Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park

Whitewater rafting!  That is the main reason that you come to Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park in Tennessee.  With plenty of diversity in the water you can find those portions that are as tame or as wild as you want them to be.  The Ocoee is the premier whitewater river in the southeast.  With class 3 through 5 rapids at different points in the river, kayakers and rafters come to this area of the country and the state park for one thing:  to get in the water.

Traveling through this state park is a whole different view of the Southern Appalachians than any other place north of this park.  You are traveling along the Tennessee and Georgia borders through almost all of this area and the river that forms that natural boundary is gorgeous.  The river changes from raging rapids to areas of near placidity.  The mountains on one side and the river on the other follow you from one end of the state park to the next.  As you travel you will see roughly 23 miles of river and you will see kayakers and rafters the whole way.

Ocee Whitewater Center

One of the biggest attractions to the Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park is the Ocoee Whitewater Center.  This is located near the Cherokee National Forest and is the site of the whitewater rafting during the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, GA.  Before the Olympics began that year, this portion of the Ocee was modified to enhance the rapids and make them more formidable for the competition.  Mixing the natural passion that this river has with the modern technology they Atlanta Olympic organizers turned this area into some of the best whitewater that the Olympics have ever seen.  Now you can bring your own kayak and give the same course that they ran in 1996 a try.

Along with the whitewater activities in the Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park, you can camp while you are on your own rafting adventure.  There are also places to escape the water and do some hiking or even some horseback riding.  Like most of the rest of the state parks in East Tennessee, there are always plenty of things to do and more than enough to fill a beautiful sunny day while you explore the rivers and mountains in the southern-most state park in East Tennessee. 

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock is one of North Carolina’s most majestic state parks offering spectacular views of the North Carolina Mountains as well as Lake Lure. Chimney Rock’s 75-mile views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure attract visitors the world over seeking that perfect picture in the mountains.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock’s numerous hiking trails and natural attractions offer the best of the mountains in one place. Hickory Nut Falls trail offers one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern half of the United States with its 404 foot falls. Hickory Nut Falls was so thought of that filmmakers from the movie The Last of the Mohicans staring Daniel Day-Lewis filmed the movie’s epic fight scene at the falls.

The park also offers a number of amenities including rock climbing instruction, a gift shop and numerous events including bird walks, dulcimer workshops, homeschool programs, and much more. In more recent years they’ve even helped provide the setting for a number of outdoor weddings at the Hickory Nut Falls and atop Chimney Rock.

Chimney RockPlan on getting to the top of Chimney Rock? It’s a three-mile drive up a winding road to a large parking area and an elevator ride to the top. Or just do what most choose to do and climb 500 steps to Chimney Rock.

Want to throw your boots on and give it your all on some of the park’s hiking trails? Check out these three great hikes:

Hickory Nut Falls Trail: An “easy” trail, hike the path to the bottom of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls waterfall. It’s a 1.5-mile roundtrip in a forest setting with a handful of inclined hikes. Good for hikers seeking wildflower opportunities, birding and rhododendron. A great summer hike that leads to a cool falls.

The Outcroppings: Follow this network of stairs from the parking area to the Chimney. Along the way, check out the views from Vista Point. Strenuous with 500 steps, but all ages and fitness levels can enjoy the challenge with many places to stop along the way.
Skyline Trail: At the staircase leading up to the Chimney, find the beginning of the Skyline Trail. After climbing quite a few stairs, the trail levels out as you walk along the cliff with dramatic views. Stop at the Opera Box for great views of the Chimney and Lake Lure and continue up to see the Devil’s Head and end at Exclamation Point, the highest elevation at Chimney Rock, for breathtaking views.

Four Seasons Trail: Get your heart pumping on this short trail with a 400-foot elevation gain. The trail winds through hardwood forest, rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets and abundant wildflowers as well as rare and indigenous plants, some species not found along the Park’s other trails.

Great Woodland Adventure: This whimsical trail is perfect for kids and kids-at-heart. Twelve discovery stations along the ½ mile loop give a peak into the lives of the many animals that call the Park home. All sculptures were handcrafted by Western North Carolina artisans.

Blue Valley Experimental Forest

The Blue Valley Experimental Forest was established in 1964.  The purpose behind this forest was to study the habitat and growth of the white pine that dominates the some of the mountain sides in the southern Appalachians.  Part of the reason this exact piece of land was chosen was due to the amount of decomposed granite that existed in the ground and what affects it might have on the white pine forests.  The Blue Valley Experimental Forest is still a haven for researcher wanting to do research and experiments in pristine forest land.

Blue Valley Experimental Forest MapThe white pine can be seen throughout the southern Appalachian mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains.  This hardwood tree is a native tree to the area that loves both the altitude and the climate of these mountain ecosystems.  The white pine has adapted over time to people moving into the area, heavy logging in some areas and changes to the precipitation and resources in the ground as well.

One of the reasons for choosing the Blue Valley Experimental Forest area was the amount of decomposed granite in the land itself. This decomposed granite has changed the chemical makeup of the land and it is termed as ‘infertile.’  In this area, the trees are suffering due to the harsh chemical content of the soil.  Researchers are seeing what can be done to save this forest, they are studying the effects of the decomposed granite and this ongoing research is bringing them closer to understanding the way that this hardy, hardwood tree has survived and flourished in other areas in the Appalachians.

Currently, the researchers of the Blue Valley Experimental Forest are studying the effects of single tree selection and cutting and underburning.  Single Tree Selection is the removal of trees that do not fit the structure of the forest.  In other words, trees that are much older, or much younger than the rest of the forest are removed to bolster the rest of the forest.  The theory being that a tree that does not fit the silviculture of the forest might be harming the forest as a whole.  Cutting and underburning is the act of removing parts of the forest and burning out the forest floor to give the trees a better area to grow in.  The Blue Valley Experimental Forest may, in time, prove to be the savior of the white pine forests in the state of North Carolina and in the southern Appalachians themselves.

Elk Knob State Park

Elk Knob State ParkElk Knob is one of the newer state parks in the state of North Carolina.  Located near the New River, the land for this park was donated in 2003 and was soon after given to the park service in North Carolina to care for the land.  This park, primarily, protects one of the amphibolite peaks in western North Carolina.  The park service now protects this area and keeps it from being developed so that generations to come can visit the resources of the southern Appalachians.

Elk Knob is named, obviously, for the elk herds that roamed the lands under its panoramic view.  Thousands of years ago, the native people of the area that would be called the Cherokee, hunted the elk that numbered in the thousands.  Though the elk has been moved on, the view over the surrounding valleys are still there.  Elk Knob is the second tallest peak in Watauga County, standing 5,520 feet.  It is easy to see when you stand at the top of this mountain the reason why it might have been an elk herd tracking point for the Cherokee.

While you are Elk Knob, you can go camping, hiking or bring the family for a picnic.  And there is even something a little different about Elk Knob.  Due to the altitude and the terrain, you will be able to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the frozen winter wonderland.  While many of the other parks are closed during the winter, the park service tries to keep Elk Knob open so that people can enjoy a winter time activity that is usually off limits in the national park.

Elk Knob State ParkAnother unique aspect the Elk Knob offers to the visitors that come to the area each year is the chance to take some great photos of the wildflowers that carpet the floor of the mountainsides.  Whether you are a professional photography or strictly an amateur, the wildflowers that come out in the spring will keep you guessing as to where you would like to point your camera.  And trust me, you will see professionals crawling along the landscape looking for tat perfect shot as well.

Pay a visit to Elk Knob the next time you are in western North Carolina.  It is a park that keep changing every time you turn around.  They are constantly improving the area and adding more and more activities.  Visit it at different times throughout the year and see how the season effect not only what you can do but the way that the landscape looks as well.

Indian Mountain State Park

Indian Mountain State ParkIt is no surprise that at one point the mountains in Tennessee felt the effects of strip mining.  Jellico Mountain, which towers over Indian Mountain State Park was once the site of a strip mine.  The state of Tennessee decided to reclaim this land see if they could make it a recreational area for the citizens of the state.  Today it is one of the most beautiful of the state parks in East Tennessee.  With plenty of activities and scenery galore, there is always something to do at Indian Mountain.

Jellico Mountains was transferred to the possession of the United States in the early 1880s from the Cherokee .  At this same time a high quality form of coal was discovered on Jellico Mountain.  This came to be known as Jellico coal.  Mining operations commenced.  Soon after, the railroad arrived and the strip mining of the area started.  Campbell County became the highest producer of coal in Tennessee.  By the 50s surface mining was the preferred method of mining, underground mining having been the best option before this point. At this time, Saxton Coal Company operated the mine that was located where Indian Mountain State Park is now.  Jellico was left with a strip of land that was virtually unusable.

Or was it?

Indian Mountain State ParkThe city of Jellico began to ask the question: what can we do with this land?  They worked with state and federal agencies and after they obtained the rights to the land, they started to make improvements.  They took an almost completely denuded strip of land and have turned it into a recreational area that is second to none.  They have turned what was once and eye sore into a place of beautiful scenery and outdoor activity for all the people of East Tennessee and the country to enjoy.

Today you can camp overnight in one of the 49 fully equipped campsites, you can hangout with your family and friends in one of the picnic pavilions, swim in the swimming pool or enjoy any of the hiking trails.  The ponds that were transformed from pits in the days of the mining company into ponds that are stocked and have become truly great fishing areas.  Stocked with bluegill, large-mouth bass, crappie and catfish. Indian Mountain State Park is a great place to come and hang out in the countryside, enjoying the sunshine and beauty or the natural surroundings in a place that has been brought back from the edge of nothingness.

Mount Jefferson State Park

Mount Jefferson is a great rocky prominence that juts 1600 feet above the surrounding area.  Used as a landmark for people that travel in the area, Mount Jefferson is not only an amazing physical feature on the outskirts of the new River area but it is a remarkable container for countless species of plants and animals.  In modern times, this has become a State Natural Area, that is designed to tell people about the mountain, the history of the area and protect some of the species that live in its shadow.

Mount Jefferson State ParkMount Jefferson has gone by many names in its long history.  For a number of years before the American Revolution, the mountain was called Panther Mountain.  This was due to the legend that a child was killed by a panther on the mountain itself.  In 1952, the mountain was named after Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.  This was due to a 1749 visit by Thomas Jefferson and his father as they surveyed what would become the border of North Carolina and Virginia.  Now, Mount Jefferson is a tribute to the man and a landmark state park that allows people to come and play outside in the great wide open spaces.

Due to the extreme nature of the mountain itself, the activities are built around the exploring the mountain and teaching about the mountain.  The Park rangers that manage the land provide education talks about the area and interpretive programs to allow you to learn more about Mount Jefferson and the part that it plays in the ecosystem.  In fact, if you call and schedule it ahead of time, they will supply a park ranger or a local historian to give you a private tour of the mountain.

Mount Jefferson State ParkBesides the history that surrounds the name and nature of the mountain, Mount Jefferson is home to thousands of species of plants and animals.  Due to the diversity in the altitude, the forests and the animals are broken up by the elevations.  The hardwood forest at the top of the mountain contain a much different set of animals and shrubs then you will find at the lower levels of Mount Jefferson.

Mount Jefferson, one of the most majestic mountains in the Southern Appalachians, is a North Carolina State Park.  Beautiful scenery brought Thomas Jefferson and his father to the area to establish the border between Virginia and North Carolina.  Now the Mountain and the state park bear his name.  Bring the family and your friends to the slopes of Mount Jefferson State Park.  Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the activities and learn about the ecology of this steep environment.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell State ParkThe highest point east of the Mississippi River is Mount Mitchell.  Rising more than a mile into the sky, Mount Mitchell is as majestic from the bottom of the mountain as it is from the peak.  The facilities at Mount Mitchell allow you to learn more about the geology and history of this amazing land mass.  Also while you are there, you can picnic, hike and spend the day on the tallest piece of land on the east coast.

Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Tennessee side of the Smokies is nothing in comparison to Mount Mitchell.  From the base this monolith seems to scrape the clouds.  On most days, Mount Mitchell is surrounded by a mist of clouds that seem to be unable to get high enough to go over the top of the mountain.  Once you drive to the park you might decide to hike to the top at the summit platform.  This is a short walk but it literally gets you to the highest point on the east coast.  You breathe will be taken away by the incredible view of the mountains and valley around you.

Hiking is only one of the activities at Mount Mitchell State Park.  You can camp on the mountain, picnic or learn more about the history and structure of Mount Mitchell itself.  If you are wanting to bring a small group or a school group, they have small classrooms and prepared materials to teach about the land, the ecology, the wildlife and how Mount Mitchel has figured into the history of our country.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell State ParkAnd make sure that you visit the exhibit hall.  In the hall, look for the information about Big Tom Wilson.  They have a replica of the cabin he lived in and even artifacts from his life.  Big Tom was one of the guides that led the scientist to the peaks of the mountain during the 19th century.  He is also the man that went in after Dr Elisha Mitchell’s body when he did not return on his last trip up the mountain.  Of course, Mount Mitchell is named after Elisha Mitchell, the person that pushed for the naming of Mt Mitchell as the tallest peak.

Mount Mitchell is a stop that everybody needs to make at least once when while you visit the southern Appalachian mountains.  If you are cruising around the North Carolina side of the Smokies, make the drive up Mount Mitchell.  Explore the summit and learn more about the area and the people.  Take in the scenery, shoot some pictures, do some hiking and have a great day on top of the world on the east coast.

Warriors’ Path State Park

Warrior's Path State ParkWarriors’ Path State Park is named for the Great Indian Warpath that cut through the area and was a trading and travel root for the Cherokee Indians that moved through the area.  People still move through the area and they now spend part of that time inside the boundaries of Warriors’ Path State Park.  Located on the shores of the Patrick Henry Reservoir, this man made lake provides a beautiful backdrop to the amenities that this state park has to offer.

Kingsport is a northeast town in the state of Tennessee.  With the Smoky Mountains providing a backdrop, you are minutes from Kingsport and mere miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The 950 acre park has become known for one of the most unique attractions in any state park in the state:  Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground

The location of the park on the side of Patrick Henry Reservoir means that some of the amenities are naturally tied to the water.  Fishing, swimming, boating and a public marina are only some of the things that you can get involved in while you are at Warriors’ Path State Park.  You can also enjoy biking, camping, golf, hiking trails and horseback riding.  And then there is the Boundless Playground.

Boundless PlaygroundIn 2007 Darrel’s Dream Boundless Playground was opened to the public.  Darrell Rice, the president of the Friends of Warriors’ Path State Park decided that they wanted to develop a playground that would allow kids of all abilities to play and have fun at Warriors’ Path.  This playground is fully accessible to everyone.  Children with special abilities now have a place to play in the great outdoors.  They no longer have to sit on the side lines while they watch other children having fun.  Included with the playground, is the Lions Narnia Braille Trail which is designed for those children with impaired vision and the Anderson Treehouse – a FULLY accessible treehouse style structure.

Warriors’ Path State Park is a full service state park.  Plenty to do, plenty of activities and opportunities, this state park is designed with citizens of all abilities in mind.  Go hang out on the water, have a picnic in the shade, play in the water or go take in the Boundless Playground.  Either way you experience it, Warriors’ Path State Park is a delight and a special place for a group of special children that now have a playground that keeps them in mind.