By Jeremy Patton
Bear Creek Overlook and Split Bow Arch are located in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County, Kentucky.
Two short trails lead to these attractions, beginning from the same parking lot, so I decided to combine them in one article.
From Stearns, drive south on KY-1651 for about one mile then turn right onto KY-742. Continue for about 3.5 miles. Watch for the Bear Creek Scenic Area sign. Turn left and drive another 3.5 miles to the parking lot. More signs should lead the way.
The gravel parking lot is in good condition. A fancy outhouse and bear-proof trash containers are available.
Shortly before reaching the parking lot, watch for Split Bow Arch Overlook on your right. There is no need to risk your life crossing the fence. An easy trail from the parking lot leads to the base of the arch.
From the parking lot, take the east trailhead 0.7 miles to Split Bow Arch. It assumes an irregular, jagged shape. It likely formed from a relatively recent collapse; one of its abutments has split away from the cliff-side, hence the name. The details are probably more complicated than that, but give me my Geology degree! Split Bow Arch was much larger than I expected, and quite impressive.
The forest trek was lovely and I especially enjoyed passing between the time-worn cliffs near the arch. I heard that a small waterfall lives nearby, but it was dry when we visited.
On 5/25/15, Shane and I were confused as to where Split Bow Arch Loop Trail actually looped, so we retraced our steps. It was getting dark and we were tired.
When you return to the parking lot, take the west trail across the field, enter the woods then continue to the developed Bear Creek Overlook. The 0.3 mile walk is flat and easy. The panorama is partially obstructed by nearby trees and bushes, but you can still see the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River hundreds of feet below. The remote area provides one of the best examples of what Kentucky looked like before humans arrived. Due to the easy access from the nearby parking lot and the absence of artificial light, this would be a great place to watch the sunset or stargaze.
The aged, vandalized interpretive sign at the overlook says:
“The Big South Fork”
“Five hundred feet below, the Big South Fork flows freely through this high Cumberland plateau region, imperceptibly carving a deeper channel in the sedimentary rock layers deposited 250 million years ago.”
“More than 80 miles of navigable river and the 100,000 protected acres that surround it are managed by the National Park Service and offer a wide variety of recreational experiences.”
“Hundreds of miles of hiking and horse trails beckon you to leave your car and explore this wild and rugged country. A number of spectacular natural rock formations and scenic ravines await your discovery.”
“Today a second generation of tree growth is transforming abandoned fields and areas cut-over in the early 1900s. This new forest provides habitat for a diverse wildlife population and in time will return the landscape to its early 19th century appearance.”
Added 7/29/16 – Updated 7/30/16