“A great IMBA Epic ride on the 5 mountain bike trails of Big South Fork.
— Randy Conner
Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.
Skinny singletrack, friendly hills, killer views and back country make this an epic ride. Most days you'll not see anyone else on the 33 mile ride. Once you leave the visitors center you'll have the trails to yourself.
From the rolling Collier Ridge
section to the old school Duncan Hollow to the magnificent views of Grand Gap and John Muir
, Big South Fork has something for everyone. Start out with thick creekside laurel and rhododendron and work your way up slickrock like sandstone. Enter old hardwood ridge sections, mix in some gravel and some clifftop singletrack next to 200' drops and you get a feel for Big South Fork.
Need to Know
Park at the Bandy Creek Visitors Center. Any of the sections can stand on their own as a good ride. There are hundreds of miles of back country trails, gravel and doubletrack. Certain sections get a lot of horse traffic. You'll probably want to avoid the horse sections because of deep sand and loose rocks.
The ride is good in any direction but this ride heads west out of the parking lot. The pavement soon turns to gravel. At 1.1 miles look for trailhead on the left. It is just past the cemetery and the Scott State Forest sign.
The Collier Ridge
trail follows the creek for a mile or so then climbs to the top of the ridge. When you hit the sandstone section you are close to the top. Look for the well marked right turn. The nature of the trail changes here from old doubletrack gone to singletrack to true skinny trail. Watch out for the rock drop about a 1/4 mile in on this section. It looks worse than it really is. When you get to the field next to the highway there is only 1/2 mile of Collier Ridge
left. Collier Ridge
Trail ends at the parking lot at the intersection of Hwy 297 and Bandy Creek Rd.
Go behind the parking lot and cross the gravel Bandy Creek Rd onto West Bandy
Trail. West Bandy
starts out rolling and ends with some short, steep climbs. The first mile is new as of 2011. The rest is a mixture of old doubletrack, connectors and new reroutes. There are no side trails off W Bandy.
When you come back to the gravel Bandy Creek Rd turn left. About a 1/4 mile turn left onto Bypass Road (gravel). About 200' in Jack's Ridge branches to the left. Stay right on Bypass. Stay on Bypass thru 3 valleys. After the 3rd look for the left turn onto Duncan Hollow. Duncan Hollow starts out flat then drops quickly to the creek bottom. A gradual climb brings you back to Bypass Rd. Go left to Duncan Hollow Rd. then turn left onto Duncan Hollow Rd. In less than a mile look for unmarked (gravel)Alfred Smith Rd to the right. About 1 1/2 miles brings you to the Grand Gap/ John Muir
Look for the kiosk to the right. Grand Gap trail is to the right and John Muir
is to the left of the gravel. Do not turn onto the Litton Farm Trail. It is hiking only and well marked. Grand Gap has become the most popular bike trail in the park, still it is unusual to see anyone else on the trail.
About a mile in, look for the baby grave to the left of the trail. this is a remnant of the pioneer life from before the park was established. Another 1/2 mile brings you to the first overlook. You have to stop! The 2nd overlook is even better though. It looks down on Angel Falls, a series of rapids on the Big South Fork River. There are several just as spectacular overlooks along the way. There are also just enough technical rock sections to keep you on your toes. Be careful of the bridges - they can get slick, especially when they're wet or frozen. The kiosk at 6.4 miles marks the end of Grand Gap.
When you get to the kiosk, you're at the end of the Grand Gap trail and entering the John Muir
Trail. If you want to skip John Muir
, turn left here. About 100 yards up the hill you'll be back at the start of the Grand Gap Trail at the end of Alfred Smith Road
Go straight ahead at the kiosk and you'll be starting on the John Muir
Trail. There are no side trails, so continue until you see the exit sign. Both Grand Gap and John Muir
have spectacular rock houses. John Muir
has more of the great views and maybe even better flow than Grand Gap. Watch out for the steps about 4 miles in. Get off and walk. It's a long way to get help. At the sign that marks the exit, turn left and go across the hill back to Duncan Hollow Rd. It's about 4 miles of gravel back to Bandy Creek Visitors Center.
The John Muir
Trail does continue past the exit sign. If you continue, the trail drops to the valley bottom in about 3 miles. It's not recommended to continue because that section of trail does not receive the same level of maintenance and is generally used only for back country access.
History & Background
Big South Fork National river and Recreation Area was established by Congress in March of 1974. Management of BSF is by the National Park Service. BSF is possibly the first NPS unit to embrace mountain biking.
In the early 90's Duncan Hollow was the original mountain bike specific trail in the park. A couple of years later, Collier Ridge
was laid out. Eventually Collier Ridge
was rerouted to give more trail and follow the contour. Part of West Bandy
was opened in the 1990's and the last section was opened in 2011.
Around the early 2000's Grand Gap and John Muir
were opened to bikes Monday thru Friday only as an experiment. In 2012 both trails were opened up to mountain bikes all the time.
A small group of locals known as Big South Fork Mountain Bike Club are responsible for care and upkeep of the trails. Their work with the NPS has no doubt helped open up dialog about more mountain bike trails in other NPS units.