Big South Fork Trip Report

When: May 27-30, 2022

Location: Big South Fork National Recreation Area

Campground: Bandy Creek Campground

Sites: 45, 46, 47

Weather Conditions: Partly Cloudy. Lows in the 50s, highs in the 70s and low 80s. 

Duration: Three nights

Amenities: Water/Electric, Dumping Station, Showers, Pool, Stables, Hiking Trails, Canoe/Kayaking

Kid Friendly: Yes

We camped at Big South Fork in the Bandy Creek Campground for Memorial Day weekend.  Three families with seven kids under age six camped in our RV’s in sites D45, D46, and D47 which were located adjacent to the playground. We strategically selected the sites with an unobstructed  view of the playground from site 46. The campground is well-maintained with lots of trees and sufficient spacing between sites.  

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is managed by the National Park Service. With over 125,000 acres, the park protects the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Sandstone cliffs, scenic rivers, and picturesque gorges are located throughout. There are hundreds of miles of trails popular with backpackers, day hikers, and backcountry trail riders.  In fact, stables are available within the park slightly removed from the campground. There is a visitors center and a historic farm with a small concession stand. 

We arrived on Friday evening before dinner in the midst of a brief rain shower. The site was a great size and very level. We didn’t have any issues setting up camp. Each family took turns cooking each night which took some pressure off of each of us. We enjoyed Fajitas cooked by the Kennedys the first night, Greek Chicken and Veggies from the Elmores, and Burgers and Slaw from the Horns.

On Saturday, we woke up, had breakfast and drove to the Northwest side of the park to hike the Twin Arches loop. At 1.2 miles, the length of hike is achievable for young kids, but it is important to note that there are several steep ladders to navigate. We avoided the portion of the trail that traversed the top of the arch as it included more ladders and steep drop offs.

We had a snack under the arch and let the kids explore. These are truly impressive arches and totally worth the hike. Of note, the Charit Creek Lodge is just up the trail from the arches. This Lodge is hike-in only, but includes a hot shower, warm beds, and a full dinner cooked on site. This is something I would love to do in the future.

The two year olds were carried for portions of the high in and the way out.

The Twin Arches trailhead is actually located much closer to Pickett State Park which we also took time to explore. Their campground was not as spacious, but they had a beach area, several short hiking trails including another arch trail, and historic cabins for rent. We drove through quickly on Saturday and decided to return on Sunday. In the morning, local stable brought horses to the stable near the visitors center and offered short rides for the kids at a low cost ($10 per child). Most of the kids enjoyed this, although Audrey was too scared to ride.

Later in the day, we drove back to Pickett State Park to enjoy the lake area and playground there. We did a short trail around the water called the Lake View trail. While relatively easy, it wasn’t anything to write home about. We would like to do the Natural Bridge Trail, Indian Rockhouse, and the Hazard Cave Trail if we return. 

Hanging out along the creek at Picket State Park.

Monday was a travel day home for us. At nearly 4 hours without stops, we packed up first thing to head out. Each family was headed in different directions. The Horn’s were headed back to Chattanooga after 18 days on the road including a trip to the Badlands in South Dakota. The Elmore’s made a detour through Mennonite country in Muddy Pond, TN for Bologna Sandwiches and snacks. We have stopped in this area before and always enjoy the food and handmade wares. The Kennedy’s generally take the most efficient route home, so they didn’t take the extensive detour through Muddy Pond on their way back to Alabama. 

Overall, we truly enjoyed our time at Bandy Creek. It was the Elmore’s crew’s second time to camp at this campground, although the first time we were tent camping with only one child. We would like to return here, but the distance from home and our long list of other places to visit means we aren’t likely to make it back very soon. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *