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With the temperatures climbing into the 70s today, the weather was perfect for a hike. I made the trip from Bandy Creek to park headquarters in the Big South Fork, using a patchwork of hiking trails to get from Point A to Point B.
The journey begins at the John Litton Farm Loop Trail, which uses the Bandy Creek swimming pool parking lot as its trailhead. You can start there and take the trail in a counter-clockwise direction, which will add about a mile to the hike and will bypass the Litton Farm itself. You can hike it in a counter-clockwise direction, which will add a couple of miles to the hike (all of it along a gravel road) and include the Litton Farm. Or you can do as I did, and drive to where Litton Farm Loop leaves the gravel road at the top of the ridge above the old farm.
From there, the hike utilizes the Litton Farm Loop, the Fall Branch Trail, Grand Gap Loop, the John Muir Trail, and Leatherwood Loop, in that order, ending at East Rim Trailhead along East Rim Overlook Road near the park headquarters.
The entire hike is just short of 8.5 miles and features 905 ft. of ascent, most of which comes along the Leatherwood Loop Trail as you make the climb back to the top of the gorge from the Leatherwood Ford day use area.
This is a spectacular hike for all seasons, featuring a little bit of everything the BSF has to offer — historic homesteads, waterfalls, rock shelters, stream crossings, river overlooks, and et cetera.
A large beech tree lies over the road to the John Litton Farm.
John Litton originally built this home. It was later owned by General Slaven and his wife, Did.
The old barn at the Litton Farm.
This spring-fed pond at the Litton Farm is the clearest pond you’ll ever see. During the winter months, when there’s no algae, you can clearly see the entire pond bottom.
It isn’t evident in this picture, but this hemlock tree is literally growing on top of a large boulder along the Litton Farm Loop Trail, its roots extending to the soil like tentacles. Somehow it has withstood the winds and storms for decades. The forest has lots of lessons for those who slow down enough to watch and listen, and this lesson is simply this: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
While hiking the Fall Branch Trail, I saw what looked like a good place for a slot cave. I scurried to the bottom of the bluff line, but there was no cave. There was this tunnel nearby, though. This picture is taken inside the tunnel.
This is the west entrance to the tunnel that is off-trail near Fall Branch Trail.
This is the east entrance to the tunnel that is off-trail near the Fall Branch Trail.
A bridge crosses a feeder stream that drops into the gorge and empties into Fall Branch.
That’s Angel Falls Overlook in the distance. The hike eventually takes you there, but it takes a while to arrive.
Fall Branch Overlook along the Grand Gap Loop Trail. That’s the Big South Fork River on the left.
This is where the John Muir Trail meets Grand Gap Loop after climbing through a gap to the top of the cliff line.
Sometimes you just gotta climb a tree…just because you can.
Everyone was out enjoying the warm temps today.
The remnants of an animal pen at an old farm (now mostly reclaimed by nature) near East Rim Trailhead.
What do you do when you come across a big ol’ vine along the hiking trail? You swing on it, of course.
Rushing water along Fall Branch, as seen from the John Muir Trail.
Ben Garrett is a journalist and web designer from East Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau region. He and his wife, Melanie, reside on the edge of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area outside Oneida, where he is the editor of the local newspaper and she is a fourth grade teacher. The couple have two children, twins Toby and Rachel, and a mutt dog, Scooter, who thinks he's a pedigree. Views expressed here are the author's and none other. Contact: bengarrett at highland dot net.