Crossing the Big South Fork at the O&W Bridge
The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River squeezes through a tight assortment of rocks as it passes under the historic O&W Bridge. Decades ago, trains hauling coal and lumber (and a few other things) crossed over the river here, bringing the treasures from the region to the outside world. Today, the rusty structure serves as a focal point inside the river gorge.
While you can drive to the bridge, it is best to hike there. The trail from the Leatherwood Ford Access area is rated as an easy to moderate trail. Most of the way, the trail winds along just above the river which takes on many "forms" along the way. At some points it appears wide and still, while at other times it is easy to hear the swift waters passing over the remnants of the large boulders lining the sides of the gorge or just trying to squeeze through them.
Eventually, the trail (which is part of the John Muir Trail and the Sheltowee Trace National Trail) moves up onto a high bluff and a bit deeper into the woods. Shortly before reaching the bridge, collections of giant rocks along the trail make you want to stop and get a closer look.
The O&W Bridge is worth the hike all by itself. A steep staircase brings you under the bridge and closer to the rapids flowing underneath it. (While my son and I were there someone drove across the wooden planked bridge, and frankly it didn't sound so great). There are ways you can probably walk even further under the bridge to get less obstructed views of the gorge, but it's much easier to just go back up the steps and just walk out onto the bridge. About halfway out onto the bridge, take time to gaze down at the swift moving water and then look up to the side you were just on and stand in awe of the massive rock wall lining the top of the ridge.