The great outdoors, mountains, valleys, rivers, and streams makes for scenery that looks like a postcard but feels like a playground. Where every adventure and the trails in Tennessee’s parks dares one to come back for more.
A variety of activities including tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball, picnic areas, Norris Lake, and hiking trails brings outdoor enthusiast’s to Big Ridge State Park located just North of Knoxville. The parks location in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Range with narrow ridges and fertile stream beds creates the parks beautiful scenery and a beautiful lake. The more than 3,000 heavily forested acres provides hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult. The trails traverse along dry ridges, lakeshores, old road-beds, and lush hollows passing by cemeteries and remnants of early settlements. Most of the trails are one way; however, they intersect with other trails making it possible to make a large loop.
The 1.6 -mile Lake Trail climbs to the top of the ridge where the trail traverses its way through the forest overlooking one side of Big Ridge Lake and descending down before crossing the Big Ridge Dam. The Western portion of the 1.7-mile Dark Hollow trail starts here. The trail traverses over the ridge into the hollow between Pinnacle Ridge and Big Ridge where the trail traverses its way through the thick forest next to a stream bed where early settlers made their homes. At the intersection, take the 1.5-mile difficult Big Valley Trail, which ends at the Norton Gristmill. The trail is the remnants of an old wagon trail used by early settlers to haul corn to the gristmill. The first.75-mile of the trail traverses over Pinnacle Ridge to where the 1.2-mile loop Ghost House Trail starts. This easy to moderate trail takes one deep into the history of the area’s 1930’s inhabitants. The trail passes by the Norton Cemetery and Maston’s old home site, which legend has it to be haunted. A short walk down a paved road from the end of the Big Valley Trail leads to the Gristmill which was built in 1825 and was privately operated for just over 100-years. The short easy.3-mile Old Mill Trail traverses over Lyon’s Spring Branch to the lakeside cabins just a short distance from the park’s visitor center.
Just a few minutes from downtown Knoxville is Ijams Nature Center, where 300- acres provide a wildlife sanctuary with beautiful sloping woodlands along the Tennessee River. The 12-miles of hiking and biking trails ranging from easy to difficult attracts locals and visitors to explore this urban playground.
The three most popular trails which are rated easy to moderate is the 1.3 round trip Tower Trail which traverses the gentle sloping woods before descending down a cliff wall to the river bank where a 100-yard boardwalk travels along the cliff wall hanging over the river. The 1.5 round trip North Cove Trail rated moderate descends down through a series of switchbacks over a wooden boardwalk before climbing to the Serendipity Loop where Ijams old home-site was located. The 1-mile flat round trip Imerys Trail leads to the short loop Ross Marble Quarry Loop. The trail leads to an elevated walkway to a rock bridge with panoramic views of the quarry gorge. Descending down the rocks allows for one to enter underneath the keyhole to view its uniquely carved shelves and rock faces.
South of Knoxville in Sweetwater is The Lost Sea, where a guided tour allows for one to descend deep into a cave system where one will witness the fascinating development of the immense cavern rooms and rare formations as the guide explains the caves colorful history. Artifacts found in the caverns date back to the Cherokee Indians and where the military mined in the caverns to produce gunpowder to the days of Tennessee’s moonshiners. A ¾ mile round-trip on a sloping pathway leads through some of the caverns to a narrow section and ends at a lake where the visible portion is 800-feet long and 250-feet wide and reaches a depth of 75-feet. The lake is the largest underground lake in America putting it on the Registered National Landmarks and is known as The Lost Sea. Even with today’s modern technology teams of divers haven’t discovered the full extent of The Lost Sea.
A short drive Northwest of Knoxville is Frozen Head State Park, named after the 3,300-foot peak in the Cumberland Mountains which stays frozen with ice and snow during the winter months. With over 24,000 acres of wilderness the park portrays some of Tennessee’s most impressive densely forested unspoiled mountain splendor creating a natural habitat for wildlife. The primitive campsites, picnic areas, and fifty miles of trails allows for one to really experience this beautiful forest.
Starting at the end of the park road is the.75-mile one-way Panther Branch Trail rated slightly difficult due to the small boulders throughout the trail and the slightly steady incline. The trail ends at Debord Falls Overlook where a set of stairs leads down to the base of the falls. Hiking deeper into the forest along the.75-mile one-way Emory Gap Trail which becomes more difficult with steeper inclines, where natures tree roots and small boulders come together to form natural stair cases. The trail ends at another waterfall where the base of the falls is lined with huge mountain boulders and downed trees. Maneuvering over the boulders allows for one to get an excellent view of the falls and front view of the boulder overhang complete with a cave. Next to the playground is the.4-mile one-way Interpretive Trail rated for all ages. The trail winds its way through the forest along the bank of a stream.