Distance: 4.3 miles
Elevation gain: 200 ft.
Trailhead: Burnt Mill
As the crow flies, and even as the deer walks, Burnt Mill Loop isn’t far from Honey Creek Loop in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. In fact, the two trails are connected by the five-mile Beaver Falls Trail, also known as the Lower John Muir Trail. But the two are nothing alike.
Burnt Mill Loop is as gentle as Honey Creek Loop is rugged. Whereas the average hiker requires the better part of a day to complete the 5.5-mile Honey Creek Loop, only a couple of hours are needed to complete the not-much-shorter Burnt Mill Loop — though repeat hikers of this loop trail along the Clear Fork River will attest to the fact that you will want to pack a picnic lunch and take a little extra time to enjoy the sights along the stream that parallels the trail for much of the trip.
The Burnt Mill Loop is rated moderate in difficulty, but that’s mostly because of a single hill climb that hikers encounter early into their trek. After that, the hike gets much easier. For much of its route, it is little more than a gentle stroll along the scenic Clear Fork River.
The Clear Fork more closely resembles the Big South Fork River it helps form than does its counterpart, New River, due to the rugged nature of the gorge that encases the stream and the large boulders that can often be found in the middle of the river. But this far up, Clear Fork is still a gentle stream in its own right, and a scenic one to boot.
From the parking lot at Burnt Mill Bridge, the trail is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction. Doing so will allow hikers to get the roughest part of the hike out of the way early, then enjoy a leisurely stroll back to the parking lot.
The start of the trail isn’t immediately obvious from the parking lot. But after crossing Honey Creek Road by the bridge, the trail will be obvious as it drops over an embankment to near the river’s edge.
For the first mile, the trail scrambles around boulders as it follows the river downstream. Then the 200 ft. of elevation change begin as the trail leaves the river and ascends to the top of the plateau. At 1.1 miles from the parking lot, the trail forks, with the right fork being the Beaver Falls Trail that meets up with Honey Creek Trail five miles later. The left fork is a continuation of the Burnt Mill Loop, and almost immediately crosses Honey Creek Road before re-entering the forest.
For the next mile, the trail travels along an open ridgetop before descending back to the river’s edge.
The final 2.1 miles of the trip are along the river, and this is where the trail is perhaps at its best. There are several vantage points that make excellent photo opportunities from boulders along the river’s edge, the Burnt Mill Shower, which is a 26-ft. waterfall located just off-trail, and several picnic spots. There are a couple of camping sites along the river where the water is shallow and easy to get in and out, making for an excellent opportunity to wade into the river and cool off.
Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 to the New River community and follow the signs to Burnt Mill Bridge. Turn right onto Old Hwy. 27, then right again onto Mountain View Road. Take another right onto Honey Creek Road at Black Creek-Crossroads Baptist Church, then veer left at Honey Creek Road’s intersection with Al Martin Road. The Burnt Mill Trailhead is located on the far side of the bridge.
Be Careful For: There are rock steps along the trail that can be slippery when wet. If you venture into the river, be careful for slippery and uneven rocks.
Look For: Wildflowers. According to Howard Duncan, Brenda Deaver and Jo Anna Smith, in their book, “Hiking the Big South Fork,” 50 species of wildflowers have been identified along the Burnt Mill Loop Trail. Some are currently in bloom. How many can you name?
Make It Better: Hike Burnt Mill Loop with a ranger. At 10 a.m. Saturday morning, Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area park ranger Mary Grimm will guide a hike along the trail. Alternatively, plan a hike along the Beaver Falls Trail. The waterfall itself is located off-trail and is difficult to reach, but the hike along the edge of the ridge from Burnt Mill Loop towards Beaver Falls is spectacular this time of year, when redbud and dogwood are in bloom.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the names of all members of your hiking party, in order to log your miles.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you packed it in, please pack it out!