Exploring the Big South Fork

Destination: Big South Fork, TN

| Activities: Hiking, navigating, bird watching, exploring

Hidden away in a remote corner of Kentucky and Tennessee is a geologic and natural wonder. The Big South Fork, overseen by the National Park Service as a natural river and recreation area, is full of incredible features. Waterfalls, soaring cliffs, caves, sandstone arches, forests, rivers, and lakes abound in this truly unique and incredible place. Tucked into this park is another gem: Charit Creek Lodge. At this rustic wilderness retreat, you can take a step back in time and unplug completely in their primitive cabins. This relaxed and beautiful place offers comfortable beds, wood burning stoves, a bathroom and shower house, and a dining room where they serve an amazing dinner and breakfast by oil lamp light. If you are craving a true getaway, great hiking, and amazing scenery, this is the trip for you!


  • Learning about the natural history & the equally fascinating human history of this area
  • Spending time at 2 beautiful parks, Picket State park and Big South Fork National River and Recreational area
  • Exploring the waterfalls, soaring cliffs, caves, sandstone arches, forests, rivers, and lakes of this amazing Big South Fork National River and Recreational area
  • Staying at 3 very different accommodations; Pickett SP cabins with their 60's atmosphere, Charit Creek Lodge where time stands still and dinner is by oil lamp light and The Garden Inn Bed and Breakfast for a bit of pampering
  • Learning navigational skills for hiking
  • Spending an afternoon learning about medicinal plants

Departures and Prices

April 03 to April 09, 2022
$1995.00 - FULL
Join Waitlist


  • 1 - 2 experienced AGC guides based on group size
  • Six nights lodging in accommodations listed in the itinerary
  • All meals from lunch on Day 1 through breakfast on the Day 7. Guides will prepare meals at Picket SP, the Lodge provides meals at Charit Lodge. On Day 6, dinner will be at The Garden Inn and the final breakfast prior to departure will also be at The Garden Inn
  • Round-trip transportation from Knoxville, TN airport (TYS), transportation to all parks/accommodations and all activities on the itinerary
  • Park entry fees

Not included: Travel to and from Knoxville, TN, alcoholic beverages, guide gratuities and travel insurance

Trip Documents

Trip Intro

This trip is suitable for any woman who either enjoys hiking or is new to hiking and wants to learn in a safe and fun environment. While the trail ups and downs are not huge (i.e less than 1000 feet at a time), they are continuous and there is little flat. You will be hiking to the Charit Creek Lodge (about 1.1 miles) with your overnight gear for 3 nights. A rating of 3 requires aerobic conditioning, such as walking vigorously up hills, jogging, cross country skiing or stair stepping for 30 - 45 minutes at least 3 - 4 times a week. There are typically 4 to 6 hours of daily activity. Rating: 1 2[3][4] 5

This trip combines hiking with an immersion into the uniqueness of this fascinating area - there is no better way to understand these two parks than by staying in the midst of them and exploring by foot. Hikes are moderate in terms of length and elevation gain, and it is an excellent trip for beginner to experienced hikers who like to immerse themselves in their trips.

We'll spend the first two nights in small cabins at Pickett CCC Memorial State Park about an hour outside of Knoxville, TN. Cabins are lovely wood frame structures and accommodate 2 - 3 persons per cabin. Some cabins have separate bedrooms and/or bedroom in the living area. All are shared bathrooms.
The next three nights will be spent at Charit Creek Lodge inside the South Fork National River and Recreation Area located in both Tennessee and Kentucky. You will be hiking to the Lodge (about 1.1 miles) with your overnight gear for 3 nights. Accommodations at Charit are in a rustic bunkhouse with bunk beds. We rent enough bunkrooms so that no upper bunks will be in use. There is no electricity and shower and toilet facilities are in a separate building. Meals are provided by Charit in the communal dining room.
Our last night will be spent at a wonderful B & B, The Garden Inn, for a bit of pampering before going home. The majority of these rooms are singles but if you want to guarantee that you get a single, please choose the single supplement for $75.00 when you register.

Below is the proposed itinerary for the trip. As is true on any adventure travel trip, plans for any specific day may be modified due to weather considerations, unforeseen circumstances, new opportunities, and group interests.

We will meet by 10 AM at the Knoxville airport (TYS) in Eastern Tennessee. From there, we will head north and then west into the Big South Fork. Our first stop will be at Leatherwood Ford, one of the earliest places that settlers to this area were able to cross the area’s namesake: the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Our first hike will be the 3.6-mile Leatherwood Ford Loop. We’ll start out along the river and then ascend on several switchbacks past forest, cliffs, and a small waterfall to an overlook of the river and bridge. After a break for lunch, we will start back down to the vans, encountering a small trailside stream and remnants of the original wagon road through the area If time permits, we’ll make a short stop at the Bandy Creek Visitor’s center, headquarters for the park and the nearby historic Blevins Farm site with the original log house built in 1879 before continuing on to own lodging in the more modern cabins at Pickett State Park. Overnight: Pickett State Park Cabins L, D
After a delicious breakfast, we will spend the day exploring Pickett State Park. We’ll follow a meandering series of trails to Natural Arch, Indian Rockhouse, Hazard Cave, stream-carved gorges, and Pickett Lake. We’ll hike 4-6 miles depending on weather and interest and explore the action of water on sandstone, hunt for early spring wildflowers, and keep our eyes open for area wildlife. In the afternoon, we’ll return to our cabins for dinner and relaxation and will prepare for our hike into Charit Lodge tomorrow afternoon. Overnight: Pickett State Park Cabins L,D
After breakfast and final preparations for our Charit stay, we will head west to the Sawmill trailhead where we will hike the 4.3-mile Slave Falls loop through hemlock forests to another sandstone arch, rock house, and waterfall. Upon returning to the vans, we will proceed on to the Charit parking area where we will gather just our most necessary items into our backpacks to start 1.1-mile hike down switchbacks and a ladder to Charit Creek Lodge. Once in Charit’s lovely valley, you will feel yourself start to relax as the peaceful stream, front porch with rocking chairs, and fire pits outside the cabins beckon. We’ll enjoy the afternoon and listen with anticipation for the dinner bell to ring, summoning us to the table and a delicious family-style dinner with our group. Overnight Charit Lodge B,L,D
Today is our day to spend in and around the lodge. After breakfast, we’re having company! We’ve invited a local couple who specialize in both navigation for hiking and in medicinal plants to join us. We’ll have a morning session of navigation where you’ll actually learn how to use that compass you’ve been carrying around forever! After lunch, we’ll indulge in learning all about the medicinal plants around us. Both wonderful topics and we hope you’ll join both sessions. Of course, relaxing under a tree with a favorite book is also an option. Time permitting before the dinner bell, your guides will offer the option of a 4-mile hike up on to Hatfield Ridge to an overlook of the Charit Creek Valley. After another hearty supper prepared by the lodge staff, we’ll watch the stars come out and enjoy the stunning dark skies. Overnight Charit Lodge B,L,D
After another amazing lodge breakfast, we will lace up our hiking boots to visit one of the most amazing features in the Big South Fork area: The Twin Arches. We’ll start along the Charit Creek to the north of the lodge and then climb steeply up steps and switchbacks until we reach the arches. These are some of the largest sandstone arches anywhere in the eastern US and they are astounding! The trail climbs around, through, and over them and we will take our time exploring and trying to capture the scale of these magnificent formations. From the top of the South arch, with a span of 135 ft and clearance of more than 70 ft, we can climb to an overlook and survey the park for miles around. As we continue along the almost 5-mile Twin Arches loop, we will encounter huge cliffs and rockhouses all along the base of the ridge. Finally, we will start descending until we reach Jake’s Place, the remnants of a settlement and house in a clearing along Middle Creek. From here, we will follow the trail leading east back to our lodging. After showers, supper, and stars, we will spend our last night in the cozy cabins at Charit, dreaming of the day’s adventure. Overnight Charit Lodge B,L,D
It will be difficult to leave the wonderful, unhurried pace of Charit, and we will take our time packing up after breakfast before heading up the steep but beautiful forest trail to our waiting vans. We’ll drive south through Jamestown, TN where we will make a quick stop for any necessary items before turning east toward our last hike of the trip at Colditz Cove State Natural Area. Here, the Big Branch creek drops 60ft over a rock ledge to form Northrup Falls. A beautiful 1.5-mile loop brings us through lovely hemlock and deciduous forest and then over, down to, behind, and back up to the falls as we enjoy it from every angle and stretch out our legs one more time. Finally, we’ll make our way to The Garden Inn Bed and Breakfast Inn where we’ll check into our lovely marvel again at all the modern amenities, we’ve taken for granted. At the Inn, our host will serve us a delicious dinner and we will reminisce about our trip, compare pictures and stories, and enjoy each other’s company one more evening before retiring for the night. Overnight: The Garden Inn B & B B,L,D
This has been a wonderful week exploring the beautiful South Fork area here in Tennessee. It’s also been an amazing week of meals - being topped off this morning by breakfast at The Garden Inn! Unfortunately, we have to say our goodbyes to the Big South Fork and Cumberland plateau region and head back to Knoxville. We will have you back to the airport by 11:30 for flights home any time after 1pm. If you have driven to the trip, you are free to leave after breakfast. B


(4 reviews)
4.8 Food
4.2 Lodging
4.8 Safety

*These are the unfiltered reviews of women who have been on this trip in answer to the question "What made this trip special for you?". We take reviews very seriously and often tweak itineraries based on feedback. Please feel free to contact us about any questions you have.

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Susan R.
9 months ago

I really didn't have any expectations, so everything was a nice surprise. I just wanted to get outside and hike. One thing I did realize, is that being used to longer, harder hikes, I missed the opportunity to hike for an hour or two+ at a steady pace, losing myself in the trail. I will need to adjust my expectations when I do another level 3 to adjust my mindset.

Lynn W.
9 months ago

Eenee F.
9 months ago

yes. I expected good food, knowledgable guides and clean comfortable lodgings.

Kristine S.
9 months ago

The hiking trails were scenic, beautiful paths to walk. My kind of favorite hiking. The bunkhouse life was dismal. However I liked the way it brought the group together during porch time!

  1. Where do we eat?

    All but 1 dinner will be prepared by your guides or by Charit Creek Lodge. The dinner on the last night is at at the Bed and Breakfast Inn. Lunches will be packed lunches provided by your guides and Charit Creek Lodge.
  2. What dietary preferences or restrictions can you accommodate on this trip?

    We can accommodate vegetarian, lactose-free, and gluten-intolerant although we can not guarantee a completely gluten-free diet, if we know well in advance. If you’re severely allergic or if you have other significant dietary restrictions, please call the office before you register. If you’re vegan, you may want to bring some additional protein bars.
  3. I will be coming by myself. Do I need to pay a single supplement?

    There is only 1 night (at The Garden Inn B & B) that a single supplement is available. The majority of the rooms are single rooms. You only need to pay a single supplement if you want to guarantee you have your own room. Otherwise we’ll will assign rooms randomly.