Cool Waters at Leatherwood Ford in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
May 30, 2013
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
May 30th, 2013
Share story

Throughout the vastness of the Big South Fork National Recreation Area (spread across Tennessee and Kentucky) you can find just about any type of outdoor activity you could enjoy: hiking, camping, kayaking, white water rafting, horseback riding, and beautiful scenic overlooks. But if you get tired of all the strenuous activities or if you’re just looking for a place to enjoy a quiet evening picnic, Leatherwood Ford is your place. Located just 20 minutes from Oneida, Tennessee, this little area offers you a place to relax in cool waters, take a short walk along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, or just sit in the shade and listen to the water.

This little recreation area within a recreation area sits in a ravine between Oneida and the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. At this point of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River the waters are shallow which allowed vehicles to cross before a bridge was built. The original bridge still exists but is only available for pedestrian traffic today, though barely. A newer, higher bridge allows for all the heavy vehicles towing campers to continue along Leatherwood Ford Road.

The older bridge is safe to walk across about halfway, but after that the bridge has been broken during floods in recent years. It is not safe to walk across completely, though I watched as several people did just that. Many people enjoy this spot for fishing because it is one of the easiest river accesses in the Big South Fork NRA.

But you could also enjoy a different kind of outdoor activity: sitting on your bum. I enjoyed a quiet afternoon here as a group of friends chatted nearby, sitting on rocks with their feet in the water. Despite the two-lane road nearby, it is a quiet area. If you want to get a little further away from the road, you can take the short 1-mile trail (round trip) that runs along the river banks. The trail is flat, easy to walk, and paved about halfway (although a few portions were covered with sand from recent floods). Benches provide a place to sit and relax ever couple hundred feet, with a few boardwalk balconies to give kids a place to sit. At the end of the trail you can barely hear any vehicle traffic at all, truly plunging you into the silent cacophony of nature.
The shallow waters at Leatherwood Ford in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area in Oneida, TN on Monday, May 27, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

The view of the river and rocky shore at the end of the riverside trail.

This is an infrequently visited location, mostly savored by the locals. Visitors the Big South Fork NRA are too busy with white water rafting or horseback riding to spend any time enjoying something as simple as this hidden gem. Most visitors will pass this on their way to the Bandy Creek Campground, a popular place throughout the year. But if you’re looking for something different, something quiet, something easy, this is your place.

If you want to see more photos of Leatherwood Ford and the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, please visit my photography website at photography.southeasterntraveler.com/National-Parks/Big-South-Fork-NRRA/

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