Friday, May 29, 2015

Daniel Boone National Forest: Yahoo Arch and Markers Arch (Blog Hike #517)

Trails: Yahoo Arch and Markers Arch Trails (FS# 602 and 603)
Hike Location: Daniel Boone National Forest
Geographic Location: west of Whitley City, KY
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A pair of out-and-backs to two arches.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at an unsigned trailhead on the right side of SR 700 3.3 miles west of its intersection with US 27 in Whitley City.  Only a carsonite post bearing the number 602 and a wooden trail mileage sign mark this trailhead.  There is room for 1 or 2 cars to park beside the road here, but a couple of more cars could park at gravel FR 6002 200 feet further ahead on the left.  In either case, take care not to block the road.

The hike: Daniel Boone National Forest and adjacent Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area contain one of the highest concentrations of stone arches in the eastern United States.  The southern part of the region features Natural Arch in southern Kentucky and Twin Arches in northern Tennessee.  The northern part of the forest features Grays Arch and Sky Bridge in the Red River Gorge area.  The famous Natural Bridge of Kentucky is part of the same area, but it lies outside of the national forest.
            The national forest contains over 100 smaller arches, and this hike takes you to two of them.  Yahoo Arch is somewhat well-known because it lies less than 1 mile from similarly named Yahoo Falls, the highest waterfall in Kentucky.  The name of both the falls and the arch is probably a corruption of the Muscogee/Creek Indian word yahola for speaker/orator.  While you can reach Yahoo Arch by hiking up from Yahoo Falls, this hike gets to Yahoo Arch by coming down from SR 700.  By taking this approach, you can double your arch count for the day with minimal additional effort by also visiting Markers Arch, which lies close to the SR 700 trailhead.
Trailhead at SR 700
            From the roadside parking area, the Yahoo Arch Trail (Daniel Boone National Forest trail #602) immediately enters the woods at a carsonite post and trail mileage sign.  After only a couple hundred feet, the trail forks.  The Yahoo Arch Trail continues forward to its arch, while the Markers Arch Trail exits right toward its arch, so you have to decide which arch you wish to visit first.  I chose to continue straight and visit Yahoo Arch first.
            For the next 0.5 miles the Yahoo Arch Trail follows an old logging road as it heads out a narrow finger ridge.  The trail is marked with large plastic white diamonds, but the path is wide and easy to follow.  During the leafless months some partially obstructed views open up in either direction.  On my mid-May hike, large clusters of mountain laurel were in full bloom.
Hiking the ridgetop trail
            At 0.5 miles, the trail descends steeply but only for a short time as you roll off the end of the finger ridge.  The ridgetop terrain you have traversed thus far does not seem the least bit like arch country, but at 0.8 miles you descend some rock steps cut from a sandstone cliff.  You can look up and down this cliff for your destination, but your search will end arch-less.
            After descending a switchback, you arrive at the top of Yahoo Arch, although it is hard to see the arch from this angle.  Descending one more switchback brings you to the north base of Yahoo Arch.  At 17 feet high and 70 feet wide, Yahoo Arch is smaller than the most famous arches in this area but larger than many others.  The arch probably formed when the rear of a rock shelter collapsed, thus leaving only the rock shelter’s front.  The arch’s smoothly curved lintel gives it a graceful appearance, and the surrounding cliffline creates a moist, rocky environment.  If you sit on one of the rocks at Yahoo Arch’s north base and sing your favorite song facing the other base, you will discover that the arch has some nice acoustic properties as well.
Yahoo Arch, viewed from the north

Yahoo Arch viewed from the south
            The Yahoo Arch Trail continues another 0.9 miles to Yahoo Falls, but there are easier ways to see Yahoo Falls than to hike there from here.  Thus, this trail description turns around at Yahoo Arch and retraces its steps to the Markers Arch Trail.  Coming from this direction, you need to turn left to begin the Markers Arch Trail.
            The Markers Arch Trail (Daniel Boone National Forest trail #603) is almost a mini version of the Yahoo Arch Trail.  For its first 0.3 miles the trail follows an old logging road along the ridgetop, then it descends steeply off the end of the ridge.  In another 0.1 miles you reach Markers Arch.  This arch is about half the size of Yahoo Arch, but the angle at the end of the trail gives a perfect view down through the arch.  Markers Arch is set in a grove of hemlock trees, creating a shady and serene setting.
Markers Arch
            The Markers Arch Trail ends at its namesake landform, so the only option is to retrace your steps back to the Yahoo Arch Trail.  A left turn and short walk will return you to SR 700 and complete the hike.

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