Distance: 7.1 miles
Elevation gain: 510 ft.
Trailhead: Duncan Hollow
Some of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge hikes have featured overlooks, some waterfalls and some spectacular rock formations. This week’s hike to Parch Corn Creek in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area features the culture and history of the BSF region.
From the end of Duncan Hollow Road near Bandy Creek, the hike to Parch Corn Creek follows a portion of the John Muir Trail, ending at the farmstead of Armstead Blevins before making the return trip to Duncan Hollow Road.
At 7.1 miles, the hike to Parch Corn Creek is the longest of the hiking challenge to date. It earns its strenuous difficulty rating because of its length and the climb from the gorge back to the top of the plateau at the end of the hike, but most of the trail is not especially difficult. With the exception of an unbridged stream crossing, in fact, the hike is easy until the final 1.5 miles on the return trip.
Beginning on the north side of Bandy Creek Campground, Duncan Hollow Road is a gravel road that runs the length of a ridge that roughly parallels the Big South Fork River between Angel Falls and Station Camp. The road has been used for many years for various reasons, and once descended into the gorge to the river. Today, the road is gated at the edge of the gorge, with the remainder used as an industrial access road to Laurel Fork Creek.
While Duncan Hollow Road is used by horseback riders to access trails along both Laurel Fork and Station Camp creeks, linking Bandy Creek to such areas as Station Camp, Charit Creek and Big Island, it is also used as an access point for the John Muir Trail, the long-distance trail that traverses the BSF from Pickett State Park to Honey Creek. The portion of the JMT from Grand Gap to the end of Duncan Hollow Road is used most commonly by mountain bikers, who use the gravel road as part of a loop trail to make the return trip to Alfred Smith Road and Grand Gap Loop.
The hike to Parch Corn Creek begins at the parking area located at the end of Duncan Hollow Road. From the parking area, hikers will backtrack slightly up the road and look for a road bed that cuts off to their left (in the direction of the river). This is a part of the JMT bike trail, and is a short spur trail that leads to the JMT a short distance away.
At the intersection with the JMT, turn left and hike towards Laurel Fork and Station Camp creeks. The trail follows the ridge top for a ways, then begins its descent into the gorge by way of a series of switchbacks. Eventually, the trial emerges at Laurel Fork Creek, crossing it by way of a wooden footbridge.
The trail then merges with a horse trail for a short distance through overgrown farmland that is being reclaimed by nature. Soon, the trail splits again, and the hiking trail crosses Station Camp Creek on another wooden footbridge. Again the JMT and the horse trail merge, following Station Camp Creek towards the BSF River.
Just above the river, the JMT splits from the horse trail and traverses another patch of overgrown farmland before turning downstream towards Parch Corn Creek and Big Island. For the next mile, the JMT parallels the horse trail, sometimes joining it, until reaching the mouth of Parch Corn Creek.
At Parch Corn, the trail again splits from the horse trail, crossing the creek on a wooden footbridge. After crossing the bridge, the trail splits. The main trail turns right, going down the creek towards the river. However, the Blevins Farm is reached by turning left, continuing up the creek, away from the river.
Hikers will have to cross the creek once more without a bridge, then the trail enters the old fields that Armstead Blevins and his family once farmed. While walking through the fields, watch for a faint road that crosses the stream on the right and leads to the site of the Blevins cabin. From the cabin site, hikers can choose to continue following the old road along the creek to a second field, at the back end of which they’ll find the grave of Blevins’ second wife, Helen Blevins. Or they can begin their hike back to Duncan Hollow Road.
Armstead Blevins was the son of Jonathan Blevins, the long hunter who built the cabin that is now part of Charit Creek Lodge. He is believed to be the first white settler in this part of the Big South Fork. Armstead fathered a large number of children. He moved to Parch Corn Creek in 1881 and died in 1897.
The Blevins cabin, which was built in the late 1800s by John Litton, was occupied by Blevins’ son until the 1940s, when it was finally abandoned as a primary residence. The cabin and the land surrounding it was eventually purchased by Oneida’s Noble Smith, who used it as a hunting cabin until the federal government purchased it as land was bought up to establish the Big South Fork.
In 1998, careless hikers left a fire that burned the cabin to the ground. For nearly two decades, the fieldstone chimney remained, but it crumbled in 2016, leaving only a pile of stone rubble to mark where the Blevins cabin once stood.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida into the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. On the west side of the Big South Fork River gorge, turn right onto Bandy Creek Road. Upon arriving at the campground and visitor center, turn right into the campground. Just past the registration kiosk, turn left towards the swimming pool. Beyond the pool, stay straight as the pavement ends and the road surface turns to gravel. Stay straight on Duncan Hollow Road past a series of turnoffs (one to the right, one to the left and another to the right). Once you’ve reached the end of the road, park in the parking lot near the gate and backtrack on foot a few hundred feet up the road to where a dirt road cuts left (east, or in the direction of the river). This is a spur trail that leads to the John Muir Trail.
Be Careful For: An unbridged stream crossing near the Parch Corn Creek farm is the only hazard. You will get your feet wet!
Look For: Where the hiking trail turns left from the horse trail at Parch Corn Creek, look to the right for a large pen. This is a wild hog pen designed by the National Park Service to capture feral boar that cause extensive damage in the area.
Make It Better: After exploring the Armstead Blevins farmstead and returning to the main trail where the footbridge crosses Parch Corn Creek, continue straight (instead of turning right across the bridge) to follow the John Muir Trail further down the Big South Fork River (towards No Business Creek). A mile or so ahead, you’ll find Duck Shoals, the site of a small skirmish during the Civil War. This was the location of the Peter Burke cabin. After raiding several cabins in the area in 1863 (including Armstead Blevins’ cabin), Confederatte guerrillas holed up in Burke’s cabin for the night. Members of the Home Guard — which consisted of both Union sympathizers and homesteaders who wanted no part in either side of the fight — surrounded the home during the night and opened fire on the guerrillas. Six were killed on site and another drowned in the river while trying to escape. Today, there is no sign of the Burke cabin. The guerrillas were buried together in a shallow grave nearby, but no one is sure of its exact location. Only a sign, placed by the National Park Service, denotes where the Duck Shoals Skirmish played out.
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 pack it in, pack it out!