The John Litton Farm is a carefully preserved, early 20th century farmstead in the backcountry of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area | IH File Photo

Trail: Litton Farm Loop
Trailhead: Bandy Creek
Distance: 6.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 561 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate

The first five weeks of the Independent Herald’s Twenty Week Hiking Challenge featured trails that visited picturesque destinations — waterfalls or overlooks.

The sixth week does feature a nice waterfall along Fall Branch, but this week’s hike is more about history and culture. The destination might not be particularly postcard worthy, but it is no less interesting: the John Litton Farm in the Big South Fork backcountry.

Many lifelong Scott Countians are stunned to realize that a carefully-preserved farmstead like Litton’s exists in the middle of the Big South Fork wilderness. The Litton Farm Loop Trail isn’t as popular as most of the BSF’s other hiking trails, like Angel Falls and Honey Creek, and so many visit the BSF without ever realizing that the farm is there.

At 6.3 miles, the Litton Farm Loop is easily the longest hike of the hiking challenge to date. In fact, there’s only one trail in the entire 20 weeks of the challenge that is longer. But, while its length earns this trail a “moderate” rating, it is not particularly difficult. Its 541 feet of elevation gain is just slightly more than the 465 feet of elevation gain on the hike to Emory Gap Falls at Frozen Head State Park — and that hike was just half the length of the Litton Farm Loop. That means the elevation gain along the farm loop is spread out over a greater distance . . . which, in turn, means there are no really steep hills to climb. The only moderate incline is just past the farm, as the trail makes its way back to the top of the plateau. But it’s not an especially difficult climb, making Litton Farm Loop a trail that is suitable for almost anyone.

The Litton Farm is named for John Litton. He and his wife, Vi, settled the north prong of Fall Branch in the late 1800s, building a one-room cabin, an English pole barn and raising four children on the land they cleared.

The farm is a typical Cumberland Plateau subsistence farm. The Litton family truly lived off the land, raising pigs for slaughter, crops for both their livestock and their table, and gathering the nuts and fruits that grew wildly in the forests surrounding their farm.

Today, the wooden hog pens that Litton built can still be found off the trail, where the rock houses have sheltered them from the weather and prevented the timbers from completely rotting away. Several black walnut trees, which once provided nuts for the family, can still be seen around the farm. There’s a pond that is fed by a spring — and small fish and other aquatic critters can easily be seen in the pond. The old barn still stands, as does the the home and most of the old split-rail fences.

The barn was built of logs cut from the poplar trees that grew in abundance on the hillsides surrounding the farm, and evidence of the ax-hewn timbers can still be seen.

John Litton died in 1935. By then, heavy logging had come to the Big South Fork region and a way of life was quickly ending. As men went to work in the log woods, subsistence farms began to fade from the scene. Still later, the younger men went off to serve their country in World War II and returned home eager to seek a life away from the isolation of this rugged backwoods countryside.

But the final chapter of the Litton Farm was yet to be written. In 1946, after it had stood vacant for a decade, the farm was purchased by General Slaven. He and his wife, Did, moved their family to the farm. The Slavens never had running water or electricity, but lived on the farm until 1979, when the federal government purchased the land to establish the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. General and Did Slaven were among the last residents to leave what would become the national park.

The Litton Farm Loop Trail begins and ends at Bandy Creek Campground. It is not a particularly scenic hike, but there are plenty of wildflowers to be seen along the way. From the parking lot at the Bandy Creek swimming pool, start the hike along the trail that enters the woods on the opposite side of the road and parallels the road for a short distance. By doing so, you’ll hike the trail in a counter-clockwise direction.

After a short distance, the trail turns away from the road and begins to enter the Fall Branch drainage. For the next several miles, the trail follows either prong of Fall Branch.

A little more than two miles into the hike is Fall Branch Falls, a picturesque waterfall that is located along the trail. A short distance after that, the trail crosses a wooden footbridge over the north prong of the creek and meets the Fall Branch Trail, a connector that joins the Grand Gap Loop with Litton Farm Loop.

For the first half of the hike, the Litton Farm Loop is a part of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which begins in Morehead, Ky., and has a southern terminus at Honey Creek. But the Sheltowee Trace leaves the Litton Farm Loop at the Fall Branch Trail intersection. The farm loop, meanwhile, continues to the left, leading hikers upstream towards the farm.

Eventually, the trail merges with the old roadbed that once served the farm and climbs a short grade to what was once John Litton’s front door. The old home can still be explored, as can the barn and other outbuildings. 

The trail meanders through the farm, crosses the pasture and re-enters the forest, where it begins its climb back to the top of the plateau. Once at the top of the hill, hikers will enter new growth forest that was once cleared pastureland, then emerge along the edge of a current field. At that point, they will have arrived back at the gravel road that will lead them back to Bandy Creek. The final leg of the hike is along the roads, including Duncan Hollow Road.

Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west from Oneida and through the BSF River gorge. Turn right onto Bandy Creek Road, then right again into the campground. Past the check-in station, turn left and park at the swimming pool.

Be Careful For: There are two short ladders early into the hike. Also, the wooden bridge across Fall Branch is very slippery when wet. 

Look For: The turtle signs on the trees. The symbol is used to blaze the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Sheltowee means “Big Turtle” and is the name given to Daniel Boone after he was adopted by the Shawnee tribe.

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 Litton Farm Loop hike, you will earn 6 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).