Tennessee.

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It is one of the absolute most beautiful and wild states in our great nation. The state gets a bad rep as being ladled with rednecks and country music…and although those things are plentiful in areas…I have met big country music lovers in Italy and a lot of rednecks in Israel.

So let’s talk in reference the great outdoors-in Tennessee (one thing for which the state will NEVER get a bad name).

I have been priveledged enough to have traveled to some of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is no lie- I am lucky.However, one of the top 3 most beautiful and wonderful still remains Tennessee–where I live currently.

This weekend, Chad and I decided to make a spontaneous backcountry trip (we were becoming severely domestic and both of us were starting to twitch). We decided to go hiking at the Honey Creek Loop in Big South Fork (BSF).

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The National Park Service says about this trail:

The Honey Creek Loop is the most challenging trail in Big South Fork. Along with the challenge come rewards for the hiker with the time and stamina to undertake the trip. The trail is 5.5 miles in length but requires extra time. Even experienced hikers should allow a minimum of 5 hours to complete this strenuous hike. Hazards include steep narrow trail sections, numerous creek crossings, slick boulders and confusing trail junctions. This hike is not recommended immediately following heavy rainfall or after severe freezing weather. The trailhead for Honey Creek is located In the southern portion of the park in Tennessee. It is a remote trailhead and is located about an hours drive south from Bandy Creek Visitor Center. It is off of the Mt. Helen Rd. to the west or Mountain View Rd. to the east.

First off, it WAS difficult to find off the side roads from Oneida, TN. After several wrong turns and directions from a local, we found what we assumed must be the trailhead (GPS or phone service does not work well in BSF). Once arriving, we took off on the trail to the left of the parking lot with our faithful companions, Anabelle and Mogul. The hike was deemed ‘extremely dangerous’ and ‘difficult’ by every count we read. That is admittedly why we chose to do it. *grin* I started out by setting a timer on my watch to keep track of our time on the trail-we were told that although the trail is 5.5 miles, it would take an hour to do each mile (something we were both not used to doing).

A mile or so into the trail, we veered off to the left and mistook a sign that pointed to the “Main Trail” (at Ice Cascade Falls) and ended up making an entire loop that took us an extra half mile-at least. NOTE: the trail IS well marked with small square signs that have a picture of two hikers, an arrowhead or a simple green blaze…AND they have a secondary pink or orange mark line attached as well (the kind you use to mark the territory of property). However, at Ice Cascade Falls, we doubted these markings and we ended up turning the wrong direction. There are also many painted arrows (red and white) on rocks that direct your turns. We realized after our accidental loop at Honey Creek Falls, that we were reading the arrows from a ‘backwards’ direction.
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The only map we found online was this http://www.nps.gov/biso/planyourvisit/upload/honctrl.pdf and I will be honest, it was not the most helpful, as it did not mark the elevation (which saved us in Sequoia when we hiked off trail) nor did it mark the Ice Cascade Falls (actually, those were not mentioned anywhere in our readings…). The trail was also not as clearly marked as I have been used to in the Smokies, for example. AND, we were first timers to this trail.

A good friend warned prior to taking the trail that we should not bring our dogs. She mentioned that my ‘big’ dog, Ana, might not make it up the ladders. I was skeptical, as she has been brilliant in the past at traversing ladders and narrow places. It was our little dog, Mogul, I was worried about. However…BOTH dogs ended up going UP the ladders to the Honey Creek Loop overlook and back DOWN the ladders to continue the hike.

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The hike took us 4 hours and 40 minutes including a 20-30 minute lunch at the overlook (at which both of our doggies took a nap). The views were unreal, the landscape was challenging but so rewarding.

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You end up climbing over rocks, scampering through riverbeds, sliding, slipping and getting dirty. It is a longer hike than a simple 5 miler, but it was wonderful! Beautiful, too! The tree roots completely grow overtop of the rocks and there are Indian cave sites where hikers have built campfires, sculptures and even rock chairs. It was a tricky trail and marked without specifics…HOWEVER…follow the markings, and you will be on your way! Be careful at the Honey Creek Loop Falls, as that is where we made a loop instead of continuing onwards…you really do crawl between the two big rocks to continue on the trail!

I don’t think small children should come on this trail, nor the faint of heart….however, it is SO worth the adventure.

We ended our evening with stargazing at the Bandy Creek Campsite and a trip to Gentlemen’s Swimming Hole in quaint Rugby.

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Big South Fork is truly a part of what I consider to be wild and wonderful Tennessee.

**Also, the Honey Creek Loop was mentioned in USA Today as part of the USA Today’s Great American hikes.**

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