The view from the John Muir Overlook, on the John Muir Trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. (Independent Herald photo/Ben Garrett)
The view from the John Muir Overlook, on the John Muir Trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. (Independent Herald photo/Ben Garrett)

There are no pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But at the end of the trail, sometimes, are true treasures.

One of those is at the end of the bike ride along the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area’s John Muir Trail.

From Divide Road in the northwest corner of Scott County, the John Muir Overlook isn’t actually the end  of the JMT, but you’ll be forgiven if you think so. At the end of a ridge pointing towards the Big South Fork River in rugged No Business country, the world appears to abruptly stop.

So abruptly does it stop, in fact, that Columbus might have thought his critics were right to doubt his round-earth theory if he had stepped off the Santa Maria here, overlooking No Business Creek.

Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett looks into the No Business Creek valley from John Muir Overlook in the Big South Fork NRRA.
Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett looks into the No Business Creek valley from John Muir Overlook in the Big South Fork NRRA.

The panoramic view from the end of the ridge — the rock outcropping is known as the John Muir Overlook — is one of the best you’ll find anywhere in Big South Fork Country. Squint a little and look off to the right, and you’ll see a stone chimney in a small clearing on the valley floor — all that remains of the Ranse Boyatt home at the head of No Business Creek. Listen closely and you might almost be able to hear the sounds of subsistence families hard at work up and down the valley below, sounds drifting back from a bygone era when dozens of Scott County families carved out a livelihood in the rugged landscape far below this stone ledge.

From this vantage point, it’s almost hard to believe that No Business was once — and not so long ago — the busiest community in Big South Fork Country. From this vantage point, it’s hard to believe why anyone would want to make their home here. Even here, hundreds of feet above what remains of the homesteads and farms where folks once lived and died, it’s easy to see that the land is unforgiving. Rocks jut out from the edges of steep hillsides; cliffs top most of the hills that tower over the valley floor. And it’s just so . . . remote. There’s nothing to be seen in any direction but trees and rocks. It’s easy to see how this place came about its name.

For years, this spectacular view was available only to hikers — those exploring Big South Fork Country by foot. More recently, the view has been made available to mountain bikers, too, as part of the growing bike trail system that has emerged through the cooperation of the National Park Service and the Oneida-based Big South Fork Bike Club.

The John Muir Overlook is at the end of the Chestnut Ridge trail area that is the latest addition to the BSF’s mountain biking opportunities. The John Muir Trail itself continues on, beginning the descent into the valley below, where it will meet up with No Business Creek and, eventually, the Big South Fork River on its way to Station Camp Creek and, from there, Leatherwood Ford.

But bikes can only go as far as the overlook. Actually, the rideable portion of the trail stops a short distance out the ridge from the overlook. The ridge narrows until it is not much wider than the wingspan of a large man. With bluffs on either side and straight drops into the valleys below, riding a bike on the approach to the John Muir Overlook could well wind up a suicide mission.

The Chestnut Ridge complex of bike trails consists of several short trails that link together to form 18 miles of mountain biking. Beginning at the Hattie Blevins Cemetery on the west side of Divide Road, riders take the single-track Rock Creek Loop to John Muir Trail and across Massey Branch before ascending back to the top of the plateau along Divide Road.

After crossing Divide Road, the JMT continues along a gently-rolling ridgetop along the edge of the No Business drainage, eventually meeting up with Chestnut Ridge a half-mile from its end.

After reaching the overlook, and taking a few minutes to enjoy the view, riders backtrack to Chestnut Ridge, a multiuse trail that follows an old roadbed back to Divide Road. Once there, bikers take the gravel road south to the JMT crossing, and backtrack the JMT and Rock Creek Loop back to the Blevins Cemetery.

This section of trail was not available when the International Mountain Biking Association handed the Big South Fork its coveted “epic” rating in 2012. Had it been, it would have no doubt joined the list of Collier Ridge, West Bandy, Duncan Hollow Loop, Grand Gap Loop and the section of John Muir Trail adjacent to Grand Gap Loop as epic rides.

Together, these trails — through the work of bike club president Joe Cross, his fellow volunteers, and the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, which frequently pitches in to assist with trail maintenance here — are introducing the rugged northern Cumberland Plateau to mountain bikers who had never before heard of Scott County, Oneida, or Big South Fork. The combination of beautiful terrain, trails that aren’t too challenging yet offer just enough obstacles to be interesting, and spectacular views like the one from John Muir Overlook offer mountain bikers something they literally cannot find anywhere else in the eastern United States.