IMBA EPIC Ride - Big South Fork, Tennessee
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area was established by Congress in March of 1974. Management of BSF is by the National Park Service. It's possibly the first NPS unit to embrace mountain biking.
In the early 90's Duncan Hollow was the original mountain bike specific trail in the park. A couple of years later, Collier Ridge was laid out. Eventually, Collier Ridge was rerouted to give more trails and follow the contour of the land. Part of West Bandy was opened in the 1990s and the last section was opened in 2011.
Around the early 2000s, Grand Gap and John Muir were opened to bikes Monday through Friday as a trial. In 2012, following a successful trial, both trails were opened up to mountain bikes on a more permanent basis.
A small group of locals known as the Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club is responsible for the care and upkeep of the trails. Their work with the NPS has no doubt helped open up dialog about more mountain bike trails in other NPS units.
Skinny singletrack, friendly hills, killer views, and backcountry make this an EPIC ride. There are hundreds of miles of backcountry trails, gravel and doubletrack. Certain sections get a lot of horse traffic. You'll probably want to avoid the horse sections because of deep sand and loose rocks they create.
Park at the Bandy Creek Visitors Center. Any of the sections can stand alone as a good ride.
Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River, and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.
Most days you'll not see anyone else on the 33-mile ride. Once you leave the visitors center you'll have the trails to yourself.
From the rolling Collier Ridge/West Bandy section to the old school Duncan Hollow to the magnificent views of Grand Gap and John Muir, Big South Fork has something for everyone. Start out with thick creekside laurel and rhododendron and work your way up slickrock-like sandstone. Enter old hardwood ridge sections, mix in some gravel and some clifftop singletrack next to 200' drops and you get a feel for Big South Fork.
The ride is good in any direction, but we've mapped it out heading west from the parking lot. The pavement soon turns to gravel. At 1.1 miles look for the trailhead on the left. It's just past the cemetery and the Scott State Forest sign.
The Collier Ridge trail follows the creek for a mile or so then climbs to the top of the ridge. When you hit the sandstone section, you're close to the top. Look for the well-marked right turn. The nature of the trail changes here from old doubletrack to singletrack to true skinny trail. Watch out for the rock drop about a 1/4 mile in on this section. It looks worse than it really is. When you get to the field next to the highway there is only another 1/2 mile of Collier Ridge Trail until it ends at the parking lot at the intersection of Hwy 297 and Bandy Creek Rd.
Go behind the parking lot and cross the gravel Bandy Creek Rd onto West Bandy Trail. West Bandy starts out rolling and ends with some short, steep climbs. The first mile is new as of 2011. The rest is a mixture of old doubletrack, connectors and new reroutes. There are no side trails off W Bandy.
When you come back to the gravel Bandy Creek Rd turn left. About a 1/4 mile turn left onto Bypass Road (gravel). About 200' in, Jack's Ridge branches to the left. Stay right on Bypass through the next three valleys. After the third valley, look for the left turn onto Duncan Hollow. Duncan Hollow starts out flat then drops quickly to the creek bottom. A gradual climb brings you back to Bypass Rd. Go left for Duncan Hollow Rd. then turn left onto Duncan Hollow Rd. In less than a mile look for the unmarked (gravel) Alfred Smith Rd to the right. About 1 1/2 miles brings you to the Grand Gap/ John Muir trailhead.
Look for the kiosk to the right. Grand Gap trail is to the right and John Muir is to the left of the gravel. Do not turn onto the Litton Farm Trail. It is a hiking only trail and well-marked as such. Grand Gap has become the most popular bike trail in the park, though you will still be unlikely to see anyone else on it.
About a mile in, you'll see the grave of an infant to the left of the trail. This is a remnant of the pioneer life from well before the park was established. Another 1/2 mile brings you to the first overlook. You have to stop! The 2nd overlook is even better though. It looks down on Angel Falls, a series of rapids on the Big South Fork River. There are several other overlooks, just as spectacular, along the way. There are also just enough technical rock sections to keep you on your toes. Be careful on the bridges - they can get slick, especially when they're wet or frozen. The kiosk at 6.4 miles marks the end of Grand Gap and the start of the John Muir Trail.
If you want to skip John Muir, turn left here. About 100 yards up the hill you'll be back at the start of the Grand Gap Trail at the end of Alfred Smith Road.
Go straight ahead at the kiosk and you'll be starting on the John Muir Trail. There are no side trails, so continue until you see the exit sign. Both Grand Gap and John Muir have spectacular rock houses. John Muir has more great views and maybe even better flow than Grand Gap. Watch out for the steps about 4 miles in. Get off and walk. It's a long way to get help!! At the sign that marks the exit, turn left and go across the hill back to Duncan Hollow Rd. It's about 4 miles of gravel back to Bandy Creek Visitors Center.
The John Muir Trail does continue past the exit sign. If you continue, the trail drops to the valley bottom in about 3 miles. It's not recommended to continue because that section of trail does not receive the same level of maintenance and is generally used only for backcountry access.
Some of the information on this page has been sourced from: https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/76708/big-south-fork-imba-epic
46.684 km / 29.008 mi
1,265 m / 4,149 ft
1,265 m / 4,151 ft
504 m / 1,655 ft