Featured Parks

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park Visitor CenterWelcome to our Featured Parks page. Every so often we plan to update this page with a new featured park and include its amenities and of course the many activities it has to offer the out-of-doors adventurer. We hope to cover everything from boating, hiking, mountain biking, you name it.

If you are looking for directions or would like more information about these parks and how we have experienced them, click on the labels on the map. The link in each park label will take you to the search label page on our blog where you can get more info on each park.

View Featured Parks in a larger map

Norris Lake at Big Ridge State ParkFor our new featured park, we bring you Big Ridge State Park in Maynardville, Tennessee. This park is practically a hop, skip, and a jump from the house and if there is a park that we would consider a "Home Park", this would be it. Of all the state and national parks and natural areas in our area, I would say that we spend the most time here. It's nothing for us to head out to Big Ridge for a daily walk or to take the dog for a walk and a swim in the lake. Likewise, it's very common for us to head over to the park so that I can get a run in or Robin and I take a bunch of photos. Of course there's approximately 15 miles worth of hiking trails in the park along with camping facilities, picnic shelters and more to make this a worthy destination for you lovers of the outdoors.

Old picture of residents of the Loyston area.
Big Ridge State Park was another TVA creation, being one of five demonstration areas (including Norris Dam State Park) to showcase the immense amount of recreational activities available around the Norris Lake area. Built in the 1930's, TVA combined with the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, created and built Big Ridge State Park. The park has over 3500 acres of protected woodlands for the nature lover and adventure seeker to enjoy. It was in this area, just like with Norris, that Robin's family originally settled when they made it to Maynardville in what is now known as the Loyston Sea. After TVA put in the Norris Dam, families were re-located in and around the area we live today, also known as New Loyston.

Dam at Big Ridge State ParkSummer time is a great time to visit Big Ridge State Park. As mentioned, there's over 15 miles of hiking trails. There's a swimming area in the Big Ridge Lake that is located in the park. Plenty of picnic shelters are available by reservation for those family and church gatherings, as well as plenty picnic tables and grills for smaller outings if so desired. Also available for the kids of all ages is a large playground area, tennis, basketball, and sand volleyball courts as well as a baseball field. The office rents all sorts of equipment so that you can enjoy the different activities for a small fee.

A Cabin in the Woods at Big Ridge State ParkIf sports aren't your thing, then there's a boat house where you can rent a canoe or paddle boat and fish in the lake. There's ample fishing opportunity from the bank as well. They have a Tea Room that can be rented for special occasions like showers, weddings, or receptions. They also have a group camp complete with full service kitchen and 18 cabins that each sleep 6-8 people for large groups. In addition to the group camp, the regular campground at Big Ridge offers 50 campsites complete with water and hookups for RV's and tent camping. The park also has 19 1-bedroom rustic cabins available from April - October.

The Norton Gristmill at Big Ridge State ParkEvents that are featured at the park include several seasonal programs conducted by interpretive rangers throughout the summer months. In October, the Park Rangers lead Haunted Hikes - on Fridays and Saturdays - along the Ghost House Loop trail where you learn about Maston Hutcheson and his family. Maston is rumored to haunt the park to this day along with his granddaughter who is known as the little girl in white who haunts the Norton Gristmill down close by the group camp. The hike takes you past Norton Cemetery, and by the grounds where the Hutcheson homestead once stood. Other activities through the year include the annual Easter Egg Hunt (always on the Saturday before Easter), and the annual Bluegrass Festival (held on the third Friday in August - yes that was this past Friday).

Indian Rock Memorial Plaque at Big Ridge State ParkOther notable history of the Big Ridge Park area include Sharp's Station (accessible by hiking trail). Sharp's Station one of the two first Forts established west of the Appalachia Mountains back in the 1780's to provide a stopping point for settlers passing through and protect settlers in the area from Cherokee attacks. On the Indian Rock Loop trail is a point (know as Indian Rock) that is marked to commemorate where Peter Graves (a settler of Sharp's Station) was ambushed and murdered by Cherokee Indians while out hunting.

As you can see, there's plenty to do for everyone from adventurers to historians, nature lovers to picnickers at Big Ridge State Park. So when you go there and you see Ranger Sarah, tell her Tim and Robin say hello. You never know, you might even see us there too.

May - June 2011 - Cove Lake State Park

Summer is right around the corner. This means it's time for another Featured Park here at Appalachia & Beyond. With summer, we think of picnics, fishing, camping, and most definitely family outings and reunions. What better place to enjoy all of these activities than at Cove Lake State Park in Caryville, TN?

Located just off Exit #134 on I-75 just north of Knoxville, Cove Lake has everything one needs for a wonderful day trip for picnicking, swimming, fishing, biking, or any other recreational activity you might think of. With over 600 acres of land at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains, Cove Lake offers everything the outdoor lover could ask for. The highlight of Cove Lake State Park is the lake itself, and the multitude of wildlife it supports: from fish to various avian species and many more.

Cove Lake State Park offers 3.5 miles of paved walking/bicycling trail, and also access to the Cumberland Trail for walkers, runners, hikers, and mountain bikers to enjoy. From the walking loop at the back of the park, walkers, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers can access the Cumberland Trail via the Beaver Workshop Loop. This trail travels along a feeder creek of Cove Lake which provides an ideal environment for beavers to do what they do best. From this loop, the trail head to the Cumberland Trail is across the road at the back of the loop. This trailhead of the Cumberland Trail offers access to the New River and Cumberland Mountain sections of the trail which feature the highest elevation on the trail at Cross Mountain and the ever present rock formation seen from I-75 known as the Devil's Racetrack.

In addition to the trails, Cove Lake State Park offers prime fishing opportunities to anglers. You can fish from anywhere along the lake. The park also has boats that you can rent to take out on the lake. You cannot bring your own, though. However the park does rent trolling motors if you so desire. Of course to fish the lake, any persons over the age of 15 must have a valid Tennessee fishing license.

For those looking to camp at Cove Lake, the park offers 100 campsites with water and electrical hookups along with fire rings, picnic tables, and in some cases grills. The cost for camping is $20 for RV's and $18 for tent only. The campground also offers a playground, two modern bath houses, and a dumping station. Campsites are on a first come first serve basis and maximum stay is two weeks.

For the day users of the park, there are plenty of amenities to Cove Lake. Complete with an Olympic size pool that is open Wednesday - Sunday from 11:00am - 7:00pm. The cost is $3.00 per person over 3 years of age, unless you are camping: with a receipt it is only $2 per person. Call the park to make sure of the exact opening date, though it usually opens on Memorial Day weekend.

Other amenities include 2 or 3 different playgrounds. basketball courts, tennis courts, and volleyball courts. There are over 100 picnic tables complete with grills for your cookouts along with 6 big pavilions that can be reserved for those large outings or family reunions. The pavilions can be reserved up to one year in advanced. The park also offers field games, badminton, horse shoes and various other equipment for free checkout to use while you enjoy your time at the park. There is also an indoor pavilion which can be reserved and accommodates up to 100 people, perfect for weddings, receptions, banquets, and etc. 

Finally, to round out the park features there is a restaurant at the park entrance. Rickard Ridge BBQ Restaurant is open Monday - Thursday from 11:00am - 8:00pm, Friday - Saturday from 11:00am - 9:00pm and Sundays 11:00am - 4:00pm. Rickard Ridge BBQ offers burgers, sandwiches, salads, BBQ pork and ribs, catfish, and more. Group take-out specials are also offered along with catering and wedding packages. At one time the restaurant was owned and operated by the park but several years ago it was closed and eventually reopened by a private investor.

As you can see Cove Lake State Park has a little bit of everything for everyone. So if you are aching for a daytime, weekend, or week long getaway/vacation, Cove Lake is a destination that will be sure to meet your summer time outdoor needs.

March - April 2011 - Frozen Head State Park

It's March and that means a new park to feature here at Appalachia & Beyond. Considering spring is right around the corner (prime time for some nice over night pack trips) what petter place to feature than Frozen Head State Park, located in Wartburg, Tennessee off Hwy 62.

A perennial favorite of ours, Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area contains roughly 13,000 plus acres of undisturbed forest and some of the best wild flowers in the area. Additionally 2 waterfalls; Emory Falls & Debord Falls are easily accessible via a relatively easy to moderate hike. The park also features 16 different mountain peaks ranging from 1,340ft. - 3,324ft. on Frozen Head Mountain (one of the highest peaks west of the Smokies in Tennessee). During the winter time, one can view Frozen Head Mountain capped in snow while the rest of the area shows no sign of the white powder. This is where the parks name originates.

Wartburg and the Frozen Head area was settled in the 1900's by Scottish, Welsh, and German settlers. Before the turn of the century in 1894, Tennessee aquired land in this area for Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Coal in this area was mined by the convicts and lumber was acquired from the forest area for the mines.

By the early 1900's, the area had been heavily forested for most of its useable timber. Afterwards, then Tennessee Governor McCallister declared most of the area as Morgan State Forest. Soon after, a CCC camp was established and construction of a fire tower, trails, ranger's HQ and more were built/constructed.

In 1970, the forest was turned over to the State Parks system and was formally named Frozen Head State Park at this time. By 1988 most of the park lands was also classified as a State Natural Area.

If you visit Frozen Head State Park, you will find there is a plethora of activities at the park. There's an amphitheater at which rangers conduct nature talks and slide presentations during the summer. There's two different playgrounds for the yougin's to play on, along with sports fields for volleyball, basketball, horseshoes, and more. There's also three group shelters available for all sorts of functions along with multiple picnic areas complete with grills and tables.

Frozen Head also features two campgrounds and several backcountry campsites. The large campground features 20 rustic sites in the Big Cove area. Each site includes a grill, firepit, picnic table, lantern hangers, and flat tent pads. There aren't any hookups nor is there a dump station at Frozen Head so you want see many if any RV's. Also in the campground is a modern bath house, a wash basin to wash your camp dishes, and a potable water faucet next to the wood shed. Two of the sites in the campground are group sites that can be reserved for groups up to 20 people.

The other campground in the park (a large primitive camp) provides 8 separate sites for up to 15 campers. There's a couple portable toilets here for those late night calls of nature. For those going backcountry, permits are required and are available at the park visitor center. At the Old Mac trailhead is a small shower house available to those coming back from a trek in the woods.

For us hikers, Frozen Head offers over 80 miles of ruggedly wonderful trails. 20 trails in total leaving the possibilities for 7 or more loop trails ranging from .6 to 15 miles round trip. There are plenty of sites to see on these trails including a fire tower, an old CCC dynamite shack, geological rock formations such as Castle and Mushroom Rocks, waterfalls, and much more. There's also 11 backcountry campsites along the trail system providing ample opportunities for over-nighters and week-long treks. Finally, part of the park's trail system features roughly 6.7 miles of the Cumberland Trail (which will run from Cumberland Gap to Signal mountain upon completion).

Other activities at the park include swimming in areas along Flat Fork Creek, fishing in Flat Fork Creek, horse back and mountain bike riding along the 6.9 mile jeep road trail that starts in the Big Cove campground. There are no overnight facilities for horses however so horseback riding is limited to the daytime hours. There's plenty other seasonal activities throughout the park such as the annual wild flower pilgrimage in April, a bluegrass festival in May, and multiple volunteer trail maintenance days and several ranger led nature programs.

So if you find yourself in East Tennessee and looking for some outdoor fun, a day hike, or a great campsite, Frozen Head State Park is sure to tickle your fancy. From the rugged natural beauty and rich history, to the pavilions, picnic areas, and playgrounds, Frozen head has the amenities sure to please all ages from 1 to 100. For more information and exact directions to the park, check out their website.

It's officially winter here in East Tennessee, and in the past few years that's meant very unpredictable weather.  On average, we have little snowfall and our high temperatures (at least until mid-January) peak around a balmy 45 degrees. However, over the last couple years, East TN has experienced everything except average weather.  Our average high temperature this past December was 36.6 degrees - with many nights before winter even started getting down into the teens. We've also had a few snowfalls already. Because of this, we usually don't travel very far from home when we get out.

With this in mind, we thought we would feature a park that is practically in our backyard, Norris Dam State Park in Norris, Tennessee. The park is located at the Norris Reservoir, which was TVA's first project back in 1933. The park sits on over 4,000 acres of land in Norris, TN straddling both Anderson and Campbell counties and is situated along the banks of Norris Lake.

It was the Norris Reservoir project that created Norris Lake and subsequently forced many families out of the area of Loyston into what is now known as New Loyston, the area in which we live. Robin's great, great-grandparents (pictured) and other descendants who settled in the old Loyston area were amongst those that were forced out of the area by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). While hiking the trails at Norris Dam State Park one can only imagine what it must have been like to live back then only to be forced from the land you knew, worked, and loved - most placed on less fruitful lands, too. When the lake is down really low, you can still see remnants of some of these old homesteads.

**Notes on photos: Above Left (R to L) Rob and Sara Wyrick with children: Edgebert, Jane, Lath, and Till circa 1940. Above Right (R to L) Tom Collins (unrelated), Rob and Sara Wyrick, Polly Nelson (unrelated) and unidentified child circa 1930's at the Poorhouse.  Rob and Sara Wyrick operated the Union County Poorhouse until their contract ran out.**

The park itself is situated on both sides of the dam - which is 265 feet high, 1860 feet long, and accessible by driving over it or by walking across. The east side of the dam, accessed from the town of Norris on Hwy 441, includes a campground of 25 sites with hookups, a primitive campground for those who like to "rough" it, a handful of picnic shelters, the Tea Room (which can be reserved for special occasions), a playground, and 19 rustic cabins. In addition there is approximately 11.3 miles of multi-use and hiking only trails including the new 4.9 miles Lakeview trail that was completed and opened in early 2010.

Also, on the east side is the Lenoir Museum which maintains a threshing barn and fully functional gristmill. Additionally, TVA has a small wild area, River Bluff Small Wild Area that runs along both sides of the Clinch River as you approach the dam. The Songbird trail is on the east side and is a 2 mile relatively flat loop trail popular with walker, runners, birders, and photographers, not to mention fishermen. On the west side along the Clinch is the River Bluff Loop trail - the wild area's namesake. It is a 3.2 mile loop and is known for it's wildflowers amongst photographers, hikers, and naturalists.

As you cross the dam from the east side to the west side, the park features a full marina complete with public boat ramp and pontoon rentals. The park also offers fall color cruises along Norris Lake in October from this location. Located not too far down highway 441 towards Campbell County is the entrance to the west side of the park.

The west side of the park comes complete with a public swimming pool, many picnic areas, tennis/basketball/volleyball courts, playground areas (one behind the pool area - aka "Fort Norris" - one in the west campground area, and one in the deluxe cabin area), 10 deluxe cabins, and a 50 site campground with hookups for RV's and/or tent campers. The west side of the dam boasts approximately 9.5 miles of multi-use and hiking only trails including the Andrew's Ridge trail (which connects with 3 other loop trails), a fitness trail complete with exercise stops along the way, and the Marine Railway loop. Also, at the back of the Andrew's Ridge trail is a permit-only backcountry campsite tucked away nicely in the woods.

As you can see, there is a lot to offer the outdoor lover at Norris Dam State Park. Complete with luscious natural beauty, amenities galore, extensive history and many different educational programs throughout the year, Norris Dam State Park will be sure to tickle anyone's fancy any time of the year.

November - December 2010 
Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

 So without further ado, this month, considering it is fall and the leaves are now turning, we thought we would feature a park that would afford the best viewing opportunities for fall foliage. Normally this time of year draws out the crowds like flies on potato salad. Thankfully, most of them visit the more popular fall foliage destinations. However, if you are like us hope to avoid the throngs of people, the endless traffic jams caused by one single deer, and the never ending roar of engines then we suggest you head towards the Cumberland Mountains. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is this month's featured park, and while we're sure there will still be quite a few people, it won't be near as bad as The Smokies or Gatlinburg, and you can almost guarantee a constant flow on the roadways.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, sits on the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The quickest way to get there from Knoxville is to take Broadway and head North on Hwy 33, aka Maynardville Hwy. Follow this piece of history (this road is part of the famous Copper Head Road that we all know and love from the song), and continue North through Maynardville, Tazewell, and New Tazewell in Claiborne County. Once in Tazewell (pronounced "Taz-wul"), you will want to continue on Hwy 32/25E towards Harrogate (pronounced "Hair-a-gut") until you reach the park boundaries just past Lincoln Memorial University. If you aren't lucky enough to be coming from our direction, look for the ones you need on the website linked above.

So, what is there to do at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park? The name itself is one clue! There are lots of interesting facts that you can learn about the park including some wonderful history about our country and the role that Cumberland Gap and the surrounding area played in our country's growth. Daniel Boone traveled through this area, and you can walk along his path, too! Take a stroll on the Daniel Boone trail, or walk along in the tracks of our forefathers on Wilderness Road. The park also offers a few different tours that you can take. One takes you into the depths of Gap Cave (year-round), formerly operated as Cudjo's Cavern, and the other offers a tour of Hensley Settlement (seasonal). Both have small fees and the park suggests you make reservations. You can hike to the settlement as well. It's free, but it's a long way!

While you're there, don't miss the Pinnacle Overlook, which includes a battlement from the Civil War and a wonderful view of the Poor and Powell Valleys in Virginia and East Tennessee respectively. There's plenty of hiking as well including the easy Greenleaf Nature Trail just off the Wilderness Road campground area, and tougher trails like the hike to White Rocks (accessed from Civic Park in Virginia along Highway 58). Martin's Station is also located in Virginia just off Hwy 58. This is a neat little settlement complete with employees in period dress to make the living history museum complete. Martin's Station isn't part of the Cumberland Gap NHP. It is actually part of the Wilderness Road State Park in Virginia, but considering it's in the general vicinity, that's good enough for us. Note that there is a small access fee (between $2 and $4 per vehicle) for Virginia State Parks.

So if you are in the mood to see the autumn leaves in all their wonderful glory, take a trip up to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Pack a picnic while you are at it and soak up every bit of beauty this park has to offer. You'll be glad you did. As a side note, while you are there, take some time to visit the little town of Cumberland Gap, TN. Drive through the quaint little town and go see the Iron Furnace while you're at it. In fact, there is so much to see, we highly recommend making this a mini-vacation, and there is no place more perfect to stay than The Olde Mill Inn Bed and Breakfast.  Make reservations, and when you get back, let us know all about your trip!