Angel Falls Rapid Trail is located in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
From the early Native Americans who hunted the area to the more recent inhabitants who mined the land for its coal, the Big South Fork area of the Cumberland Plateau has seen a lot of history over the past 12,000 years. The Cherokees that lived in the area were pushed out by the arrival of fur trappers in the late 1700s. By 1810, the first pioneer settlers arrived to build farms and mine saltpeter. Following the Civil War, the land was mined for coal and stripped of timber before its oil and gas resources were developed.
The 125,000-acre park features waterfalls and numerous rock formations as well as its famous river. The constantly moving water that eroded the sandstone and shale that make up the top layer of the plateau caused the park’s distinct features. The limestone beneath layer beneath contains the parks oil and gas deposits. The park also features a wide variety of wildlife arranging from Black Bear and Elk to 60 species of fish and 160 species of native and migratory birds.
Directions: There are numerous ways to access the park depending on which section you wish to visit. You can reach the Bandy Creek Visitor Center (from which you can get more information) by taking US 27 north from Interstate 40, Exit 347, to Oneida. In Oneida, turn left (west) on Tennessee 297 and travel about 15 miles. The Visitors Center and Bandy Creek area is to your right after you cross the Big South Fork River. There are also Visitors Centers for the park in Rugby and Crossville (which is on Central Time).
Angel Falls Rapid Trail
Distance Round-Trip: 3.6 miles
Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 hours
Don’t let the name mislead you. Angel Falls is actually a rapid created from the former Angel Falls. The falls once cascaded 10 and 12 feet around a large rock outcrop. In 1954, local fisherman attempted to blast the boulder in order to improve the boating and fishing in that section of the Big South Fork River. Instead, they created a rapid so dangerous that those canoeing or kayaking the area must portage their boats around this section.
Caution: If you decided to continue down to the river, use extreme caution in the area around the rapids..
Trail Directions: The parking area closest to the trailhead is found by keeping to the right as you enter the parking and picnic area. Continue to follow the road back to where buses and vehicles carrying boat trailers often park. The other option is to park near the gazebo and restrooms and walk back to the parking area. The trailhead is at the far end of the lot at N 36º 28’ 38”, W 84º 40’ 0”
Hike into the woods and at .16 mile, cross a bridge. You will cross a bridge over stream at .76 in the area of a reclaimed hillside where a mine was located. Continue hiking and cross a rock bridge at 1.21 miles. At 1.66 miles, take note of the exposed coal seam in the rock face to your right. This area was once mined for coal. At 1.72 miles, a trail sign notes that Angels Falls trail is to the left as a side trail cuts off to the right. At 1.73 miles, you will reach the overlook at N 36º 29’ 43”, W 84º 39’ 2”
The overlook provides views of Angel Falls Rapid to your left. There is an information sign here on white water. It is less than a tenth of a mile along the trail down to a beach on the Big South Fork River at N 36º 29’ 5”, W 84º 39’ 1”
Return to the parking area by backtracking.