I recently visited the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, which encompasses 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau – in both Kentucky and Tennessee – and boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs.
With many sights to see, I decided to hike the Twin Arches, described as “the most impressive rock arches in the eastern United States”. The North Arch has a clearance of 51 feet, a span of 93 feet and its top deck is 62 feet high, while the South Arch has a clearance of 70 feet, a span of 135 feet and its top deck is 103 feet high.
Here’s a video taken at the South Arch…
A sign at the park provided this description as to how these arches were formed:
Weaker layers of sandstone form the base of the nearly vertical walls of this narrow ridge. The weathering of these erosion-susceptible layers caused sections of the wall to fall away, forming shallow rock shelters on both sides of the ridge.
The collapse and shelter enlarging process continued until two “windows” in the narrow ridge were formed. This opening enlarged until it reached the stronger and more erosion-resistant sandstone layer of rim rock that caps the Twin Arches.
A cave was situated under one end of the South Arch, so I entered to discover that there was an exit at the back, albeit a narrow passage at approx. 18″ wide. Footprint-impressions in the sand from hikers provided some assurance that the cave was empty – no bats or bears. But, watch your step & don’t bump your head!
Here’s a short video as I entered the cave…
The top of the arches are one contiguous surface area, accessible by stairs, though the South Arch has additional areas visitors may ascend so as to attain the best view:
At the pinnacle, scenic views were truly spectacular on this fine day – unique walls of eroded sandstone, mountains and valleys lined with trees, and an interesting cap-rock area to walkabout. Here are a few examples:
Here’s a video of the surrounding environment –
The only complaint I had while visiting the Twin Arches is Divide Road. As soon as you leave TN-154, you can expect to travel for nearly 5 miles along a gravel road which is narrow with frequent & deep potholes, many hidden by shadows from trees lining the road. So, to be safe, I drove this stretch at less than 10 m.p.h..
Keep in mind, however, that the most impressive sights to see at the Twin Arches are at ground level. So, stay tuned for Part Two…