O&W Rail Bridge Hike and Some River Views in the Big South Fork Recreation Area, Tennessee
After the previous day’s hike in Big South Fork I decided to dip just south of the Kentucky border into Tennessee to get a better view of the Big South Fork River and a chance to actually hike along it. West of the town of Oneida lies the Leatherwood Ford access point which both currently and historically serves as a crossing point across the gorge. From the crossing point are multiple trails that provide plenty of scenery and initially it was difficult to choose. However one trail, a section of the John Muir Trail, led upstream to the old wooden O&W Rail Bridge, an original whipple truss design which features thin diagonal tension “members.” Sounded interesting – plus I like old bridges – so I decided on that one.
I arrived at the trailhead bright and early but found it to be too early for me. Not yet fully awake, I decided to wander around a bit in my flip flops enjoying the cool morning breeze. I checked out the historic low water bridge that was the primary crossing at Leatherwood Ford up until the 1970s as well as the banks of the river immediately adjacent. Then I got my boots on, put my hair up, and hiked the two and a half or so miles upstream. More beautiful forest scenery and an awesome trail but the stand out was the bridge itself, weathered wooden planks and rusted iron. Surprisingly the bridge seems to still be in use for vehicles on the forest road though access was restricted.