Trail: Buzzard Rock
Distance: 1.0 mile
Elevation Gain: 260 ft.
In this part of the world, the word “buzzard” doesn’t conjure images of majesty or beauty. The buzzard — which is what we call turkey vultures here in Appalachia; real buzzards are in Europe and are birds of prey, similar to hawks and eagles — is a scavenger that feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It is almost as ugly as its name implies.
So if you’ve never been to Buzzard Rock, the sheer beauty of the views that await from it might just catch you off-guard.
The trail leading to Buzzard Rock is the destination for Week 2 of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. It isn’t an official trail and doesn’t appear on official trail maps for either the Big South Fork or the Daniel Boone National Forest. 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, 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 Sunset Overlook west of Oneida (where the hiking challenge began last week) to 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 road along the ridge top — is more worn by foot traffic than most hiking trails in the Big South Fork or the 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.
Less than six-tenths of a mile in one direction and primarily flat, Buzzard Rock makes for an easy hike. In fact, it’s the shortest and easiest hike of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. For brisk walkers, it’s only about a 10-minute stroll from the parking lot to Buzzard Rock.
Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north through Whitley City, then turn left onto Wiborg Loop Road about halfway between Whitley City and Parkers Lake. After a half-mile, take another left onto Tom Roberts Road, then veer left onto Big Creek Road. Take the gravel road deeper into the forest for 1.3 miles and look for an unidentified gravel parking lot on the right. The trailhead isn’t marked; if you come to Big Creek Boat Ramp, you’ve gone too far. (The parking lot is located on the right just before Big Creek Road goes through a series of switchbacks as it descends into the valley.)
Make It Better: Because the hike to Buzzard Rock is a short one, there will be time to stop by Yahoo Falls on your way back to Tennessee. Take Ky. Hwy. 700 west from Whitley City and turn right onto Yahoo Falls Road. The trailhead is located at the end of the road. The waterfall — the tallest in the Big South Fork — is less than half a mile from the parking lot.
Be Careful For: The rock outcropping at Buzzard Rock is unprotected. Use caution near the edge, and keep children and pets close at hand.
Look For: As you look upstream from Buzzard Rock, you’ll see a large stream entering on the left side of the river. That’s Big Creek, the stream for which the area is named. Big Creek’s headwaters are located just off Ky. Hwy. 700 near Whitley City.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to email@example.com, 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, please pack it out!