The Best Hikes in Big South Fork Kentucky
If you are searching for the best hiking trails in Big South Fork Kentucky, you may be wondering where to start and which trails to pick. There are so many hikes and outdoor adventures in the area to choose from; it can be hard to decide! I put together this hiking guide to help narrow it down to the best trails to help you get started.
The hiking trails in Big South Fork Kentucky were incredibly beautiful. We came upon the cave of wonder (my name for it) magical forests and played in splashing waterfalls. Nature lovers like you will be rushing for the Kentucky hills after you read this article.
Spread over 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, the Big South Fork National River, and Recreation Area is one of the most underrated national parks in the East. The area is filled with adventurous hiking trails, biking trails, running trails, and more. These are the trail maps we used and some information about the different trails. I hope you enjoy these photos from our trip!
THE BEST HIKING TRAILS IN Big South Fork Kentucky
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, commonly known as Big South Fork, preserves the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries in northeastern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky. Want to find the best trails in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area for an adventurous hike or a family trip?
What is big south fork known for?
The area is 125,000 acres of forest, waterfalls, rock caves, and rugged gorges along the southeastern border of Kentucky and Tennessee. Big South Fork is one of Kentucky’s most popular outdoor adventure areas.
THESE ARE THE BEST HIKING TRAILS IN big south Fork Kentucky
Never had I imagined caves could be so mysterious, colorful, and stunning. There are no other Everglades in the world- so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. This hiking guide will take you through all the unique trails that the Daniel Boone National Forest has to offer.
I included all the hikes we did on our trip and more trail suggestions to make the most of your time in the park. I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did! Check out my post on hiking to Yahoo Falls.
America the Beautiful pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 US federal recreation sites. One pass covers all entrance fees at national parks, national wildlife refuges, and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands. The national park pass covers fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas. If the charge is per person the pass covers up to four adults and children age 15 or under are admitted free.
the easy HIKING TRAILS IN big south fork national recreation area
easy HIKING TRAILS
- Natural Arch Loop – 1.4 miles, est 45 min
- Yahoo Falls Short Loop – 1 mile, est 30 min
- Buffalo Arch Trail – 4.8 miles, est 2 hours
- Scuttlehole Overlook via 404A Trail – 1.5 miles, est 34 min
- Princess Falls via Sheltowee Trace Trail – 2.9 miles, est 1 hour
- Split Bow Arch – 0.6 miles, est 23 min
- Dog Slaughter Falls – 2.4 miles, est 1 hour
Natural Arch Loop Trail
Experience this 1.4-mile loop trail near Parkers Lake, Kentucky. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 45 min to complete. This is a popular trail for hiking and walking, but you can still enjoy some privacy during quieter times of the day. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime but I would recommend planning your visit around the fall to see the beautiful colors at the overlook.
moderate HIKING TRAILS
- Yahoo Falls – 3.6 miles, est 1.36 hours
- Lick Creek Falls – 5.4 miles, est 2.5 hours
- Yahoo Falls, Yahoo Arch, and Markers Arch – 5 miles, est 2.5 hours
- Princess Falls via Lick Creek – 2.9 miles, est 55 minutes
- Van Hook Falls and Cane Creek Valley – 5.7 miles, est 2.15 hours
- Rock Bridge Trail – 1.4 miles, est 45 min
Yahoo Falls hiking trail – Kentucky’s Highest Waterfall
What many visitors like most about Yahoo Falls, in contrast to nearby Cumberland Falls and its hordes of visitors, is that it is not a tourist attraction. Touted as the highest waterfall in Kentucky, Yahoo Falls drop 113 feet into the pool below.
It’s possible to walk right up to the base of the falls and behind the falls themselves for a unique perspective. And to top it off, it cascades down in front of one of the park’s largest rock houses. A network of trails surrounds the waterfall, providing hikers with many options of trails to hike. The trail is rated as moderate in difficulty, but its brevity makes it a relatively easy hike.
Princess Falls – Big South Fork’s Best Kept Secret
My favorite falls during our trip are easily Princess Falls, and not just because of the name. The water was low and the falls flowed gently in June. Getting here can be a bit tricky. There aren’t any signs indicating where the falls are until you’re almost there. The trail can be poorly marked in some areas along the way. River scrambling is required to get across the river and to the falls. There is a rope you can use but I wouldn’t recommend using it. Too much slack in the rope makes it unstable.
Option 1: Park at Lick Creek Falls trailhead and hike the lick creek trail for 3 miles, at which point the trail splits. You can either hike 1-mile roundtrip to the Lick Creek Falls and/or hike the other way which is 2 miles roundtrip to Princess Falls. This option worked well for us because we wanted to see both falls, and parking at the Lick Creek trailhead was no trouble.
Option 2: Start at the Yamacraw Day Use Parking Area. Which is located in McCreary County off Kentucky Highway 92 between Monticello and Stearns. This 2.9-mile trail is an out-and-back and parking can get packed, so arrive early.
#631a Lick creek falls trail in Kentucky
Experience this 5.4-mile out-and-back trail near Stearns, Kentucky. Generally considered a moderately challenging route, it takes an average of 2 h 16 min to complete. The trail leads to an area of large rock shelters and the beautiful Lick Creek Falls. As you can see, the water is barely flowing so it was more of a shower than a waterfall haha
Difficult trails in big south fork
- Bear Creek Loop and Cotton Patch Loop – 15.5 miles, est 6.7 hours
- Moonbow – 13.2 miles, est 5.5 hours
- Swift Camp Creek trail – 13.5 miles, est 6.5 hours
- Bear Creek Falls – 7 miles, est 3.5 hours
moonbow trail at Cumberland falls state resort park
At 125 feet wide and seven stories tall, this is one spectacular cascade. Cumberland Falls is spectacular during the daytime but a few days each month, it literally lights up at night. The “moonbow,” also called a white rainbow or lunar rainbow, is formed just like a rainbow—light is refracted in tiny water droplets—and appears for the two or so days, as long as the sky is clear, on either end of the full moon.
The Moonbow Trail is long, strenuous, and occasionally in need of maintenance, so it’s best for hikers looking for a challenge. If you’re set on seeing the moonbow but don’t feel comfortable hiking the trail in the dark, there are other options, including the half-mile Cumberland Falls Trail, which ends at the observation decks.
Adventures Near Big South Fork Kentucky
Does Big South Fork allow dogs?
Dogs are permitted at Big South Fork as long as they are on a leash. Pets are allowed within Big South Fork, however, in order to protect your pet and the park’s wildlife, all pets must be kept on a leash (no longer than 6 feet) at all times even if you have your dog with you when riding a horse.
Often called the “quiet alternative to the Great Smoky Mountains,” the Big South Fork offers scenery that is just as stunning as the larger national park two hours further east, with smaller crowds to contend with. The park is perhaps best known for its unique geological landscapes and features. – Laurel Fork
Cumberland Plateau, westernmost of three divisions of the Appalachian Mountains, U.S., extending southwestward for 450 miles (725 km) from southern West Virginia to northern Alabama. – Britannica
According to the National Park Service Cumberland Plateau is, the westernmost of three divisions of the Appalachian Mountains, in the U.S., extending southwestward for 450 miles (725 km) from southern West Virginia to northern Alabama.
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