Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Guide

Introduction

Comprised of 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau (in north-central Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky), Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area ensures the protection of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, as well as its tributaries. Within the area are forested bluffs of sandstone, picturesque gorges and a number of natural and historic elements. One of the largest concentrations of natural bridges in the eastern United States can be found in the Big South Fork region, and you can also encounter arches and chimneys that were carved into the sandstone by the area’s flowing water.

Within the River and Recreation Area, there are many options for outdoor recreation; visitors can enjoy white water rafting, hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding, among many other activities. There are opportunities for camping within the area for those looking to spend more than a day exploring.

When you are seeking a place to spend time outdoors that includes plenty of water along with excellent scenery, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is an excellent choice. During your visit, you will encounter plenty to see and even more to do.

RV Rentals in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Transportation

Driving

From Knoxville, take US-129 N for 11.6 miles; remain right at the fork and follow the signs for Asheville/Lexington and merge onto I-40 E, where you will use either of the right two lanes to exit at 387A for I-275 N toward Lexington. Proceed on I-275 N for 3.1 miles and then continue on I-75 N for 32.9 miles. Next, take exit 141 for State Route 63 W toward Oneida/Huntsville. Turn left on TN-63 W, continuing for 4.4 miles. Keep left upon reaching TN-297 W/TN-63 W and continue for 9.6 miles.

Take a right on TN-456 and proceed for 10.1 miles (you will have to make a left after 2.7 miles to remain on TN-456). Make a right onto Industrial Ln. After .7 miles you will turn to the left; this is where Industrial Ln turns into TN-297 W/W 3rd Ave. Continue along this two-lane road for 4.2 miles, after which you will make a left in order to continue along TN-297 W. As you proceed, you will pass the U.S. Interior Department Headquarters; after 4.5 miles, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area will be on your right.

Parking

Parking is available within the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Public Transportation

Public transportation is not available to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Campgrounds and parking in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Campsites in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Reservations camping

Bandy Creek Campground

Found in the Tennessee portion of Big South Fork off of Highway 297, Bandy Creek Campground is 15 miles west of Oneida and a few miles from the mining community of Blue Heron. Within the campground are 181 sites; 96 have water and electric hook-ups and are for RVs and trailers, 49 sites are for tent camping and two group camping loops offer a total of 35 sites. Each site offers a picnic table and a fire ring and the campground has restrooms, showers, a swimming pool, playground and a dump station. RVs and trailers up to 60 feet long can be accommodated and reservations are available from April 1 through October 31 (the campground is first-come, first-served from November through the end of March).

First-come first-served

Alum Ford Campground

Located in the Kentucky part of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, seven miles west of Whitley City, is Alum Ford Campground. The small campground has six campsites and pit toilets and sites have a fire pit and picnic table. Alum Ford Campground is next to the Alum Ford Boat Launch, making it a perfect choice for those planning to spend some time on a boat during their visit. The boat launch offers access to Lake Cumberland and the Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail works its way through the campground.

Blue Heron Campground

Situated in the Kentucky portion of Big South Fork, Blue Heron Campground is located nine miles west of Stearns. There are 45 sites at the campground, each have water and electric hookups, a fire ring and a picnic table. The campground includes restrooms, showers, and a dump station, and RVs and trailers that are up to 60 feet can be accommodated. The campground is open from April through November; reservations can be made for April 1 through October 31, while sites are all first-come, first-served in November.

Just a few miles from the campground is the Blue Heron Mining Community, making the campground a perfect location for those looking to check the community out, as well as access the area’s many recreation opportunities.

Seasonal activities in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

In-Season

Enjoy a Hike

Big South Fork is home to a large trail system that offers visitors opportunities to explore the park. The trail system includes short, easy hikes along the Big South Fork River, and long, challenging hikes that can span days and provide the opportunity for backpacking, as well as everything in between. Staff at the park’s visitor centers can answer questions about trails and provide guidance for your hiking adventure, ensuring you find a trail that fits what you are looking for.

Explore on Horseback

Big South Fork has plenty of options for those looking to explore the park by horseback. Within the park are more than 212 miles of horse trails (signed and marked), along with stabling facilities and two equestrian campgrounds (one in Station Camp in Tennessee and one in Bear Creek in Kentucky). Horseback riding is an excellent way to explore the beauty of the area while expending less energy than when hiking. Trails can be found at a variety of lengths and levels of difficulty.

Go Paddling

The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, along with its main tributaries, offers multiple whitewater paddling opportunities. Exploring the park by water will offer a unique perspective of the area and its beauty.

While some stretches of the rivers are perfect for beginning paddlers, others are more challenging and should only be explored by those with significant experience and appropriate equipment. A stop at either visitor center will help you to determine the perfect paddling opportunity for your experience level

Off-Season

Check Out Blue Heron Mining Community

Located on the Banks of the Big South Fork River, Blue Heron (also known as Mine 18) is an abandoned coal-mining town, which was at one time a part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company. Mines in the town were in operation from 1937 to December of 1962. When the town was abandoned by Stearns Coal and Lumber Company, its buildings either decayed or were removed, resulting in no original buildings being present at the time the community was re-created as an outdoor museum in the 1980s. Visitors can see buildings that were created to be as close to the originals as possible and learn about the community and its past.

Visit Yahoo Falls

During your visit to Big South Fork River and Recreation Area, you will have the opportunity to view the highest waterfall in Kentucky-Yahoo Falls. The waterfall is 113 feet long and located in the northern part of Big South Fork. A loop trail of one mile will take you to the falls, as well as behind them and to their top.

Bring along something to eat; there are picnic facilities in the Yahoo Falls area that are perfect for a relaxing meal or snack where you can take in the beauty of the area.

Go Mountain Biking

Within Big South Fork River and Recreation Area are opportunities for mountain biking, which is currently one of the most popular recreation activities within the park. There are trails that are for bikes only, and mountain bikers are also welcome on backcountry roads and horse trails, meaning that there are miles of trails to explore and options for those at any skill level. Mountain biking is an excellent way to explore the area while enjoying plenty of adventure!

Find the perfect campsite.