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Saturday, December 4, 2021
Outdoors Hike of the Week: Twin Arches Loop

Hike of the Week: Twin Arches Loop

Distance: 5.6 miles Elevation Gain: 797 ft. Difficulty: Moderate Trailhead: Twin Arches Features: Geology, history In the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, there are more spectacular geological formations than you can shake a stick at. But few of them come close to touching the magnificence of the Twin Arches. When most […]

Distance: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 797 ft.

Difficulty: Moderate

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Trailhead: Twin Arches

Features: Geology, history

In the 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, there are more spectacular geological formations than you can shake a stick at. But few of them come close to touching the magnificence of the Twin Arches.

When most folks talk about the geological makeup of the northern Cumberland Plateau more closely resembling the West than anything in the eastern U.S., they’re usually referring to the towering duo of arches in western Scott County. Standing at 103 ft. and 62 ft., respectively, with a combined span of 228 ft., the Twin Arches make up one of the largest natural land bridges in all the world. And it’s because of these massive sandstone rock formations — and others like it — that has led some to refer to the Big South Fork as “Utah with trees. Indeed, the Twin Arches look more like something from Zion National Park in Utah than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee.

But these spectacular rock formations aren’t the only sight worth seeing on the 4.8-mile Twin Arches Loop Trail. It is a hike that is steeped in history, photogenic sites and other points of interest. All in all, it’s the most action-packed hike of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge thus far.

Writing on AllTrails.com, Kurt Lammon described the Twin Arches Loop this way after his hike on April 4: “This is one of the best hikes I’ve done, period, not just in Tennessee.”

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From the parking lot at the Twin Arches Trailhead off Divide Road, there’s only one way to start the hike. But the well-worn trail soon forks. To the left is a steep ladder; to the right is a footpath that continues down the ridge. It, too, will eventually drop in elevation by way of a seto of steps.

Hikers can take either fork in the trail. The left-hand form will take you beneath the North Arch, while the right-hand fork will lead you along the top of the North Arch. The two trails meet up again at the base of yet another set of steps between the two arches. This completes the 1.4-mile inner loop that is popular among leisurely hikers. Most hikers choose to conclude their hike with this shorter, inner loop. But that’s a mistake. Skipping the complete loop means you miss out on a lot of historic features and scenery. Consider:

Charit Creek: After you’ve passed the North Arch, and just as you’re coming into sight of the South Arch, the trail splits and heads deeper into the gorge. Before you take the left-hand fork in the trail, you’ll want to take a moment to explore the South Arch, including Fat Man’s Squeeze — a narrow passageway through the rock on the south side of the arch.

Back on the main trail, hikers quickly descend to a stream below. This is Charit Creek, originally named Charity Creek. It is named for a girl named Charity, who drowned in the stream many years ago. The exact identity of the girl is unknown, but she may have been the daughter of Jonathan Blevins, the first white settler of this valley and the man who built Charit Creek Lodge.

Charit Creek Lodge: A short distance further, the wooded creek bottom opens into farmland, and the trail emerges at Charit Creek Lodge. Once the home of Jonathan Blevins, a long hunter and one of the earliest settlers of the Big South Fork, this was a subsistence farm for many years. It was eventually sold to Joe Simpson, who operated it as a hunting preserve from 1963 to 1982, when the federal government purchased the land. Today, it is Charit Creek Lodge, a remote backcountry lodge catering to hikers, horseback riders and hunters. Officially, Charit Creek Lodge dates back to 1817. But it’s not clear exactly when Blevins built his home, and it’s thought that it might be the oldest lodge in the country.

Unfortunately, Charit Creek remains closed to day users due to covid. Ordinarily, hikers could stop to purchase snacks and cold drinks. But those who want to spice up the adventure can book a night’s stay at the lodge by visiting ccl-bsf.com.

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Tackett homeplace: As you lead Charit Creek and head west along Station Camp Creek, you’ll soon arrive at the Tackett homeplace. Today, the old homeplace is only a partial rock chimney, but just off the trail nearby are the twin headstones marking the graves of the Tackett brothers. As the story goes, Confederate sympathizers were searching the area of Station Camp Creek and surrounding villages for new recruits during the Civil War. In an effort to save the young brothers from being forced into service, an elderly relative had them hide beneath a feather mattress and lay atop it, pretending to be sick. When the soldiers had left the home, she got up to allow the boys out, only to discover that they had died of suffocation.

Jake’s Place: A short distance further up the trail is “Jake’s Place,” the home of Jacob Blevins Jr. and his wife, Viannah. Jacob — or Jakey, as he was known — was the grandson of Jonathan Blevins and is buried near Bandy Creek. His cabin stood until Simpson dismantled it and moved it to Charit Creek. The chimney remained for many years but has recently fallen.

Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west, through the Big South Fork NRRA, to its terminus at S.R. 154 in Fentress County. Take S.R. 154 north (right) to Divide Road, and Divide Road northeast to Twin Arches Road. The trailhead is located at the end of the road.

Fun Fact: The earliest industry in the Big South Fork was saltpeter mining. Potassium nitrate — “rock niter,” as it was called — was a key component in gunpowder, and a high quality grade of it can be found in many Big South Fork rockshelters. Niter mining was especially prevalent during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. As the Twin Arches Loop Trail climbs back to the top of the gorge, there are large rock shelters where signs of niter mining can be seen. Look for piles of rock rubble and faint signs of chiseling on the rocks. 

Make It Better: At Jake’s Place, a connector trail departs to the south that leads to the Slave Falls Loop Trail. If you want some extra mileage, take this trail to Slave Falls, where runaway slaves were hidden in the mid 19th century. The out-and-back hike will add three additional miles to your hike.

Look For:  Fat Man’s Squeeze, a narrow tunnel that leads through the base of the South Arch.

Be Careful For: Steep steps, unprotected rock ledges. Use caution with pets and small children. (You’ll have to carry pets down a ladder on the west side of the inner loop.)

Share the Adventure: Tag your photos on Facebook and Instagram, #20WeekHikingChallenge, for an opportunity to win prizes (please be sure your post privacy is set to public in order to be eligible for a drawing; otherwise, we may not be able to see the pictures). 

Remember To: Please remember to take your trash with you when you leave the trail, and consider packing out anyone else’s trash you might come across. Remember the adventurer’s creed: “Leave only footprints; take only memories.”

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Independent Herald
Contact the Independent Herald at newsroom@ihoneida.com. Follow us on Twitter, @indherald.
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