ROBBINS — Late winter and early spring is one of the premier times of year for hiking. And when it comes to hiking in the Big South Fork NRRA, there are few better destinations than the Honey Creek Loop Trail here.
Often called the most strenuous hiking trail within the 115,000 acres of the Big South Fork, the Honey Creek trail is located in the southern end of the park near the Scott-Fentress county line. It’s a 5.6-mile trek that winds into and out of the gorge, offering a glimpse of all the landforms that make this region unique.
The hike isn’t a leisurely stroll; children and dogs are not recommended. The trail includes numberous stream crossings (at times following the stream beds), climbs over rocks and through boulder houses, and hikes up and down steep ladders. Adding to the rugged nature of the trail is the fact that it isn’t well marked in some areas, making it easy to wander off the trail.
All of that makes Honey Creek one of the most spectacular hikes not only in the Big South Fork, and not just in Tennessee, but in the entire southeastern United States. Many Scott Countians will live their entire lives without realizing such massive rock houses and sheer ruggedness of the landscape exists within their back yard.
Honey Creek begins with a leisurely stroll through open hardwoods before quickly dropping off to Honey Creek. Several waterfalls are along the route and the trail winds around the edge of the gorge for a distance before the true beauty of the park begins to emerge. The trail descends into the gorge, passing several rock caverns that are among the largest found in the entire park.
Photos cannot do the trail justice as it descends quickly towards the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.First-timers to the trail are often surprised by its rugged nature. The drive to Honey Creek takes visitors by the Clear Fork River, which is relatively gentle and tame compared to the BSF. But Honey Creek and its tributaries empty into the larger river just downstream from the confluence. This stretch of river is the roughest from the headwaters to Lake Cumberland, including the “Big Three” rapids that are a popular destination for whitewater enthusiasts.
After a short trek along the river, the trail turns back up, making a steep ascent to the bottom of the cliff line. A pair of steep ladders lead to the Honey Creek Overlook, which offers spectacular views of the river gorge (and, as the bird flies, is only a stone’s throw from Scott County Airport). From there, the trail drops back into the gorge and winds its way through hardwood forests back to the trailhead.
Editor's Note — The preceding story was the January 2017 installment of "Our Back Yard," presented on the first week of each month by First National Bank of Oneida as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series.