Week 6: Burnt Mill Loop

The 4.1-mile Burnt Mill Loop Trail features a little bit of everything the Big South Fork has to offer hikers. The hike begins and ends along the Clear Fork River, and in between it climbs to the top of the plateau for a flat walk through hardwood forest over the ridge top. There are lots of wildflowers that bloom along the trail during the spring blooming season — which is at its peak. There are interesting rock formations, waterfalls and more along the route, as well.

Burnt Mill Loop earns a “moderate” difficulty rating, but it’s not especially hard. At 4.1 miles, it is almost half a mile shorter than the O&W trail, and it features less elevation gain than that hike, which was featured on Week 3 of the 40 Mile Challenge.

By far the best thing about the Burnt Mill Loop are the sights and sounds of the Clear Fork River. While two rivers — New River and Clear Fork — merge to form the Big South Fork, it is the Clear Fork that is much closer in similarity to the large river that it becomes further downstream. The stream is free-flowing with lots of white water — Burnt Mill is a popular starting point for paddlers during the spring whitewater season — but there are also plenty of gentle pools between the rapids. 

A bit of history: The Burnt Mill Loop begins and ends at the historic bridge from which it draws its name. While a modern concrete bridge was constructed at the ford more than 10 years ago, part of the original, 100-year-old wood and steel bridge remains. The bridge was left intact as a foot bridge, though half of it was lost to flood last year.

From the parking lot at Burnt Mill Ford, the loop trail is best hiked in a counter-clockwise direction by crossing Honey Creek Road and looking for the start of the trail on the downstream side of the newer bridge.

A rugged start: The first part of the Burnt Mill Loop is the most rugged, as the trail ventures along the Clear Fork River downstream from the bridge. There are some small rock shelters along this portion of the trail. After a while, the trail turns away from the river and follows a small feeder stream deeper into the forest. It is here that the wildflowers begin, and the trail begins its ascent towards the top of the plateau.

To the ridge top: The trail tops out on top of the ridge along Honey Creek Road. There’s a trail intersection, which marks the start of the Beaver Falls Trail. This is actually a 5-mile connector trail that leads to Honey Creek Loop. It is named for a waterfall that is found approximately halfway along the route. Beaver Falls is a part of the John Muir Trail, which currently ends at Burnt Mill Loop but will soon extend all the way to Rugby.

On the opposite side of Honey Creek Road, the trail meanders through an open hardwood forest for a mile or so before it begins a descent back to the river.

Along the river: For the remainder of the hike, the trail parallels the Clear Fork River. There are some rapids at various places along the route, along with some gentle pools of water. The closer hikers get to Burnt Mill Bridge and the end of the hike, the flatter the water becomes and the fewer between the rapids become. In fact, there are only two sets of rapids along the final mile of the hike. One of them is just above Burnt Mill Bridge. The other is at the mouth of Skull Creek, which drains the West Robbins area. 

Wildflowers will increase in number towards the end of the hike, as well.

Getting there: Take U.S. Hwy. 27 south to New River, then turn right onto Old Highway 27 and follow the signs to Burnt Mill Bridge. You’ll take another right at the old F.H. Shoemaker Store, and an immediate left at the old Mountain View Church, before taking a right at Black Creek Crossroads Church. The trailhead is located on Honey Creek Road at Burnt Mill Bridge.

Look for: Along the second half of the hike, after the trail has dipped back to river-side, look for Burnt Mill Shower on the left side of the trail. It’s a wet-weather waterfall that is located just off the main trail. There is an unblazed foot path that leads to it. Snap a photo of the falls and post it on social media with the hashtag #40MileChallenge.

Be careful for: There are no hazards on this hike. However, if you explore Burnt Mill Shower, be wary of slippery rocks along the base of the waterfall.

Make it better: Want more? A short distance beyond Burnt Mill Ford is Honey Creek. The trail itself is 5.5 miles and rated strenuous. However, you can drive directly to the Honey Creek Overlook, which offers a spectacular view of the Big South Fork River. Continue west on Honey Creek Road from Burnt Mill, and look for the turnoff to Honey Creek Trailhead. Drive to the end of the road and you’ll find a parking lot for the overlook.

Don’t forget to: Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Memories. If you pack it in, be sure to pack it out!

GC Staff
GC Staff
Go Cumberlands is the premiere source of information for visitors to Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains and Cumberland Plateau region.

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