By Mike Steely
I think I’ve written that my wife and I have visited almost all the state parks in Tennessee, from Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner to Roan Mountain State Park in the northwest corner. Just as soon as we think we’ve visited them all along comes a new park. In recent years there are several new ones, including Seven Island State Birding Park and Cummins Falls State Park. We dropped by those last year.
Now there’s another new park, scheduled to open this summer south of Johnson City. Rocky Fork State Park is located off Interstate 181 near the North Carolina line. It’s named for the creek that runs through the center of the park and is in Unicoi County. The state says it will include an access road, ranger station, primitive campgrounds, picnic areas and trails.
Rocky Fork is probably the highest altitude park in the state and more than a mile of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park.
All of the parks in middle and east Tennessee are easily reached in a day’s drive or less.
Sometimes visiting the four state parks within less than an hour’s drive of Knoxville can get you away from the house, the city, and even the house if you desire. My wife and I hook up our camper and take off when we can and camp a night or two in one of the local parks.
Cove Lake State Park is just up I-75 at the Caryville-LaFollette exit and not but a half mile from the interstate. It features a lake created by TVA prior to building Norris Dam and supplied power to that project. The park is quiet despite being close to the interstate and has electric and water hookups for campers but the camping spaces are a bit crowded.
The park also has a restaurant and public pool, hiking trails, and access to the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland State Park trail. That trail, still being expanded, stretches from Cumberland Gap to the Tennessee Alabama border and mostly follows the summit of Cumberland Mountain.
You can also hike up the mountain to the Devil’s Backbone, an odd formation of upturned limestone slabs that you probably notice when traveling north on the interstate.
Indian Mountain State Park is located across Cumberland and Pine Mountain off I-75 in Jellico, Tn. The park lake there was a former strip mine and there is camping, hiking, and picnic shelters. Many locals walk there each evening and family reunions are often held in the reserved shelters.
Big Ridge State Park is off of I-75 at the Clinton Exit. Just a few miles east of the Museum of Appalachia the park has boating, camping, fishing, picnic grounds, and an old mill that is picture-worthy. The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Core and has a swimming beach, a visitor’s center, and cabin rental.
Panther Creek State Park is located on Highway 11 west of Morristown and borders Cherokee Lake. Panther Creek Springs was a pioneer settlement. Bird watching is featured from a high ridge in the park and there’s also camping, swimming and picnicking.
Seven Islands State Birding Park is one of our newest parks and has 425 acres on a peninsula surrounded by the French Broad River. It’s in Knox County, or most of it is, and there’s 7 miles of hiking trails. The park serves as a research facility for schools and other groups. Primitive camping is available and the park is still developing.
Bird watching is featured but there’s lots of other wildlife there as well.
It’s located near the Kodak community at 2809 Kelly Lane.
There are many other nice state parks within a few hours drive from Knoxville, including Fort Loudoun State Park, Red Clay State Park, Warrior’s Path State Park, David Crockett Birthplace State Park, and Harrison Bay State Park.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a weekend or a few hours and visit one of the Knoxville area state parks. You’ve paid for them, now enjoy them.