Big South Fork TN (Land of the Rock House)

8:41 p.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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After several weeks of squeezing in day hikes (or no hikes) I was finally able to hit a quick two night trip and assuage the call. 

I chose a loop in Big South Fork TN allowing a chance to see several trails on the list of “some day” routes. 

The rangers invited me to leave my car at the visitor’s center; quite nice to have it in a monitored location (not that I have had any issues there). 

For those that want to try it (casual readers can skip this part): 

Day 1: Starting from the visitor’s center, take the John Litton Farm Loop east to Grand Gap Loop (4.7 miles). Pick up the John Muir Trail north towards station camp, stop on the ridge top before descending to river (10.4 miles) end day 1. (be sure to check out all spur trails as they lead to good stuff) 

Day 2: Finish the last .75 miles of JMT to Station Camp junction, pickup Laurel Fork trail west, in .25 miles take a right on Fork Ridge Trail and follow to junction of Fork Ridge Road (4.2 miles). Take Charit Creek foot trail to hostel (.8 miles), hike the Twin Arches loop and stop on top for lunch (4 miles). Find an off trail camp up Station Camp Creek (that’s what I did) or camp at Jakes Place, end day 2 

Day 3: If you don’t mind water crossings, go back up Charit Creek footpath to Fork Ridge Road/Fork Ridge Trail to main junction (1.1 miles). Follow Black House Branch (1.9 miles) to Jacks’ Ridge Loop (.8 miles) to West Bandy Creek Road. Hike the road east (left) for .3 miles and take the first trail on your right (Blue Blazed bike path for Collier Ridge) (.25 miles). Take a left at the first junction on to an unnamed trail. Follow unnamed trail 1 mile to Bandy Creek Visitors Center. This route will require three fords,( the last (Laurel Fork) potentially waist deep) 

Total loop is about 30.45 miles.






I began at the John Litton Farm Hike trail head.






Soon I came upon the first of many helpful ladders.






And here was the first of many Rock Houses.






I stopped for a quick photo op at Fall Branch Falls.






This perspective is misleading. I’m standing in a Rock House at least 10 meters high looking out.







Here I’m checking out a cave just to see what was in there.







I like this shot looking out of the cave above.







This shot was looking down at the river gorge from a random cliff top overlook (passed many of these).







You gotta lichen this.







I took a lot of the back view poses for some reason. Stoic? Nah, more like bad timing.







I was looking at the other side.







I started passing some huge boulders.







And I decided to camp near one as it made a fine wind block. Hey, my camp seemed more level than it looks in the picture.







The next day I came upon this view of a large confluence near Station Camp. Man was it cold down there. There was some freaky inversion thing happening with the weather. My higher elevation camp was much warmer than the valley below, which was bitter.







I had to cross this rickety looking bridge to get to laurel creek trails.







You know you found the Fork Ridge trail when you see this old nasty yellow sign.







So here is a Rock House / Rock wall with no perspective.







And another with me in it, a little off center.







At the middle of the Fork Ridge trail is this strangely out of place grassy spot. It would make an excellent camp site (if you brought water).







I liked this sign for Charit Creek: it reads kind of like a run on sentence but makes its point well.







At the bottom of the .8 mile path (that descends maybe 800 feet) you find a very cool swinging bridge.







The boards were still frozen when I crossed it and they made an eerie creaking sound.







If you like primitive accommodations (but not camping) consider staying at the Charit Creek hostel. Larry here and his red wolf will set you up. The place was built in 1817 (as a hunters camp) making it one it of the oldest buildings still in use in the NPS. The only way guests can arrive is by foot or horseback. They have levels for all parties and prices ranging from a camp spot on the grass with a hot shower to a heated bunk room and food service. And they have propane for cooking and hot showers. Yeah, I was briefly tempted to camp there and use the showers but I was set on finding a good backcountry spot. Besides, hostels are just so “European”. That’s a joke ya’ll.







And here I was approaching the Twin Arches. This wall was easily 30 meters high.







Here is the South Arch base with no perspective.







And one with me in it but I messed up the angle.







This one works with me in the foreground.







And here is a distant shot of the North Arch.







Yes, you can climb on top of them!







And here is the Christmas Spirit gone wrong. C’mon now, take your decorations home with you.







After leaving I passed more cool rock walls. I’m standing in the sunshine here.







I like this shot especially well with the flowing rock.







This was neat erosion pattern. I wonder how long that took to form?







This rock house had a roof vent. Nice.







I found a really nice place to camp off trail on this little river island. I climbed a nearby boulder to get this downward perspective of my tent/camp.









Area views from camp.







The next morning I headed out of the cold valley up to a warm ridge top and then back down in to a another cold valley.







I took several shots trying to show the thermometer but this one is the best. It is showing that I’m at 856 feet above sea level and the ambient temperature is 34.8 degrees F.







And that is of note because the first of three fords was to be done there.







Immediately after which you break out the sham-wow and dry those frozen feet.







And here was the second ford. Dang it.







 And here was the third and deepest ford. This was Laurel Creek and it was over my knees; I should have removed my pants because they got wet. Dang it again. This one really “took the fight out of me” as they say around here.






The last mile was a pleasant walk through a second growth forest. And it was blessedly warm.







The trip ends as I bust out into the field across from the Visitor Center.





Hope you enjoyed the report!


Happy Trails!

9:23 p.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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Did you notice the sign that says "Dangerous Clifts Ahead". I was trying to find my photo of it. Clifts - kind of a secure feeling when the folks makeing the warning signs spell it that way. 

You a lot of good trails for a two nighter - good on ya.

Camping on angel falls overlook is one of my favorites out there. Back in my climbing days, Scott Hubbs and I carried our gear up there and I lead the overhanging crack at the base of the overlook cliff (clift). It was some awsome sandstone on a 5.10 trad line. 


Last time i did Laurel it was frozen enough that I had to stomp, stomp, stomp a hole in the ice and then step into the hole, find the bottom, pull the other  leg out of its ice hole and stomp stomp stomp. It was way shy of being able to support the weight of me and my pack, but it was thick enough to make for a brutal crossing. All the way across. My legs were so numb that I did not notice that my ankles were all cut up by the ice. Good memories.

Excellent report. 

6:37 a.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Hoot! Here you go:



I've camped on top of that Angel Falls overlook many times in the past. It is a great spot, although I'm not a climber.

11:42 a.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Patman said:

Thanks Hoot! Here you go:



I've camped on top of that Angel Falls overlook many times in the past. It is a great spot, although I'm not a climber.

 So funny. I can't spell good either, but this may be a regional thing -- Here is a sign from a Sheltowee Trace Road crossing. They actually sell ANGELS/CHERUBS. Imagine Mable at a spelling bee microphone-- "Variety (long pause), variety (long pause), V-----pause -----I------pause...


5:19 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Patman, great pics and report of one of my favorite places to go. Lots of places to hang a hammock

BTW you can tent camp at the Charit Creek Lodge. They have a tent area and charge you $ 10.00. If you are going to camp there you can also buy dinner and breakfast if you let them know a week or so ahead of time.

5:53 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Hey thanks Ewker!


yeah Larry told me about the $10 camping (which inlcudes use of the shower and bathroom) but I described it as "not camping" on purpose, lol


that is a really nice place to find some solitude isn't it?

12:10 p.m. on January 24, 2013 (EST)
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yes it is a nice place to get away to. You hardly ever see any backpackers but will see dayhikers esp on the weekends.

Have you done the JMT in BSF. It is approx 50 miles long.

Also the Sheltowee Trace which use to start or end at Pickett State park has been extended to the Leatherwood Ford. That makes the Sheltowee Trace approx 290 miles long

1:16 p.m. on January 24, 2013 (EST)
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i have not done all of the JMT as "thru-hike" but the majority of it in secitons.


I noticed new Sheltowee Trace signs on some of the route I was on for this trip. Now that makes sense.


One of my favortie areas is Hidden Passage out of Pickett, combined with Rock Creek / Sheltowee Trace loop.

6:33 p.m. on January 31, 2013 (EST)
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Wow Patman!

That's a cool looking area, I loved seeing all the water & rock.

Did you try to licken any lichen?

Thanks for the photos & story I felt like I was there.

Mike G.

9:27 a.m. on February 1, 2013 (EST)
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Wonderful trip and report, Patman! I really love all the limestone formations. 

You got some really great photos on this one. But then, you always do! 

3:15 p.m. on February 1, 2013 (EST)
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Great report, Patrick. I enjoyed it! I love when you post trips of places that are within driving distance that are new to me. I will have to check that one out one day.

4:54 p.m. on March 1, 2013 (EST)
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Great report!  I did my first solo backpacking trip there last September.  It is an amazing but desolate place...I didn't see any other hikers/backpackers the entire weekend (and it was gorgeous with temps in the 70's).  It was a little nerve-wracking being out there alone...

Oh, and I also had to get a picture of the "clifts" signs.





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