Most of us seasoned trail riders have a favorite place or two that we return to time and again. I place Zenith Stables & RV Campground in Allardt, Tennessee, at the top of my list of all-time favorites. This campground is not only a great place to stay, it also offers trail access to the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area.
This is our second year camping at Zenith, after two memorable trips last year in the fall. On our first visit, the first thing I noticed was the ease with which we were able to find the place. Plus, there were no narrow, hazardous roads on which to navigate our eight-foot-wide, four-horse trailer with living quarters! We live in middle Tennessee. We took I-40 east all the way to the Monterey exit, and from there, it was smooth sailing on nice, well-maintained roadways. Once we hit Allardt, we saw we could pick up any forgotten groceries in that quaint, friendly town. Allardt just happens to have a Pumpkin Festival at the end of October, when we usually go to Zenith.
A Special Place
As you know, just getting ready to go on a riding adventure requires meticulous planning, lots of patience, and a really good sense of humor, because inevitably, you’ll forget something and have to improvise. But at Zenith, no matter what you might forget or break, owner Gary Matthews can help you procure a replacement, or he’ll find someone who can.
Gary creates a right-at-home atmosphere when you and your horses arrive. He’s there to welcome you and help you pick a campsite. And when it’s time to unload your precious cargo, there are plenty of large, clean, and freshly dressed stalls smelling sweetly of new shavings.
In every stall, a water bucket is set in a wall-mounted container so your horse doesn’t knock it over. Hoses reach just about every stall, so there’s no need to haul water. Gary will even supply good-quality hay at a competitive price. There are also two nice-sized round pens.
Another bonus: Gary does take reservations! After you’ve packed up your trailer and hauled your animals hundreds of miles, it’s nice to know your campsite is ready and waiting for you!
Originally, there were 23 well-shaded campsites, most with water and electric hookups, and some with sewer hook-ups. During this trip, we discovered that Gary has added 53 stalls in a new barn near a large pond. These have all the amenities of the original stalls, but are closer to the newer campsites. I love the original camping area, though; for me, nothing is better than stepping out of my trailer and walking only a few feet to care for my horse.
Zenith also has two cabins that sleep 8 to 12 people each, with an attached kitchen and immaculately clean bath house. Some evenings, there’s bluegrass music for your enjoyment.
Now for the trails! Big South Fork is home to some of the most magical scenery in the world. East Fork is by far the largest trail, and Bandy Creek is lovely. The trails are so well marked and so easily accessible that you don’t need a guide. But if you do, Gary always has an able trail master available – including himself!
Last fall, we had the pleasure of being escorted by Gary’s good friend Darrell, who knew the history and folklore of the area around Zenith, which is home to the old O&W Railroad bed along the many tributaries of the Big South Fork River. Darrell’s knowledge of the history of our surroundings added to the thrill of the ride.
As we passed awesome rock formations jutting out from the crystal-clear river a few feet away, along a shaded, autumn-leaf-lined trail, I felt almost like I could see down into the center the earth. If those old trails could talk, imagine the tales they’d give up.
Gary loaned me an old storybook about a backcountry killing that took place among some of the oldest area families many years ago. Good, goose-bumpy, campfire stuff, indeed!
I love the trails, but I feel like I’m coming home when we pull our rig into Zenith. I know that my mind can wander back to a simpler time when our horses and friends were all the company we could ever want, as we sit by the fire and enjoy this little slice of heaven.
For more information, contact Zenith Stables & Campground, (931) 879-5252; www.zenithstables.com