John Litton Farm – Grand Gap Loop Backpack
April 21st 2019
Hikers: Julie, Patrick and Luna
Big South Fork had been on my radar for a long time. I purchased a guide book years ago but for some reason, it always got bumped for other destinations. My husband agreed to do an easy spring backpack trip with me and this seemed like the perfect destination. Our plan was to do a 3 day loop in the Tennessee section of the park, spend one night car camping, then do a second three day loop on the Kentucky side. For the first night, we planned to hike to a campsite near the John Litton Farm that we had read about online. It was only 2 1/2 miles from the trailhead but we knew we would have to hike quickly to be able to set up before dark. Our drive from northern Indiana was long but uneventful. We found a nice bathroom at the trailhead complete with flush toilets and a water spigot.
We donned our packs and headed out around 7:15 pm with the sun hanging low in the western sky. You do need permits for camping in the backcountry. We had been advised by the ranger to carry them with us and not to leave them in the car. We obtained our permit at the link below.
We hiked counter clockwise and our trail started on a gravel road. We had a Jeep drive by only to come back by us a short time later. We did not see any parking areas along this section. The dogwoods were blooming which made for a pretty walk. We passed several research plots of trees such as White Pine and American Elm.
The trail was well marked and easy walking, even after we left the gravel road for a true trail.
At just under the 2 1/2 miles, we spotted the farm. Dispersed camping is allowed at Big South Fork as long as you are at least 100 feet from caves, rock shelters, gravesites, cabins and historic structures. We weren’t too worried about finding a place to camp, but we strongly prefer existing backcountry sites. Even though we practice leave no trace, we feel it lessens the overall impact if we stay in places already established. We had no idea where the established campsite was other than “near the farm” and “hidden”. Turns out it wasn’t really hidden, just off trail a bit. The trail starts downhill as it heads into the farm area. We spotted the site across a small creek on our right, just as we were arriving at the farm. If you are taking the trail counter clockwise, the campsite will be on your left after you pass through the farm area.
We were able to easily set up before dark. We gathered some wood with the idea of starting a fire but everything was too wet. We were tired from our long drive and decided to make it an early night instead. We all fell asleep quickly but I was awakened around 1 am by Luna whining and pacing in the tent. Patrick was already awake. I asked what was going on and Patrick said something had Luna all worked up. Knowing there were bears in this area, it gave me cause for concern. We had taken bear precautions but it still made me nervous. Also, I really needed to pee. Patrick offered to hold Luna as I exited the tent but there was no way I was going out by myself! We decided to all go together. I unzipped the tent and Luna went darting out about 6 feet, the length of her leash. She immediately stopped, and peed. A lot. She then calmly walked back and looked at us as if to say, I’m ready for bed. We had a good laugh and checked out the stars for a bit. It was clear night but very dark which made for great star gazing. After admiring the celestial tapestry, we returned to our tent for a peaceful night of dozing to the sounds of the creek bubbling nearby.
YouTube Video of Hike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A33gGCvg8es&t=42s