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Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is a massive park, that stretches across two states. It hosts a wide variety of outdoor activities and is a must do stop for anyone looking for a place to hike, fish, camp or mountain biking.

As we were driving back home from the family reunion, we decided to take a less direct route and went the northern part of Tennessee and check out this awesome looking park.

Table of Contents

Park Map

Big South Fork River and Recreation Area map from NPS

Facts About Big South Fork National Recreation Area

  • Formed by an act of Congress on March 7, 1974
  • The park is very large, with over 125,000 acres in the Cumberland plateau
  • It is the fifth largest National Park unit in the Eastern United States
  • Stretches across two states, Tennessee and north into Kentucky
  • They have seven visitor centers and campgrounds for visitors to utilize

Address: 151 Stable Road, Oneida, TN 37841

Bandy Creek Visitors Center at the Big South Fork River and Recreation Area
Bandy Creek Visitors Center

The visitors center off of Bandy Creek has multiple buildings and with a lovely butterfly garden welcoming you in the front. Around the complex is an Ampitheater and facilities that is even able to stable horses.

The main lobby area has an expansive ceiling with displaying various examples of activities you can do within the park, such as canoeing, hiking, fishing, etc. The kids really enjoyed the rocking chairs and playing checkers next to the stone fireplace.

There is a small bookstore with the stamping location and various other items for sale. There was a young family trying to explain the National Park stamps to their children. I showed them my collector’s edition stamp book and tried to get them excited about the prospect of collecting stamps at other National Parks.

There is also small room next to the bookstore that shows a video about Big South Fork and all that it offers. With such a large park, you should not be surprised that it offers a lot of different activities.

  • Length: 1.3 Miles
  • Rating: Easy
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Type: Loop Trail

We did not have much time, and we also had a few grouchy kids, but we still went on a small 1.3-mile flat loop hike that started next to the visitor center. It stretched through the woods around the stables, amphitheater and ended up back at the parking lot. When I asked about the trail, the park ranger flatly said, it’s just a little walk through the woods.

One quick note, this path was absolutely lined with tons of poison ivy. As you may know, you have to be careful of getting into this fun little plant and we made a point to stay on the path and not get too close to this noxious weed.

Poison Ivy along trail in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Poison Ivy

Tip – ‘Leaves of three, let it be.’ Remember the oil from poison ivy can be transferred, so avoid stepping in or on the plant. You may get a rash from the transfer when you take your shoes off!

While this was just a little walk through the woods, we found some interesting things, (beyond beds of poison ivy). We found a small bird’s nest, a pair of dung beetles hard at work, numerous different plants and trees, and did I mention the poison ivy?

Other Interesting Trails

Twin Arches Upper Loop

  • Length: 1.2 Miles
  • Rating: Easy/Moderate
  • Time: 1- 1 1/2 hour
  • Type: Loop Trail
  • Description: Short trail that takes you to the Twin Arches, a set of double sandstone arches considered the largest in the states of TN and KY. You can take the lower loop which is over 4 miles if you want more of a challenge.
  • Trail head: At the end of twin arches lane

Angel Falls Rapids

  • Length: 4 Miles
  • Rating: Easy
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Type: out and back
  • Description: Passes along a river to Angel Falls.
  • Trail head: Leatherwood Ford Parking area

We clearly did not take advantage of all that this area can offer. The levels of recreation on and around the river just so numerous and the wilderness around the Cumberland Plateau is expansive. If you are in the area and love the outdoors, this is a must stop.

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