The Twin Arches are two of the main attractions of the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area, which is on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. These two sandstone arches form the largest natural bridge complex in Tennessee and one of the largest in the world. The North Arch is first on the trail. The North Arch is the smaller of the two and is located at the intersection of the trails down to Slave Falls and over to Charit Creek Hostel (Lodge). It is really pretty, but I was not as taken by it as I was with the South Arch. It is a must to go just past the stairs to the top of the North Arch and around the bend to the South Arch. I really think it was the location of the arch and how the trails were developed around it that made it not as impressive to me.
The South Arch can be a little tricky to find if you don’t know where you are going. I was distracted by the stairs leading up to the North Arch, but if you pass those steps and just keep walking towards the right, following the sign for the Charit Creek Hostel, you’ll see it. This area is farther from the intersection of the trails and the noise of the loud hikers who do not respect the peacefulness of the outdoors. I was pleased to find that the hikers did not really venture over to the South Arch at all.
One of the coolest things about the South Arch is that you can walk through the left “column.” Just go under the arch and to the left. You’ll see what looks like a little cave. It is a narrow squeeze (to narrow for me to fit through with my big backpack), but it comes out on the other side. You can go either left or right after that, since you will then be on a trail that goes around the South Arch.
The area around the South Arch itself is peaceful and scenic and a perfect place for a picnic lunch. Large boulders provide a place to sit down and relax while you just take in the beauty of the 103-feet-high arch, which provides complete shade and respite from the sun. I was enthralled with all the sand. It makes sense that it would be there because the arches are made of sandstone and are slowly eroding, but I felt like I was on the beach and the ocean should have been just a few feet away from all the sand.
The main entrance to the Twin Arches state area is easy to find. There is a large parking area, picnic tables, and restroom facilities. The trailhead is well marked. From the Twin Arches trailhead, I noticed two options for reaching the arches: the 4.6 mile Twin Arches Loop or an unnamed loop that is 1.4 miles. I chose the latter because the map didn’t indicate any other points of interest along the trail, and I had two other trails on my list for the weekend.
The trail starts out pretty wide and then gradually narrows so that you have to walk in single file. The first part, until you get to the sign that points you to the right is fairly ordinary, except for all the sand. (I’m not used to hiking through a lot of sand.) However, once you get down the very steep wooden steps, the trail starts getting interesting. Beneath the stairs is a sandstone rock face. It was so pretty I had to stop at the base of the stairs and just look around for a while.
The trail also passes a gorgeous bluff and outcrop and crosses two small streams. (There are bridges.) The plant life was very pretty: fiddlehead ferns and lots of spring wildflowers. On the way back, you can climb some more very steep steps to the top of the North Arch, but be sure to continue off this trail to go see the South Arch first! The trail along the top of the arch is completely ordinary. I was disappointed that there was really nothing to see. I expected a really great view of something since I was high up, but the trees completely blocked everything except in a couple of small areas where I could see a couple of bluffs across the way. This portion of the trail isn’t by the water and doesn’t have the beautiful greenery of the trail below. Instead it has more woody plant life and tall, dry grass. Next time I go, I will probably climb the stairs just to go explore a little up there, but take the first leg of the trail back. It’s just a lot prettier. I walked it twice and saw more wildflowers and other interesting plants that I had missed the first time I passed through. If you do decide to take the top of the arch back, you will come out right at the sign I mentioned earlier. Either way you go, you do repeat at least a portion of the same trail.