As fall approaches, hundreds of thousands of people will be heading to the Great Smoky Mountains for leaf viewing, hiking, camping, picnicking, animal watching and just generally communing with nature. The Smokies are beautiful this time of year, and I love to go there as much as anyone. Of course, the biggest drawback to visiting the Park is the number of people and the insane traffic. The roads are jammed with thousands of cars. Cars heading to the park, waiting to get into the park, driving in the park, and parked in the park. Cars, cars, cars, everywhere. It really distracts from the Park’s beauty and almost defeats the purpose of going there to begin with.
Please allow me to suggest to you one of the many equally spectacular alternatives to the GSMNP that we East Tennesseans have within a short drive from Knoxville, but without traffic.
The Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park is a hidden gem and somewhat of a well-kept secret that is less than 2 hours from Knoxville, regardless of which part of town you’re from. We made the trip from Oak Ridge this week in 45 minutes. The Obed is not a large park at all, but it is truly beautiful and offers great hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking and majestic scenery. The view from the Lilly Bluff Overlook is spectacular in the daytime, but even more so after dark. The entire Park is designated an International Dark Sky Park because of its remote location and absence of nearby urban light pollution. I cannot adequately describe the magnificence and splendor of the night sky viewed from the Lilly Bluff on a clear night. The Milky Way is prominently displayed from horizon to horizon, along with so many millions of stars and other celestial bodies that it makes it somewhat confusing to find the typical landmarks we usually see in the sky such as the Big Dipper and the North Star, as well as Venus and the other planets in our solar system. It is an unforgettable experience.
There are many Ranger-led hikes in the Park, both daytime and nighttime. The Park is located in Morgan County near the town of Wartburg. Warburg is the county seat for Morgan County and is a 25-30 minute drive from Oak ridge and 45-60 minute drive from Knoxville, depending on traffic. Hiking shoes and stick are needed for some of the hikes. The parking at Lilly Bluff Overlook is a 0.3 mile easy, level walk to the Bluff itself. Information about the Park, the hikes and other activities is available within the Park at the Park Visitor Center in Wartburg, and online at www.nps.gov/obed, as well as on Facebook at Obed Wild and Scenic River. ENJOY!