Commonly Backpacked · River/Creek · Waterfall
General suggestion for JMT: Leatherwood Ford - Station Camp Crossing (owner: Hiking Project Staff ) suggested by Burk Frey
This is a scenic hike in the heart of Big South Fork, with a variety of habitats and a good mix of trail sections. The middle portion of the hike has a relative lack of water sources.
The parking for Leatherwood Ford is located adjacent to where TN-297 crosses over the Cumberland River (about two miles from the "Entering Big South Fork" sign to the east, and about three miles from Bandy Creek Visitor Center to the west). From the left side of the parking lot, find the well-signed trailhead.
The trail begins by crossing to the opposite bank of the river. Travel predominately northeast for about a mile, keeping the river below and to the right. Eventually, a fork in the trail offers a choice to go on a brief but steep descent (right) towards a wet crossing and a backcountry campsite, or uphill (left) to continue the JMT Leatherwood Ford.
The left fork begins a .9 mile upward hike which is the most vigorous uphill section of this trail, but also perhaps its most interesting-looking area as well. Switchbacks, large rock overhangs, and mossy trees lie ahead.
After heading upward and over a downed tree or two, the trail reaches a 4-5 foot vertical obstacle with sandy, poor footing. Some small tree roots on top can be used to steady yourself and assist with overcoming the obstacle, but take care to treat them gently so that future hikers can use them too.
Past the obstacle, continue to follow the trail upwards, including some switchbacks and stone steps. After a while the trail will come to a level section, and shortly on the right you'll notice the first of two rock overhangs. The first one features a fire ring and coverage to wait out some bad weather. The second overhang, immediately after, is nice as a lunch spot. A trickle waterfall just ahead vents a refreshing blast of cool air toward the trail on a hot day.
After the twin overhangs and the little waterfall, a short uphill trail portion leads to a drop-off on top of the previous overhang that must be traversed. The way forward is not perilous in good weather, but cables have been installed for a stabilizing hand hold that may be helpful if the rock is slippery. Shortly after the cables, the trail approaches another 4-5 foot vertical obstacle, but this one features a strong and well-made log ladder on the left side. Clamber up some big log steps before reaching a "T" junction with the Grand Gap Loop.
The right path leads to the bulk of the Grand Gap Loop and is not far from the beautiful, panoramic Angel Falls Overlook. The left path continues on with this trail, sharing the way with a bit of the Grand Gap Loop.
Shared By: Burk Frey