O & W Country-- Needle's Eye and Devils Den
Saturday Nov. 5, 2016
Dana & Kenny Koogler
Total hike distance 4.4 miles
Pictures are here: Big South Fork Photos
Needles Eye & Devils Den Directions
(FYI-- You can also find this on the front page of my blog at present.)
Friday evening we left and headed to Jamestown to camp ,and spend the weekend.
Crab Orchard Mountain and Luper Mountain tops were on fire on the drive there. It was a strange sight seeing the glow of fire in the dark from the interstate. We went through Arby's to get something to eat before heading to the campground. We arrived at Maple Hill and were tired. We got to see Klaas, John, Sharon, and Pat.. John's mom who was visiting. We stood around and chatted a bit.
All of us were tired and the air was turning cold. We hit the sack pretty quickly so we'd be rested up for a full day of hiking and exploring on Saturday. The flannel sheets felt great on the bed along with the quilts. I slept like a log.
Saturday morning we got up and after breakfast we visited briefly with John, Sharon, and Pat.
They were not joining us to hike today as they had to take Pat to the airport for her flight home.
We gathered our gear and went out to an area of the Big South Fork new to us.
We had never hiked or done any exploring around the O & W area just outside Oneida. I had long seen photos of the old O & W bridge. I wanted to see it for myself. I had a brief sinking feeling
while reading a trail narrative on the way there. I was concerned the old O& W road was not open for vehicles. We were in for a pleasant surprise finding that the road is open. We were able to get where we were going. The old road is very appealing. Pretty drive the whole way. Water levels in streams were low as expected, but the scenery was still attractive. We both agreed we want to get back to this area again when there has been plenty of rain. Spring would be excellent.
It was not long until we parked by the O& W bridge. We walked down to the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. It was pretty and had a good bit of water. The gum trees foliage was pretty along the river banks.
Above and below-- two different views of O&W bridge.
Autumn colors along the river.
We drove across the bridge. It is rickety walking on it and driving on it. We spotted the trail head for Devils Den to the left. We'd come back for that. We continued out the road and soon encountered some folks on horseback. We pulled over at a wide area and put the window down. They passed us without their animals getting spooked. We were able to speak to them regarding the location for accessing Needle's Eye. I knew it was not on the park maps or literature. It is only on Tennessee Landforms. One man was happy to tell us we could access it further down just before the end of the road. He went on to say "It's quite a hike up there to see it." We have learned not to let that sort of assessment by horse riders upset us.
We found the only place it could be. One lone, unsigned trail heading up the hill.
We parked here and started out using the GPS to assist us. I had read a good trip report by blogger and editor Ben Garrett so I had some idea what to expect. The climb up the trail was indeed steep and very rough and rocky. The forest was pretty and leaves littered the path.
We passed by a rock shelter on our left. I could tell the terrain was going to get less steep.
Pretty soon we did get to the top. We saw horse stile number 1. We kept going to our right.. the west. We passed horse stile 2. The trail climbed yet again to the top of the ridge line.
It was not long until we came out at a big intersection that was flagged in a couple spots with neon pink survey tape. We turned right and headed out the ridge. It was not long til we passed a picnic table and a lot of horseback riders eating lunch. We finally came to a point where the trail drops over the edge of the ridge. Once down there we had arrived! Before us was The Needle's Eye. It is the largest natural cave in the Big South Fork. It is very unique and way worth the effort to visit.
Ladder down into the Crypt. or the cave.
Fellow hikers and horse folk in the cave at the far end.
Here is a photo of a partial view off the back side of the cave.
Once we had checked out the cave and the views and the Needle's Eye we decided to move on.
It was very neat place to visit and worth every step to get there. We saw signs as we left that someone is bringing horses down right to the Needles Eye where they are not supposed to. It damages the trail, the bank, and puts the horse at risk for an injury. No one in this group was that kind of rider. We hiked back the way we came and it was much easier as it was nearly all downhill or level on the way out.
Lunch by the Big South Fork Cumberland River
By the time we got back to the truck we were very hungry. We had lunch and headed down to the river bank near the confluence of Whiteoak Creek and the Big South Fork Cumberland River. It is an extremely pretty area. We talked to two fishermen while there. Nice men who were more familiar with the area. We learned from them that efforts had been made in the past to close the road to vehicle access, but because it is a county road they had been unsuccessful in doing so. Persons who feel it should be closed to traffic drag logs out into the road and rip up boards from the bridges. The dirt ditch you have to climb down to reach the river bank here is steep, rocky, and shifty. Leaves on it don't make it any better. We scrambled down and back up. Parking here is really tricky. There was space for only two vehicles. Once we'd gotten to see the river up close we headed a bit further down the road to hike to Devils Den.
Big South Fork Cumberland River .. the confluence with Whiteoak Creek.
There is a fair amount of space on the far side of the bridge near the trail head to park. When we came back through the horse folk had tied up horses to the hitching posts leaving no space to park on this side. We drove back over the bridge and walked to the trailhead.
We had to be careful to avoid the hind ends of the horses tied to avoid getting kicked. We climbed up around a large boulder rather than use the stile and maybe get nipped.
Once on the trail we were soon confronted with a steep climb. The trail goes up and up here steadily. It is only 0.6 miles one way to the Devils Den, but you don't stop climbing until you are nearly there. We encountered a backpacker on his way out whose name was Doug.
We chatted with him while we all took a breather. He had gotten disoriented on the trail system further out. He was going back to Bandy Creek. I offered him a ride with us. He said he would think about it. We told him to wait at the truck if he opted to let us take him back.
We knew we would not be up there very long.
We passed a small cascade with a bare trickle. I think that is Jakes Falls when it is flowing.
The trail climbed and then leveled off right past that. We kept watching for an unsigned path to the right. We found it without any problems. It was very simple getting to Devils Den.
It is a pretty cool rock shelter, but not nearly as intriguing as Needle's Eye. Kenny remarked he'd have been mad to have hiked 3 miles round trip to something as mundane as Devils Den.
He felt the primary redeeming factor was that we were in the area already and the hike was very short. I would have to agree. I'm sure the hike would be a little prettier in Spring with plenty of water on the falls and wildflowers possibly in bloom.
Devils Den with Kenny in it for scale! It is a good sized rock shelter.
Once we had checked it out, we headed back. We did not see Doug the backpacker at the truck. We started our drive back to the campground. Along the way and past Leatherwood Ford we saw a man with a backpack hiking up the road. It was Doug. We stopped and offered him a lift which he accepted. He had covered a good bit of ground by taking the trail already.
He was from Southeast Indiana. A very nice fellow. We made sure he got back to Bandy Creek Campround. We had never been there before and so we took time to drive through. It is extremely nice! We would like to camp there sometime!
We were tired and sweaty and dirty. We made it back to the camper and I gathered my shower stuff and headed to the bathhouse at once. A little while later I was all clean and smelled better and was dressed for a date with my sweetie. We went out to dinner at Vegas Steakhouse in Crossville. It was delicious. After all the exercise I had a hankering for a good steak. We had steak, baked potatoes, and salad. It is a nice place to eat and the prices are not bad. Service was good and though they were busy we were seated almost right away.
After dinner we were both wrung out tired. We still made ourselves stop at the store on the way home to get milk and bananas. We hit the sack pretty shortly after getting home. Tired, but happy.