Get Out & Play: Spectacular winter playground

Carol EvansUncategorized

East Tennessee is blessed with the gift of geography, and there is no better proof than the Obed Wild and Scenic River. Just 45 minutes from Knoxville, the Obed stretches along the Cumberland Plateau and offers spectacular views and outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities.


The free-flowing Obed Wild and Scenic River and its 500-foot-deep gorges are a popular destination for paddlers. No other watershed in the state earns higher marks for outstanding wilderness value and whitewater paddling than the Obed. The combined Obed-Emory watershed contains over 100 miles of paddling opportunities from quiet floats to large-volume whitewater, reminiscent of the New and Gauley Rivers in West Virginia. As Tennessee’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic River, the water quality and degree of protection of the system allows for paddling through the wildest places in Tennessee just a short distance as the crow flies from the greater Knoxville area. The 45 miles that comprise the river system include whitewater runs that range from Class II to Class IV.

For those who prefer to navigate the river more slowly with rod in hand, the Obed is home to a variety of bass, bluegill, catfish and muskie, among others.

The Obed’s gorges create an equally popular site for rock climbing and bouldering. Dozens of climbing routes are offered, including those up to 200 feet in length.

Regardless of the time of year, every season is the right time to hike the Obed Wild and Scenic River trails. Hikers can start with a variety of short, easy trails or take on the 15.3-mile section of the Cumberland Trail that provides a challenging and extremely scenic alternative for those interested in longer day hikes or in backpacking trips.

Three free events this month offer a great introduction to the Obed.

Rangers Rick Ryan and Veronica Greear will lead the “Healthy Hike on the North Clear Trail” this Saturday, Jan. 20, at 10 a.m. This moderate to strenuous 4.5-mile adventure will highlight the vistas of Clear Creek and unique geology far beneath the rim of the gorge. Along the way, the trail descends below the rim into the gorge of Clear Creek with imposing walls and sounds of water rushing over the boulders that litter the river below. Hikers will pass by geologic areas such as the Inner Circle, Shale Ledge and Sun Ledge, and walk beneath the Great Roof. The cliff outcroppings also offer a unique biodiversity with timeless flora that is sure to impress.

The Obed Wild and Scenic River is now one of the newest Dark Sky Parks designated by the International Dark Sky Association. Join Ranger Rick Ryan and guest speaker Dr. F. Owen Hoffman 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, to observe the craters, mountain ranges, seas and lakes of the moon. In addition to lunar viewing, you can observe the full stellar display of winter constellations and star clusters. Telescopes will be available for sky observations, including the park’s 12-inch Dobsonian Reflector telescope. Amateur astronomers are also invited to bring their telescopes to join the program and may contact the visitor center for more information.

And for those interested in trying their hands and feet at rock climbing, visit the Obed the first Saturday morning of every month for “Coffee and Climb with a Ranger.” National Park Service rangers provide a free cup of coffee, gear and instruction.

Find more information about these events and all that the Obed Wild and Scenic River has to offer at outdoorknoxville.com or by calling 423-346-6294.

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