Description - The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (BSFNRRA) is a large protected area on the Kentucky/Tennessee border that provides opportunity for wilderness experiences. The preserve surrounds the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. It is characterized by scenic gorges and valleys containing a wide range of natural and historic features. The BSFNRRA abounds with recreation opportunities and well-maintained facilities.
- A train ride through the once thriving mining and timber region contained within the park tops the highlights of the BSFNRRA. The Kentucky & Tennessee Railway at one time stretched for over 20 miles into the Big South Fork River valley and operated 12 steam locomotives through it. The railway was the primary passage for people and supplies entering the camps and resources leaving them. There are two visitor centers within the Recreation Area one in Kentucky, Stearns, which features exhibits about the coal and lumber camps and the individuals who lived in them. Also at this Visitor Center is a bookstore and restrooms. It is open during the spring, summer and fall months.
Blue Heron, or Mine 18, is an abandoned coal mining town turned museum. The townsite was once a part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company. Most of what we know about life at Blue Heron, and the other Stearns coal towns, has been handed down by oral history, which is now interpreted by museum employees. The Blue Heron mine operated from 1937 until December, 1962, supporting hundreds of people who lived and worked in the isolated community on the banks of the Big South Fork River. Their story is the focus of the tour of the abandoned Blue Heron Community.
In addition to the exhibits and interpretation of the industrial history visitors will find plenty of ways to explore the rich natural history of the region. In the southern reaches of the Recreation Area, along Tennessee Scenic Byway 297, is the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. This facility houses exhibits about the flora, fauna, geology and Native Americans of the region. (Ruins of structures once used by traveling bands of Native Americans can be found throughout the park.) Also at Bandy Creek Visitor Center is a bookstore, restrooms and a well-trained staff. This is a good place to begin your visit to BSFNRRA and gather information about the area, if you are entering it from the south.
Also within this preserve visitors will find two developed campgrounds, that contain 150 individual and group sites, some of which have electrical hookups. One primitive campground is available and backcountry sites are available without a permit. Hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trails are also maintained for visitors.
Recreation - The Big South Fork is set aside so that people can actively enjoy this rugged scenic area, in which opportunities abound for whitewater canoeing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, bike riding, hunting, fishing and horseback riding.
Climate - The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is located in a humid climatic region, typified by mild winters and moist warm to hot summers. Storm systems typically bring heavy rains from December through March which may cause flooding. Summer thunderstorms are common. Winter snowfall occurs intermittently in the area and averages 17 inches per year. Wear comfortable clothing for the season and bring clothing for the possible extremes.
This Recreation Area lies on the Kentucky border, straddling the delineation between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time. It is most easily reached by car. If traveling southbound on Interstate 75 take Kentucky Highway 461 southward to Kentucky Highway 80. Turn westward on Kentucky Highway 80 to U.S. Highway 27, following it south to Oneida. From Oneida follow Tennessee Highway 297 west into the park.
If traveling on Interstate 75 northbound, exit on to Tennessee Highway 63 and drive westward to U.S. Highway 27. Follow U.S. Highway 27 northward to Oneida. In Oneida turn west on to Tennessee Highway 297, which will lead you into the park.
From I-40 westbound, exit at U.S. 27, travel north to Oneida and follow TN 297 west into the park.
From I-40 eastbound, exit at U.S. 127 and travel north to TN 154, take 154 north to TN 297 and follow take 297 east into the park.