Hiking the Twin Arches Loop Trail in the Big South Fork

Written by Dan S. / Great Miami Outfitters 

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, and protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Located in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, the area boasts over 160 miles of trails along scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs. It is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.

On the western side of the park in northern Tennessee is the 4.6 mile Twin Arches Loop Trail. This is one of my favorite trails and I wanted to share it with our group in the fall while the leaves were in full color. So I planned a 3-day backpacking trip that was a little different than our usual trips.

Instead of hiking each day and camping at a different spot, the plan was to hike in and set up camp for both nights in the same spot. That way, on the second day our packs would be lighter to hike the Twin Arches Loop Trail.

Big South Fork
Hiking in Big South Fork

Our group of 8 left Centerville, Ohio at 7:30 AM and drove south about 5 hours to the Sawmill Trailhead. At the trailhead, we made all of our adjustments, laced up our boots, threw on our packs and hit the trail about 1:00 PM for a 5.6 mile hike.

We started out on the lower section of the Slave Falls Loop Trail. This section was about 1.7 miles of relatively easy terrain. It was a good way to get our legs warmed up. Most of our group dropped their packs at the Slave Falls side trail and hiked 0.2 miles in to see the falls from the south side. Or I should said Slave “Dribble,” as there wasn’t much water coming over at this time. Even so, it was worth the hike in and out.

Slave Falls
Slave Falls

After getting our packs back on, we continued on the connector trail to Twin Arches Loop Trail. This section is about 2.2 miles and passes Needle Arch and follows along the Mill Creek. There are several nice camping spots along the way on the other side of the creek.

The connector trail joins Twin Arches Loop Trail at an area known as “Jake’s Place,” a homesite occupied by Jacob Blevins Jr. and his family in the 1880s. Buildings from here were moved to the nearby lodge. We followed the trail along Middle Creek and Station Camp Creek, and then on to Charit Creek Lodge arriving about 4 PM.

Charit Creek Lodge is a rustic cluster of old cabins and buildings with no electricity and can only be accessed by hiking, biking or horseback. It offers guests an unique experience. You may stay overnight in one of the cabins or bunk rooms and enjoy breakfast or dinner. There are restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers run with propane.

There are a few campsites on the property that we reserved in advance. (NOTE: The campsites are no longer available to backpackers to camp at starting this fall. We were lucky enough to be grandfathered in). The campsite was right along the Station Camp Creek. It was a great location to set up our base camp for the weekend. Did I mention that the lodge offers beer and wine for sale? Like I said earlier, this was a completely different back-country experience for our group.

After a short time around a beautiful campfire, laughing and telling stories, we retired to our cozy outdoor homes.

It rained from about 4 to 7 AM, but stopped in time for us to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The morning temps were in the low 40’s. We packed our lunches for the day, and carried our light packs for the day hike to Twin Arches and around the 4.8 mile Loop Trail beginning about 11 AM. We hiked the loop counter-clockwise from Charit Creek Lodge up to the Twin Arches. This section is all up hill for about 1.3 miles, with stairs along the way for a modest 400 foot elevation gain.

North Arch
North Arch

The Twin Arches are truly the most impressive rock arches in the eastern United States. The North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its deck is 62 feet high; South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its deck is 103 feet high.

We spent over an hour exploring around the area, including climbing the stairs to the top of the arches and enjoying the vista from on top of the South Arch. We entered the cave-like entrance we called “fat man squeeze.” I’m not really sure of the actual name, but the entrance is cavernous and quickly narrows so that you have to turn sideways to squeeze through.

We continued hiking the loop trail around tremendously beautiful sandstone bluffs, stopping to enjoy our lunch under one of the overhangs. The trail eventually descends back to Jake’s Place and around to Charit Creek Lodge arriving at about 3 PM. Up until this point, the day was cloudy and in the low 50’s, but as we settled back into camp the sun broke through and the skies cleared.

We relaxed, took showers, chatted with other guests on the lodge porch, drank a beer or glass of wine, smoked a cigar, and just enjoyed our time in this beautiful setting. Another beautiful campfire, conversation, and a clear night provided a view of massive amounts of stars.

Charit Creek Lodge
Cabins at Charit Creek Lodge

The clearing sky also allowed the overnight temperatures to fall to 28 degrees. Though it was chilly in the morning, the sun was shining, and we quickly ate breakfast and broke down camp for our trek out starting at 9 AM. The hike out was about 4.1 miles and back-tracked most of the same trails that we hiked in on with the exception of hiking the upper section of Slave Falls Loop Trail instead of the lower section.

Our hiking pace out was pretty brisk so we arrived back at the van by 10:45 AM and on the road by 11:15 AM.

Osprey Atmos 65 AG Backpack
Big Agnes Crystal 30 Sleeping Bag
NEMO Insulated Tensor Pad
Sea to Summit Compression Sack
ENO SuperSub Hammock
Sea to Summit Hammock Tarp
MSR WindBurner Stove System
Platypus GravityWorks Filter System
Oboz Bridger Low Shoes and Campster Sandals
Fits Medium Hiker Crew Socks (2 pairs)
Kühl Men’s Renegade Pants
Patagonia Capilene Top and Bottoms, Torrentshell Rain Jacket, Beanie and Snap-T Pullover

If you are interested in learning more about this hiking route, feel free to email me at adventure@greatmiamioutfitters, and I’d be happy to answer your questions or give you advice based on my experience.




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