this trail so fun. Some are accessible just by climbing just a few feet, while others a ladder is already in place for you to climb. These caves don’t go underground and aren’t that deep. Most are just single chamber, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Several were probably used by the Native American’s as shelter. For example, this picture was taken from Indian Rock House Cave.

Well Marked SignsA word of warning though, this trail isn’t the best marked trail. The best way to hike this loop is to take the trailhead that is just up the road and end at the parking area. If you look at the elevation profile image above, ignore the distances. My program gives it as linear distance (aka, as the crow flies). The true distance is going to be terrain distance + climbing distance. Around the third mile, you will encounter a sign that says follow creek. This is where you could lose the trail if you aren’t careful. Make sure you don’t go too long without seeing the red trail blazes. This is the most dangerous part of the trail. Not only because you could get lost if you aren’t paying attention, but also because you are hiking along or in the creek. It is very slippery. This time the water was way down, but the last time I can remember the water being up and flowing pretty good. It was a tricky section of the trail to hike. This is definitely a trail you will want to avoid if it has recently rained or if rain is forecasted. You will also run into signs that are kind of ambiguous about where the main trail goes. This trail has a number of spur trails that either require turning around at the destination or rejoining the trail. When you encounter this sign, you want to take the trail that goes up. It is a little more difficult, but affords more scenery.

While most books and websites will tell you the elevation change on this trail is only 500 ft, I am going to give a way different number. This trail has a whole lot of up and down, there isn’t very many “flat” areas on this trail. Consequently, the total elevation gain is somewhere closer to 2500 ft.

The directions on how to get there I have found are usually pretty vague, so the last thing I want to do is give good directions on how to get to Honey Creek from Knoxville or anyplace you find yourself taking I-75. Take I-75 to exit 141. Turn left off the exit and head west on Highway 53. Stay on Highway 53 through Huntsville until it ends at a light at Highway 27. Turn left onto Highway 27 south. After a few miles you will cross over the New River Bridge. A little less than .5 mile from the bridge you will see a sign on the right hand side of the road that says Burnt Mill Bridge River Access 4.1 miles. Follow the signs to Burnt Mill Bridge. These are well marked, much better than trying to give road names. If you look in the guidebooks, some will say this bridge is closed to traffic, while others say it is open but 2 tons is the weight limit. I wasn’t sure if I should risk taking it and it being closed, but I did… And I’m very glad that I did. They have constructed a new bridge, so you can view the old one for its historic value, but pass using the new bridge. A little over 3 miles past the bridge, you will see the road split. At this split, go right. This takes you to the parking area or you can drive it all the way to the end at the overlook mentioned earlier.
Driving Map to Honey Creek

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Sawmill and Laurel Fork in Big South Fork

Ok, I promise I hadn’t forgotten about my blog. Sure its been over a month since I last posted, but things have just been really busy. A lot has happened over the last month since I lasted updated and never mind that this hike was done almost 2 months ago…

Sawmill Laurel Fork Trail
Sawmill Laurel Fork Elevation Profile

I did this hike with Matt Troxler and was going to meet up with Bryan and a group from Brentwood Hills. It is a pretty basic Big South Fork hike. What I mean by that is that you start out by losing elevation and at the end you gain that elevation again. You will see lots of rock formations along the way.

Since Matt and I ended up going at a faster pace, we ended up getting to see a few things that the rest of the group missed out on. As we were about to cross Laurel Fork for about the 9th or 10th time, I heard something come romping through the trees. I also vaguely made it out to be a boar, which Matt saw. A little later on, there was a nice snake just off the trail. The last little unique thing I saw along the way was a tree that a beaver had been working on.

Tree a beaver had been working on

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