Our adventure begins this morning in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we meet our guides and fellow travelers. Following a brief orientation, pack shake down and dispersal of group gear we hop in the van for a two-hour shuttle to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Once on the trail we pass the Twin Arches, one of the largest natural bridge formations in the world—one arch tops out at 103’ and the other at 62’. We also pass the historic Charit Creek Lodge and a 19th-century pioneer homestead owned by the Blevins family, known as Jake’s Place. Once we reach our campsite, we enjoy a hearty dinner and settle in for the night. Dinner included.
Backpacking: 4.9 miles, elevation gain/loss: +270’/ - 971’; Van transfer: 2 hours
After a peaceful night's sleep and a trail breakfast, we break down camp following Leave No Trace principles and set out for another full day of adventure on the John Muir Trail. Named after the naturalist and conservationist, this trail commemorates his 1867 hike in this region. The terrain is quite rugged but it rewards us with views of the Big South Fork, tumbling waterfalls and rocky outcroppings. As we hike, our guides share their knowledge of the region’s history, verdant ecosystem and its wildlife—which includes white-tailed deer, black bear, elk, bobcat, gray fox, and more than 160 species of birds. We're actually much more likely to see critters of the four-legged variety than other hikers from here on out. We take in expansive views from rock outcroppings and may have a chance to see Angel Falls rapids when the trees are leafless in early spring and fall. Once we've made our creekside camp we enjoy a backcountry dinner. Breakfast and Dinner included.
Backpacking: 11.1 – 12.5 miles, elevation gain/loss: +1,550’/-1,400’, Terrain: Rugged—lots of ups and downs with rocky outcroppings
Wake up to a hot beverage and breathe the fresh Big South Fork air. Our big hike today begins with a two-mile trek towards the road we need to cross to get back on the John Muir Trail heading southbound. Our trail today takes us just over 10 miles to our campsite in one of the most picturesque areas of the park. This part of the Honey Creek Loop may be the most rugged terrain we encounter but the views of waterfalls, rapids, and dramatic rock features make it all worth it. Hikers can expect creek crossings, ladders and some bouldering that requires the use of hands and knees. As the sun sets at camp, we relive the day’s adventures and relish our final evening in the Big South Fork backcountry. Breakfast and dinner included.
Backpacking: 6.6 – 7.6 miles, elevation gain/loss: +1,500’/-1,220’, Terrain: Natural rock tunnel with low ceiling; large boulders that require 3-point contact and pack removal to descend; some boulder scrambling; lots of ups and downs with rocky outcroppings
On our final day of backpacking we climb up a ridge and hike under pine and oak trees, taking in the lush, quiet forest. Our last two miles find us walking along a clear creek dotted with small beaches next to looming rock walls. Every spring, more than fifty varieties of native wildflowers bloom here. After many beautiful miles, we reach our pickup spot and bid farewell to Big South Fork before shuttling back to Knoxville. Breakfast included.
Backpacking 5.5 – 6.5 miles, elevation gain/loss: +900/-1,085’; Van transfer: 1.25 hours