Distance: 5.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 361 ft.
Trailhead: Chestnut Ridge
One of the main attractions of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is being able to climb to the top of the river gorge for spectacular bird’s-eye views of the gorge area. There are numerous such opportunities, and all offer spectacular views.
Which is the best? That’s a matter of personal preference. More than a few would say that it’s Angel Falls Overlook on the Grand Gap Loop Trail, and to be sure, this spectacular vantage point is one of the most-photographed sites in the entirety of the Big South Fork NRRA. Others argue that the O&W Bridge Overlook is better, or that the unnamed overlook on the John Muir Trail on the west side of the O&W Bridge is best.
We can probably end the debate by saying that John Muir Overlook is one of the best and simply leave it at that.
This panoramic view of No Business from 500 ft. above the creek itself is an awe-inspiring scene, and one that cannot be done true justice by a photographer’s lens.
The walk to the overlook is easy, but can be somewhat tricky to find. The route in — Chestnut Ridge Road — is relatively unmarked. But once you find it, the walk is a gentle stroll along Chestnut Ridge to the overlook.
After a couple of miles, the ridge narrows considerably. In fact, there are unprotected bluffs on either side, and a large man’s wingspan could almost cover the entire width of the ridge (use caution, especailly with children and pets). A short distance ahead, a rock outcropping offers a spectacular view of No Business Creek.
If you make the hike early enough in the day, when atmospheric conditions are right, you’ll be treated to the spectacular sight of a morning mist rising off the creek below. But the view is spectacular any time of day, and if you look carefully, you’ll see the cleared field of the Ranse Boyatt homestead in the valley below.
Chestnut Ridge is not an official hiking trail. Rather, it is part of a mountain bike loop that the Oneida-based Big South Fork Bike Club helps the National Park Service maintain. The cycling loop also includes part of the John Muir Trail between the overlook and Divide Road, and a part of the Rock Creek Loop west of Divide Road. Chestnut Ridge Road itself is a multiuse trail that is open to most usage forms.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 from Oneida, through the Big South Fork and to its terminus at S.R. 154 in Fentress County. Turn north onto S.R. 154 and then take a right onto Divide Road. Stay on Divide Road until you reach the Tennessee-Kentucky state line and the road name becomes Peters Mountain Road. Watch carefully for an unnamed dirt road on the right. It is located eight-tenths of a mile across the TN-KY line, or 8.7 miles from where Divide Road turns off S.R. 154.
Fun Fact: Chestnut Ridge is part of a mountain biking loop trail that encompasses 18 miles by combining portions of the John Muir Trail and the Rock Creek Loop Trail with the Chestnut Ridge multiuse trail. The John Muir Trail travels along the edge of Chestnut Ridge for 7.4 miles between Divide Road and John Muir Overlook, but the Chestnut Ridge Trail is a shorter way in — a little over 2.5 miles each direction. Another fun fact: The Chestnut Ridge hike begins in Kentucky, but John Muir Overlook is located in Scott County, Tennessee. This is the only of the 20 hikes featured in the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge that will lead you on foot through parts of two states.
Be Careful For: John Muir Overlook is unprotected. Use caution with pets and children.
Look For: From John Muir Overlook, look to the west and you’ll see a clearing in No Business Creek Valley far below. This is the Ranse Boyatt homestead, and if you have a good pair of binoculars, you can see the chimney of the Boyatt cabin still standing. This is the site where Boyatt, the father of Jerome Boyatt, was murdered in the Great Depression era. Jerome Boyatt had been accused of murdering two lawmen at a lumber camp at Rock Creek, and was on the run from the law. The entire Boyatt family had been rounded up from No Business Creek and held captive in Byrdstown, in Pickett County. But Ranse Boyatt was released and allowed to return home to the farm, ostensibly to tend to it. A few weeks later, his body was discovered by neighbors. He was believed to have been hanged. The incident convinced Jerome Boyatt to give himself up, and he, too, was murdered a few weeks after that when a vigilante mob kidnapped him from the old Scott County Jail in Huntsville, tortured him and shot him to death a short distance from U.S. Hwy. 27 in Helenwood.
Make it Better: If you really want to add some mileage, make the Chestnut Ridge hike a loop trail. Park at the beginning of the Chestnut Ridge Trail, hike to the overlook, then on the way back, take the John Muir Trail west to Divide Road. Once you reach Divide Road, hike the gravel road the final two miles or so back to Chestnut Ridge. The total distance is 11.3 miles with nearly 800 ft. of elevation gain.
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.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you pack it in, please pack it out!