Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Big South Fork NRRA: Sunset Overlook Trail (Blog Hike #68)

Trail: Sunset Overlook Trail
Location: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Nearest City: OneidaTN
Length: 2.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2000
Overview: An easy hike culminating with a fantastic, undeveloped overlook of the Big South Fork River.

Directions to the trailhead: From Oneida, take SR 297 west 10 miles to the signed and paved East Rim Overlook access road.  Turn left on this access road.  Follow the access road 0.2 miles to a signed parking area for the Sunset Overlook Trail.  Park in the small blacktop parking lot on the right side of the road. 

The hike: Located in northern Tennessee 40 miles west of I-75, Big South Fork is one of the premier hiking destinations in the state, second only to the Great Smoky Mountains.  The centerpiece is the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River which cuts a scenic, boulder-strewn gorge for some 60 miles from south to north through the park.  The river is very popular for canoeing, and the park contains hiking trails for people of all abilities.  The trail described here is one of the easier trails in the park because it contains no major climbs.
The trail, blazed with red arrowheads, enters the woods on the left side of the road at a small wooden sign that says "Sunset Overlook 1.3 miles."  The trail curves left through young maple/beech forest soon to descend and cross a gravel access road.  Across the road, the trail passes through sunny, open forest as it approaches the first of two small ponds.  The two ponds are covered with a water plant that looks like small lily pads.  Bullfrogs could be heard sounding off their horns, barely submerged beneath the surface.  On this day, my approaching scared some deer out of the water probably searching for a drink and a cool spot on the hot, humid summer afternoon. 
Past the ponds, the trail reenters the forest and undulates moderately.  The dense ground cover consists of ferns and club moss in some spots.  About half-way to the overlook, the trail takes an abrupt right turn to join an old roadbed, which it follows for about 0.3 miles.  The roadbed provides a wide, level path for walking.  A right turn at a pile of brush will take the trail off of the road. 
In another 0.3 miles the trail begins descending toward the small, bare rock bluff that is Sunset Overlook.  Caution: there is no railing or other barrier to prevent someone from falling over the vertical cliffs.  Watch your footing, and keep children firmly in tow. 
North White Oak Creek, as seen from Sunset Overlook
Big South Fork River, as seen from Sunset Overlook
            Looking right from the overlook, you can see boulders in the Big South Fork River some 300 feet below and the SR 297 bridge in the distance.  Straight ahead and to the left is the North White Oak Creek drainage.  The river can usually be heard but not seen due to leaves and trees.  Other than the bridge, there is no sign of human influence visible from the overlook.  Take a few minutes to take in the serenity, then retrace your steps back the same route to the trailhead along the East Rim Road, concluding the hike.

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