Last June, East Fork Stables on the Cumberland Plateau in Jamestown, Tennessee, provided riders with a five-day, four-night horseback adventure through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Trail riders, ranging in age from 13 to 81, rode through some of the most breathtaking terrain accessible. Most of the trail riders were strangers, but they became close friends as they experienced the quiet woodlands, challenging hills, beautiful bluffs, and lovely waters of Big South Fork Country.
Phil Hopson, manager of East Fork Stables, organized the expedition atop the Cumberland Plateau with the help of his assistant, Dana Klingemier. The ride ended with a spectacular bluffline ride at East Fork Stables.
Hangin’ Hog provided two delicious breakfasts, and Horseman’s Market served up lunch each day. The staff from East Fork Stables made sure the nights were comfortable and work-free after each long ride by setting up tents and cots and keeping personal gear, horse feed, and other items on hand.
Day One introduced riders to the historic Charit Creek Lodge nestled in a deep valley surrounded by sheer bluffs and crystal-clear streams. Two National Park Rangers, Christy Kozel and Sue Duncan, accompanied the group. After leaving Charit Creek, the riders wound through a valley graced with enormous old trees, crossing Station Camp Creek several times. They crossed the Big South Fork River at Station Camp Crossing and proceeded to the Station Camp Campground.
That night, Tim Ledbetter and Butch Hodgkins entertained everyone around a campfire with bluegrass and country/Western music.
On Day Two, riders were enchanted by Big Island Loop trail then headed back across the Big South Fork River to Bandy Creek Campground. At Bandy Creek, National Park Ranger Howard Duncan surprised the group by emerging from the woods, long rifle in hand. Dressed in the garb of a long hunter frontiersman, Duncan regaled the audience with stories of the first families that settled in the remote hills and hollows of the Big South Fork.
Needles, Arches, & Caves
On Day Three, the group rode down the Coyle Branch trail, across White Oak Creek, and up a steep, challenging hill to Eye of the Needle (a.k.a. Hole in the Rock). If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Eye of the Needle, don’t miss it! Imagine entering the cave through a low arch, going through a small entry cave to a ledge that goes down into the grand lower cave via a sapling ladder. The end of the cave opens up to another steep cliff. When seen from the front, you will quickly understand why it is called Eye of the Needle.
From Eye of the Needle, the ride progressed to Double Arches, one of the many scenic arches within Big South Fork. From there, riders went to Honey Creek Campground, where they were cordially welcomed with another hot, sumptuous meal and entertained by Gary Anderson and Bill Cody.
On Day Four, the riders crossed back over White Oak Creek. The trail ran upstream along the O&W Railroad bed. Imagine boulders the size of multistory houses holding in the rushing, clear waters of White Oak Creek. Now picture those boulders forming a wedge that the large creek sluices through.
The next treat was Lunch Rock, which juts out well into the stream, giving riders a perfect view up- and downstream. Steep cliffs form the gorge along the creek.
Shortly before entering Timber Ridge Horse Campground for the fourth and final night of camping, the group was led into the Accordion Bluff overhang. This relatively shallow but spectacular cave is filled with history of both ancient Native American tribes and more recently, hippies from the Sixties.
However, the real draw is the cave’s beauty. It’s been etched into intricate convolutions of colorful sandstone and iron ore throughout. The sandy floor is covered with the rare, protected Cumberland Sand Wart. Native, huchera-like plants and fig vines fill the walls’ nooks and crannies.
Once again, campers were greeted by the cordial owners of Timber Ridge. Everyone enjoyed a great meal, and Jeff Crouch performed. Even after riding all day, the group danced away the evening.
A Rousing End
On the final day, Ron Barron of Southeast Trailer Sales, Steve and Stephanie Richmond of Horse Stuff, Etc., Larry McMillan of Southeast Pack Trips, and the cheerful staff of East Fork Stables picked up riders, horses, and gear. Everyone was trailered back to East Fork Stables where small groups rode on the bluff trails from the plateau rim.
East Fork Stables once again fed the hungry crowd with a first-class supper. After supper, there was a wine-tasting hosted by Highland Manor Winery. The night ended with music performed by the Shane Thomas Band.
If you’re interested in going on next year’s Highlands Trail Ride, sign up early through East Fork Stables. Practically every rider has expressed interest to come back for the Second Annual Highlands Ride. Happy trails!