Angel Falls Overlook to Grand Gap Loop
ElevationAscent: 1,145' 349 m
Descent: -1,143' -348 m
High: 1,483' 452 m
Low: 939' 286 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 27% (15°)
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“A great overnight outing suitable for those new to multi-day outings, featuring excellent views.”— Charles Pulse
Although the Big South Fork Recreation Area (BSFRA) backcountry tent camping statement doesn't restrict tent location, it is recommended both by the BSFRA and as a part of good camping etiquette, to camp at locations previously used by other tent campers. This helps preserve the natural flora. Camping near caves, rock walls or rock houses is prohibited by the BSFRA. Existing campsites are at approximately mile 0.1 at the first creek crossing, mile 1 below the trail near the river, mile 1.9 by Falls Branch Creek, and then 0.5 miles on the Grand Gap Trail to the left.
On overnight stays, follow park regulations concerning bear protection, i.e. hang your food, trash, and any aromatic personal hygiene items in a bear bag, or carry bear-proof canisters with you.
Follow the John Muir Trail blazes as it meanders along the West Bank of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. In the spring, the trail is surrounded by wildflowers to give a colorful journey with some great views of this beautiful river. Follow the river for about 2 miles. Around the 2 mile mark, the trail turns inland, following the beautiful Fall Branch Creek.
At or near the two-mile mark a series of tent camping spots can be seen on the river bank and on the bank of Fall Branch. Consider whether to camp here or whether to try to find a spot on the top of the bluff. If the decision is to camp on top of the bluff, understand that you need to pack enough water on your climb to the top of the bluff to meet your cooking, cleaning and drinking needs for the full time of your stay. There is no water available on the top of the bluff.
By these campsites you'll see signs for the detour around the closed bridge (the bridge is further upstream - you won't see it when you see the detour signs). Follow marked detour rock hopping across the stream - look for flags on the other side then you'll rejoin the trail from the closed bridge. The trail starts its interesting climb of the bluff overlooking the river. The rocky trail leads up and past rock houses (caves or openings in the rock) and sheer rock walls. At one point the trail follows a ledge of a rock wall. A cable support has been installed to help with safely passing through that section. After 0.8 miles, the top of the bluff is reached and the trail continues left while the Grand Gap Loop Trail to the right.
If you are camping up here, the only developed campsite is approximately 0.5 miles to your left. Describing the route in the counterclockwise direction, head right onto Grand Gap Loop Trail and continue along the edge of the bluff ridge. Views of the river will be frequently available, including the Angel Falls Overlook. Here, one has a fantastic view of the Big South Fork in two directions.
Eventually, the trail turns in away from the ridge and through a mini forest of mountain laurels. It emerges in a hilly hardwood forest. At around 5 miles, the trail ends at its northern junction with the John Muir Trail, which you'll turn left onto. It passes by the Fall Branch Overlook which offers more wonderful vistas. Visitors will simply need to follow the JMT: Leatherwood Ford - Station Camp Crossing back to the crossing of the Big South Fork, and their vehicle.
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Land Manager: NPS - Big South Fork Nat. River and Rec. Area Office