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Saturday, December 4, 2021
Outdoors Hike of the Week: Buzzard Rock

Hike of the Week: Buzzard Rock

Distance: 1.1 miles Elevation Gain: 260 ft. Difficulty: Easy Trailhead: Unnamed Features: Overlook We’ve written in the past, when describing Buzzard Rock, that the word “buzzard” doesn’t exactly conjure images of magesty or beauty in this part of the world. The buzzard — which is what we call turkey vultures in Appalachia; real buzzards are […]

Distance: 1.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 260 ft.

Difficulty: Easy

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Trailhead: Unnamed

Features: Overlook

We’ve written in the past, when describing Buzzard Rock, that the word “buzzard” doesn’t exactly conjure images of magesty or beauty in this part of the world. The buzzard — which is what we call turkey vultures in Appalachia; real buzzards are in Europe and are birds of prey, similar to hawks and eagles — is a scavenger that feeds almost exclusively on carrion. It is almost as ugly as its name implies.

So if you’ve never been to Buzzard Rock, the sheer beauty of the views that await from it might just catch you off-guard.

The super-easy trail leading to Buzzard Rock is the destination for Week 10 of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge, as we hit the halfway mark of the challenge. It isn’t an official trail and it doesn’t appear on official maps for either the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area or the Daniel Boone National Forest. There is no signage denoting its location from the main road, and the trailhead is unmarked. If you don’t know what you’re looking for and where to find it, you’ll go your entire life without finding your way to Buzzard Rock.

And, yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a lifelong McCreary Countian who cannot point the way to the overlook. It’s as much a local landmark as Yahoo Falls or the old Pine Knot race track.

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That’s for good reason. The view from atop Buzzard Rock is as good as any you’ll find in this region — and there are some good ones on either side of the TN-KY border. This far north, the river isn’t particularly scenic. The gorge has lost most of its character, and the river itself has succumbed to the conquering power of Wolf Creek Dam, its waters going from free-flowing to sluggish.

Still, the view from Buzzard Rock is nothing short of magnificent, owing its splendor to the distance the cap rock extends from the main ridgeline, freed of vegetation by eons of natural molding, and affording those who step out onto it an unencumbered view of the river gorge and the surrounding ridges.

From the edge of the rock, you can see Koger Creek emptying into the BSF River to the immediate north. On the opposite side, Cowhorn Creek empties into the river. And, back upstream, to the south, Big Creek empties in.

If you could see beyond that, past the natural “S” shape of the Big South Fork as it flows around Sellers Ridge and Step Up Rock Ridge ,you would see Yahoo Falls Overlook just west of Whitley City.

And if you could see further downstream you’d see the mouth of Little South Fork — the counterpart to the Big South Fork — which serves as the boundary line for the Daniel Boone National Forest for many miles and has its headwaters near Pickett State Park back down in Tennessee.

You can’t see that stuff from Buzzard Rock, but there’s plenty you can see; in fact, it’s quite possible that you can see more acrage from here than from any other vantage point along the Big South Fork River, and that’s what makes it such a popular destination in McCreary County.

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Just because Buzzard Rock isn’t marked on any official map doesn’t mean it isn’t well-visited. The trail leading to it — which follows an old Jeep road along the ridge top — is more worn by foot traffic than most hiking trails in either the Big South Fork or the Daniel Boone National Forest. It’s a popular outing for many area residents, and scarcely will you have it to yourself if you visit on a weekend or holiday.

Less than six-tenths of a mile in one direction and primarily flat, Buzzard Rock makes for an easy hike. In fact, it’s the shortest and easiest hike of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. For brisk walkers, it’s only about a 10-minute stroll from the parking lot to Buzzard Rock.

Getting There: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 north through Whitley City, then turn left onto Wiborg Loop Road about halfway between Whitley City and Parkers Lake. After a half-mile, take another left onto Tom Roberts Road, then veer left onto Big Creek Road. Take the gravel road deeper into the forest for 1.3 miles and look for an unidentified gravel parking lot on the right. The trailhead isn’t marked; if you come to the Big Creek Boat Ramp, you’ve gone too far. The GPS coordinates for the parking lot are 36.79577, -84.51890.

Fun Fact: Buzzard Rock is located near the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, but it’s actually in the Daniel Boone National Forest. That’s a relatively unimportant distinction; the two massive tracts of land are both federally-owned and adjoin in Kentucky. Much of both tracts were once owned by the Stearns Coal & Lumber Co.

Look For:  As you look upstream from Buzzard Rock, you’ll see a large stream entering on the left side of the river. That’s Big Creek, the stream for which the area is named. Big Creek’s headwaters are located just off Ky. Hwy. 700 near Whitley City. 

Be Careful For: The rock outcropping at Buzzard Rock is unprotected. Use caution near the edge, and keep children and pets close at hand.

Make It Better: Because the hike to Buzzard Rock is a short one, there will be time to stop by Yahoo Falls on your way back to Tennessee. Take Ky. Hwy. 700 west from Whitley City and turn onto Yahoo Falls Road. The trailhead is located at the end of the road. The waterfall — the tallest in the Big South Fork — is less than half a mile from the parking lot. 

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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