Gentle creeks, sandstone bluffs, and steep gorges abound along the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River—hike through the heart of the 125,000 acre park on this moderate 22-mile loop. Starting from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center, follow the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop for 1.6 miles to the Jacks Ridge Trailhead. The trail drops into the Laurel Creek Valley at mile 2.8; turn right on the little-used Laurel Creek Trail for a string of cushy campsites with plentiful water. Be prepared for several challenging rock-hops if the water is high. At 6.8 miles, turn right on the John Muir Trail and power up the trip’s only big climb to the canyon rim. On top, you’ll get views of the Big South Fork gorge’s sandstone cliffs and churning whitewater. Dry campsites are available near the cliffs; reliable water can be found farther along in Duncan Hollow. Leave the canyon rim at mile 16.8 by veering right on the Fall Branch Trail. Go on to the right side of the John Litton Farm Loop for an example of an early twentieth-century Cumberland Plateau farmstead on the way back to the trailhead.
Info: $5 camping permit required (up to 6 people; fee increases for larger groups). (423) 286-7275; nps.gov/biso
Hike provided by Smoky Mountains Hiking ClubEvent and membership info: smhclub.org/
Location: 36.4886589050293, -84.6978149414062