Trail: Bronco Overlook
Trailhead: Stati on Camp
Distance: 2.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 282 ft .
When you think of overlooks in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, you think of East Rim, Sunset, Honey Creek and Angel Falls, to name a few. You probably don’t think of Bronco Overlook.
That’s why this easily-accessible overlook, which is the destination for Week 3 of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge, exists in relative obscurity within the BSF.
Also known to some who grew up in the West Oneida area as Station Camp Overlook, Bronco Overlook is named for the Ford Bronco that someone rolled off the cliff’s edge at the end of Sheep Ridge in the 1980s. The twisted hunk of metal still lays at the base of the cliff , though it isn’t visible to hikers.
Step out onto the unprotected outcropping at Bronco Overlook and you’ll be treated to one of the most spectacular views in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. You’ll see the craggy rocks that stand sentry over the mouth of Mill Creek, a rugged drainage that serves as a watershed for much of the south side of Station Camp Road from Williams Creek Road to the horse camp. You’ll see much of the gorge that encases the Big South Fork River between the big bend just below the John Hawk Smith Place and the Station Camp crossing. And, far below, you’ll see the river itself.
The overlook’s namesake is within shouting distance once you step out onto the rock ledge, but it is obscured by the trees that have long since healed from the scars that were left when the Bronco plunged through them on its way to its final resting place some 30 years ago.
Historically, the ridge that ends at this rock outcropping was known as Sheep Ridge. Most folks who grew up in the area still call it that, and the road that runs the length of the ridge is still known as Sheep Ridge Road. But Bronco Overlook earned its new name in the mid 1980s, when someone rolled a Ford Bronco II over the cliff. The national park was still in its infancy in those days; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was just completing its park-building tasks and preparing to turn over the 125,000-acre national river and recreation area to its sister agency, the National Park Service.
Only a few years before, the ridge was privately-owned. The view from the rock outcropping was just as magni cent, but it was not free for all. A log home was perched on the edge of the cliff, owned by MP Estes. The house was destroyed when the federal government began buying up land in the area in the 1970s. At some point after that, someone drove the Bronco to the overlook, rolling it over the edge of the cliff. It tumbled to the forest floor below, landing upright but destroyed.
No one seems to remember exactly who rolled the vehicle over the cliff. Donny Kidd, who has spent his entire life around the Station Camp area, recalls that it was stolen from North Carolina. In its day, the vehicle was a nice one. The vehicle identification number, still visible on the dash, reveals it to have been a 1986 Ford Bronco II, Eddie Bauer edition.
In 1986, the Bronco II was in its third year of production as Ford’s compact SUV. A precursor to the Ford Explorer, the Bronco II was built on a modification of the Ford Ranger chassis. Ford marketed its Bronco II to young men, calling it a “John Wayne vehicle.” One of the automaker’s marketers, Martin Goldfarb, said that the vehicle “gave people the sense that they could conquer anything; it could go anywhere.” Not quite anywhere, as it turned out; the Bronco II couldn’t conquer the cli at the end of Sheep Ridge.
Until recent years, Sheep Ridge Road remained open and accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Nowadays it is closed to motor vehicles and is designated as an equestrian trail. The Bronco Overlook Trail is a short, 1.4-mile hike from the Station Camp Equestrian Trailhead. Because the ridge is mostly level, Bronco Overlook is easily accessed, and makes for an excellent weekend hike.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida, then continue west on Station Camp Road. Once the pavement ends and the road enters the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, look for the large gravel parking lot on the right. This is Station Camp Equestrian Trailhead. Sheep Ridge Road, or the Bronco Overlook Trail, is actually located across the road, just east of the trailhead.
Make It Better: Once you’ve completed the trek to Bronco Overlook, get back in your vehicle and continue west along Station Camp Road. Get out and take advantage of the photo opportunities at the Chimney Rocks, the twin sandstone buttes that rise from the ground like chimneys by the roadside. Nearby, take a stroll through the historic Chimney Rocks Cemetery, also known as Slaven Cemetery. Look at some of the graves that tell some of the story of this region. The first grave was that of orphan girl Angeline Moore, whose badly beaten body was discovered along nearby Huckleberry Ridge.
Be Careful For: The rock outcropping at Bronco Overlook is unprotected. That is the case with many of the overlooks in the Big South Fork NRRA, but this one is particularly dangerous because the best views of the river gorge require hikers to walk along the rock ledge to the left in order to reach a better vantage point. The going is slippery, particularly when the rocks are wet. This makes Bronco Overlook potentially dangerous, especially for small children. Be sure to keep kids and pets close at hand!
Look For: At the end of Sheep Ridge Road, where horses are tied off, look for the remnants of the foundation of the log cabin that once stood there. The cabin was built by MP Estes and was torn down before the property was purchased by the federal government in the 1980s.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to newsroom@ ihoneida.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!
Go Big Points: While the Big South Fork NRRA’s Go Big 2019 Challenge is separate from the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge, you can earn points towards completing the Go Big Challenge while you participate in the hiking challenge. If you complete the Bronco Overlook hike, you will earn 3 points towards your Go Big Challenge. Also, keep a close eye out for the wildlife you encounter; if you see any of several birds, you can earn 3 points for each bird you see (blue heron, wild turkey, crow, pileated woodpecker, red-tailed hawk, indigo bunting). To log your Go Big points, download the challenge booklet at nps.gov/biso. Participants who log at least 100 points will earn a challenge patch. Or, you can earn a medallion with 200 points (silver) or 300 points (gold).