We had lovely weather and plenty of discoveries this past weekend at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. We spent two and a half days surrounded by thick forests and a fast-moving river, and saw many new things including a preserved coal mining facility, huge millipede, kayaks and canoes among the waterways, and horses walking riverside. The campground hosted some family milestones for us as well. Our youngest was determined to try his bicycle without training wheels and our oldest had his pocket knife out creating shavings for fire starting. On hiking day we visited Mine 18, a preserved coal mining facility and outdoor museum dedicated to the lives of the coal miners who worked there, near Stearns, Kentucky. The river lured us in first, and the boys put together found items (inspired by Bear Grylls of Man Vs. Wild) to do some “fishing.” After they had enough development on that, we were off to discover the mine and it’s secrets. To top that all off we visited an overlook titled “Devil’s Jump,” named after the “raft devils” who road logs down stream for milling.
Big South Fork is touted as the hidden treasure near the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, just as beautiful, but not as crowded.
Campgrounds: There are two campgrounds, Blue Heron is near the North End of the park (and really small) and Bandy Creek is near the middle of the park. Blue Heron in the north is near the preserved Coal Mine which is titled Mine 18. It is free and part of the park service. Blue Heron has full hookups (water and electric) for a small price along with a bath house and dumping station. It only has about 30 sites and they are small and pretty crowded. Site 30 is probably your most private spot.
Hiking: Blue Heron Campground has no direct hiking from the sites. You must drive to a hiking trail. Bandy Creek has trails that do leave directly from the campground.
Other: The main visitor’s center is near Bandy creek. My youngest got to hold their corn snake, “Cleopatra” and my oldest was sworn in as a Junior Ranger.
Junior Ranger: Check out the National Park System’s junior ranger program. Ask a ranger. Kids get booklets to fill out that are about that park and earn a badge. My oldest son has amassed quite a collection!