Just like that, the rain stopped and the sun appeared.
The Independence Day weekend was ending on a wet note; thunderstorms had been the story of the day across the northern Cumberland Plateau. But as we rolled into the unmarked, gravel parking lot off Tom Roberts Road on the northern fringe of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, the clouds parted.
Thunder rumbled in multiple directions, and — as always happens when the rain stops and the sun pops out on a humid afternoon in this part of the world — the biting flies appeared with a vengeance. But the weather was going to cooperate for a walk to what might be McCreary County’s most scenic overlook.
Technically speaking, Buzzard Rock isn’t in the Big South Fork NRRA; it’s in the Daniel Boone National Forest. But it is situated so close to the boundary that the distinction isn’t particularly important.
Regardless of which federal jurisdiction oversees the rock outcropping that juts out over the Big South Fork River gorge, the National Park Service or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the trail leading to it isn’t an official trail and doesn’t appear on official trail maps for either the BSF or the Sheltowee. There is no signage denoting its location from the main road, and the trailhead is unmarked. If you don’t know what you’re looking for and where to find it, you’ll go your entire life without finding your way to Buzzard Rock.
And, yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a lifelong McCreary Countian who can’t point the way to the overlook. It’s as much a local landmark as Yahoo Falls or the old Pine Knot race track.
That’s for good reason. The view from atop Buzzard Rock is as good as any you’ll find in this region — and there are some good ones on either side of the TN-KY border as the Big South Fork River winds its way towards Lake Cumberland. This far north, the river itself isn’t particularly scenic. The gorge has lost most of its character, though there are several cliff faces visible to the north from the overlook, and the river itself has succumbed to the conquering power of Wolf Creek Dam, its waters going from free-flowing to sluggish, still water.
Still, the view from Buzzard Rock is nothing short of magnificent, owing its splendor to the distance the cap rock extends from the main ridgeline, freed of vegetation by eons of natural molding and affording those who step out onto it an unencumbered view of the river gorge and the surrounding ridges.
From the edge of the rock, you can see Koger Creek emptying into the BSF River to the immediate north. On the opposite side, Cowhorn Creek empties into the river. And, back upstream, to the south, Big Creek empties in.
If you could see beyond that, past the natural “S” shape of the Big South Fork as it flows around Sellers Ridge and Step Up Rock Ridge, you would see Yahoo Falls Overlook just west of Whitley City.
And if you could see further downstream, you’d see the mouth of Little South Fork — the counterpart to the Big South Fork, which serves as the boundary line for the Daniel Boone National Forest for many miles and has its headwaters near Pickett State Park back down in Tennessee.
You can’t see that stuff from Buzzard Rock, but there’s plenty you can see; in fact, it’s quite possible that you can see more acreage from here than from any other vantage point along the Big South Fork River, and that’s what makes it a popular destination in McCreary County.
Overlooks along the rim of the BSF gorge are a dime a dozen, from the unimpressive like Sunset Overlook west of Oneida to the awe-inspiring like Jake’s Hole Overlook above the O&W Bridge. For Buzzard Rock to earn its spot near the top of the list speaks to the magnificence of the views that can be found here.
Just because Buzzard Rock isn’t marked on any official map doesn’t mean it’s not well-visited. The trail leading to it — which follows an old Jeep trail along the ridge top — is more worn by foot traffic than most hiking trails in the Big South Fork or Daniel Boone National Forest. It’s a popular outing for many McCreary Countians and scarcely will you have it to yourself if you visit on a weekend or holiday.
To get to Buzzard Rock, take U.S. Hwy. 27 north through Whitley City, then turn left onto Wiborg Loop Road about halfway between Whitley City and Parkers Lake. Take another left onto Tom Roberts Road, then veer left onto Big Creek Road. Take the gravel road deeper into the forest for several miles and look for an unidentified gravel parking lot on the right.
The hike itself is a bit less than six-tenths of a mile in one direction and primarily flat, making for an easy hike. For brisk walkers, it’s about a 10-minute stroll from the parking lot to Buzzard Rock.
This story is the July 2018 installment of Our Back Yard, presented by First National Bank of Oneida on the first week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this story can be found on Page B6 of the July 5, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.