The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is big on scenic overlooks. They are scattered throughout the region between North Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky. But of all the overlooks perhaps the easiest the access with the best view is the East Rim Overlook near Oneida, Tennessee. After a short drive and even shorter walk, you’ll find yourself looking down on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Just be cautious if you’re a wee bit afraid of heights.
Highway 297, also known locally as Leatherwood Ford Road, takes visitors from nearby Oneida to the Bandy Creek Visitor Center. This is a main thoroughfare most of the year as hikers, campers, camping trailers, and horse trailers journey to the campground for a three-day weekend (or even longer). But many of the visitors to this area drive past the entrance to the East Rim Overlook without ever knowing it was there.
About 20 minutes from Oneida, the road becomes curvy just after passing the sign announcing you have entered the Big South Fork NRA. Just a few minutes later the road begins a long descent into a ravine at Leatherwood Ford to cross the river and proceed on to the visitor center. But before this descent, you pass the entrance to the overlook. A sign marks the way, but it’s just a narrow two-lane road that is easily overlooked (pun totally intended).
It is a short drive down the road to the overlook. I visited this site about three times during my five-day stay in the Big South Fork NRA, so I became very familiar with the drive. Fortunately, it is only a 20-25 minute drive from nearby Oneida, so it’s not that bad getting here even if you are not staying at the Bandy Creek Campground.
A small parking area for about two or three dozen cards provides plenty of places for vehicles. However, don’t try to bring a horse trailer or camping trailer into the parking area. It will be a difficult turn-around and would take up too many spaces. A small restroom facility is also available, making this a great place to spend an evening.
The trail leading down to the overlook is an easy walk. My mom is disabled (a botched hip-replacement surgery left her with one leg about 1.25″ longer than the other, oops?) but she was able to make the journey down the paved path to the wooden overlook. It takes about ten minutes during a slow walk to reach this beautiful overlook, which features a long bench and enough room for a few collapsible chairs. From this vantage point you can look down on the bend of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River about 400′ below, across to the opposite ridge, and beyond to the horizon.
This is definitely one of the most stunning views in the region. During the early mornings right after sunrise you can see clearly for hundreds of miles across Tennessee and Kentucky. The sunsets are amazing at this location as it sets across the rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau. And the nights…well I can’t exactly vouch for the nights just yet since every night during my five-day trip was cloudy. But I can tell you from previous experience that the distance from any major population center and major highways would make this a very dark place for excellent star gazing and photography.
Although easily missed, this is also the most amazing view in the Big South Fork NRA. It is certainly something you need to visit at least once, although I would not be happy if I did not come here at least once every day. How often will you visit?
If you want to see more photos of the East Rim Overlook and the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, please visit my photography website at photography.southeasterntraveler.com/National-Parks/Big-South-Fork-NRRA/