Tennessee Trailblazing in the Cumberland Plateau
Head for the hills, traveling the byways and highways of the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee the Big South Fork area in the northern part of the plateau. Thereís enough to keep you there for, well, for rest of your life.
If you only have a week or so, letís get busy.
GranvilleFirst letís detour to Granville, take I-40 or Highway 70 (an old stagecoach route) and turn north on Highway 96. Imagine a page from Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain drives you past rolling farmlands dotted with coiled haystacks. Around every turn a farmhouse and barn, some stand strong while others weather gracefully in fields of wildflowers. The charcoal road winds along the Caney Fork River moving closer to Granville, the roots of Americana.
As the sun casts a late afternoon glow on Cordell Hull Lake, crowds gather in lakeside gazebos and camp chairs soaking in the sounds of the Big Band era courtesy of a live band. Streams of people stroll down main street with armfuls of quilts and local crafts. And the century old general store packs them in for their weekly bluegrass concert broadcast live on the radio. Journey from the past to the present with a life-size scrapbook posted on the outside of each historic building featuring 19th and 20th century black & white photos. Next stop Cookeville.
CookevilleHard to beat a town that has everything including art galleries, the Dogwood Performance Pavilion and the Cumberland County Playhouse (rated as one of the top ten theaters in Rural America). Lace up those hiking shoes and follow shady trails lined with sheer bluffs, narrow ridges and rolling waters inside Burgess Falls State Park. The Falling Water River spills into numerous waterfalls ranging from 20 to 136 foot cascades and adjacent to the parking lot is a large native butterfly garden.
Dale Hollow LakeLoad up the car and head north along Highway 111 with miles of hilly farmland and grazing cattle. Take Highway 294 to Dale Hollow Lake, land of friendly folk and crystal clear lakes filled with trophy size small bass. Abundant deer, birds and wildlife make their home across the 620 miles of protected shoreline. Toast the sunset in lakeside cabins or luxurious houseboats and tie up each night in a different cove or bay. Drive up to Byrdstown for some homestyle cooking at the Dixie Cafť and live Bluegrass on Friday nights. Count on at least three to four days to cover this neck of the woods.
Trail Riding CapitalNo trip to the Big South Fork area would be complete without a country drive on Highway 127 and Highway 52. Known as the Trail Riding Capital of the Southeast, travel alongside a legacy of equestrian farms, old homesteads, grottos in limestone cliffs, ancient mountains, tobacco fields and curing sheds. Make a stop at Forbus General Store, built in 1892, and pick up some homemade fudge then head on out to the Big South Fork Recreational and Natural Area.
Explore miles of lush forests, scenic gorges and mountain streams, along with sandstone bluffs, cliffs, chimneys and archways carved from wild rivers. Southeast Pack Trips provide horseback rides with overnight camping, turkey and deer hunts.
HuntsvilleA little further northeast in Huntsville, stop by Brimstone Recreation and venture deep inside the Appalachian Mountains with more than 200 miles of OHV (off-highway vehicle) trails through shrouded forests, rocky streams, muddy trails and panoramic overlooks.
If youíre looking for a more historic adventure, Hwy 52 offers antique trails and historical attractions. Follow a map of fine furniture, pottery, antique glass, regional collections and vintage items. Donít miss the Mark Twain Park, the Alvin C. York Grist Mill (in honor of World War I hero and community activist) and Historic Rugby (restored Victorian village founded in 1880).
Rest a spell at the Harrow Road Cafť for some authentic English fare owned and operated by Rugby descendent Barbara Stagg. For the ultimate drive back in time (weekends only), hop on the New River Scenic Railway boarding in Huntsville slicing through mountain valleys, historic communities and more than 250 curves along the New River.
Whatever your destination in the Cumberland Plateau, every turn whispers a piece of our past bringing us closer to nature. The locals tell the story. Kayaking down Caney Fork River watching rainbow trout swimming below us, Brent Pascal, proprietor of Caney Fork Surf, stops at a wildflower island to pick flowers for his guests. Still canít believe how beautiful this is, says Brent admiring the blazing mountains. The locals anxiously await the colors of the season. Itís like a rainbow every day, says Desiree Peterson, Executive Director of Byrdstown-Pickett Country Chamber. The hard part is leaving.
If You Go
First you need a car, map, and peek at the tourism website. Nashville is the closest airport and about 80 miles away from your first destination of Cookeville.
Donít leave without visiting Bacaras Family Restaurant in Jamestown where German born, Kurt Bacaras, serves dishes with fresh ingredients, days-long simmering and daily baked bread. For lodging try Cookeville Manor Bed & Breakfast
An award winning writer and photographer, Deborah Burst enjoys traveling and stocks her travel log with trips across the gulf coast, eastern seaboard and recently back to her childhood home in Bermuda. She scouts the backroads and waterways working as Louisiana Bureau Chief for Southern Breeze magazine, primary writer for the Louisiana Culinary Trails, travel columnist and photographer for St. Tammany News and Louisiana Road Trips magazine, and a frequent contributor to many other publications. Deb recently served as moderator for a Tennessee Williams Festival travel panel and keeps busy with local publications as a frequent contributor to the Northshore Report and a columnist with Covington Magazine. Deb is working on a book about historic trails through south Louisiana.