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When water freezes on the granite surface, it reflects the sun like a mirror.
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A Path of Scenery
Forest Service Road 77 leads you to the top of Chilhowee Mountain and the Chilhowee Recreation Area where there is swimming and trails for hiking and mountain biking.
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When water freezes on the granite surface, it reflects the sun like a mirror.
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More than 450 miles of multi-use trails surround the byway.
Autumn is the time to slow down and absorb the beauty around us. Try one of these five drives through flame-colored trees but be sure to brake for the scenery. Leave your car, step into crisp, season-changed air and view the mixture of oranges, yellows and reds from a scenic overlook, a nature-designed pinnacle perfect for pausing to view or photograph the season’s best palette.
Tennessee: Plenty of Views and Whitewater Too
It took millions of years for the Ocoee River to carve its way through the mountain of rock that embraces it. The Ocoee Scenic Byway in Southeast Tennessee gives travelers many opportunities to see this sculpture in progress. The route travels through the Ocoee River Gorge, where whitewater canoeing, rafting and kayaking are popular.
The 26-mile byway follows 19 miles of U.S. 64 and then climbs seven miles up Chilhowee Mountain through the Cherokee National Forest on Forest Service Road 77. The route, the first National Forest Byway in the country, has elevations ranging from 838 feet at Lake Ocoee to 2,200 feet at Chilhowee Recreation Area.
Scenic overlooks abound along the route, beginning with a view of Parksville Lake, created by the Ocoee Dam. The lake, surrounded by the forest, has a marina, beaches, campsites and hiking. Next, drive up the mountain through dense forests of Virginia pine and red oaks with overlooks and short hikes along the way before the view opens to postcard vistas of the Tennessee Valley, Cumberland Plateau and Sugarloaf Mountain. The neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina are easy snapshots from atop Chilhowee Mountain. On the mountain, visitors can enjoy the Chilhowee Recreation Area Lake, campground and trails to Benton Falls and the edge of the Rock Creek Gorge Scenic area.
After descending the mountain, return to U.S. 64 east to enter the Ocoee River Gorge. This six-mile stretch has some of the most colorful foliage in autumn plus nature-carved rock outcroppings. The road is narrow but there are several places to view the beauty of the gorge and activity on the river, site of the 1996 Olympic canoe and kayak competitions. The Ocoee Whitewater Center of the Cherokee National Forest (423/496-5197, www.r8web.com/ocoee) conducts whitewater classes here and other events throughout the year. At the eastern end of the byway are Ducktown and Copperhill, copper mining towns in the 1800s. The Ducktown Basin Museum traces the area’s mining history (423/496-5778).
Information: USDA Forest Service, Ocoee Ranger District 613/338-5201; www.r8web.com/Cherokee.
Kentucky: A Lush Forest Drive
Set off on a cool, crisp autumn morning and follow Zilpo Scenic Byway through forested ridges and hollows in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Eastern Kentucky. Only 11 miles long, the byway (Forest Road 918) has plenty of marked interpretive stops and overlooks to give travelers a glimpse of its past and a look at the life that surrounds it now. There are sharp curves and steep grades along this route where hollows were formed from soils and siltstone carried from mountain streams.
The fishing is good at Clear Creek Lake and Recreation Area, on Forest Road 129, first stop on the byway. Around the lake are nesting boxes for wood ducks and nesting platforms for Canada geese. The Iron Furnace, now in ruins and part of the recreation area, was once the site of smelting, fueled by the surrounding woods, until the environmental impact was realized. The site also contains a modern experimental fiber footbridge, first of its kind, which connects to the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. This land was once explored by Daniel Boone and given his Shawnee nickname, meaning “Big Turtle.”
A short trail at Stop 6 leads to a place for quiet reflection with a wooden bench, placed for observation of forest life. Nearby, Tater Knob Fire Lookout Tower, elevation 1,388 feet, is the only fire tower in the forest open to the public. Take in a panoramic view from the tower of Cave Run Lake, popular for fishing, sailing and swimming. The byway ends in another mile at Zilpo Campground and Recreation Area (1-877-444-6777). In addition to campsites amid acres of trees, there are hiking trails, a boat ramp and picnic area available.
Directions: From U.S. 60 in Salt Lick, take Ky. 211 south four miles to FS 129. First stop is about one mile. Information: Daniel Boone National Forest, 859/745-3100, www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/boone.
North Carolina: Forestry’s Beginning
You may think a journey along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway through Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina will be a drive through trees as ancient as the land. But much of this 79-mile byway loop travels the same route as old settlement roads and log-hauling railroads from the turn of the century when the land was sheared of trees. Today’s forest does not bear the scars of this time; new growth in this 500,000-plus-acre forest seems as if it has been here since the beginning. The forest’s salvation began with George Vanderbilt’s acquisition of 125,000 acres in the late 1880s.
Gifford Pinchot,a European-trained forester, was hired to rehabilitate the land. Later, Carl Schenck was hired to manage the land, and the Cradle of Forestry, seen along the byway, became the birthplace of American scientific forestry education.
Begin your trip by traveling north on U.S. 276 from the intersection of N.C. 280 and U.S. 64 near Brevard. Pick up maps at the Forest Service Information Center two miles past the entrance. Pull off at the overlook to view 60-foot-high Looking Glass Falls, named for the nearby mountain, Looking Glass Rock. The monolithic granite face of the rock shines like a mirror when water freezes on it and reflects the sun. Then, stop ahead at Sliding Rock, where visitors can watch or slide down the nature-made smooth rock slide and land in a mountain-cool pool at the bottom.
Next on the route is the Cradle of Forestry, the national historic site commemorating the preservation of the forest and beginning of modern forestry. There are two wheelchair-accessible interpretive trails. One trail visits the forestry school and ranger homes, another features turn-of-the-century exhibits such as a 1915 logging train. Special events throughout the year include Terrific Tree Day in September and Forest Festival Day in October. (1-800-660-0671, www.cradleofforestry.com).
Don’t miss sights on the byway: Shining Rock Wilderness Area, home to Cold Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which crosses the byway at two points and Alligator Rock, an outcropping that juts its “open jaws” across a lane of the byway.
Information: Pisgah National Forest, 828/257-4200, www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.
A View From Virginia’s Highest Peak
When William B. Rogers and his brother Henry charted the geological structure of the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1800s, the country was still new but the land was old. It seems fitting that Virginia’s highest peak, originally called Balsam Mountain, is named for the state’s first geologist. You can see Mount Rogers in the distance from your car window or look across at its beauty from adjacent Whitetop Mountain. But to see the view from atop its 5,729 feet, be sure to bring your hiking boots. Views are limited at the actual summit by trees, but the vistas on the way up make the climb doubly rewarding.
The Mount Rogers Scenic Byway in Southwest Virginia leads visitors past cool mountain streams, the Virginia Creeper Trail and deep forests. The 55-mile byway, along Va. 603 and part of U.S. 58, winds through the western end of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, in the Jefferson National Forest. The byway begins at Troutdale, a former logging town and home of author Sherwood Anderson.
Equestrians will want to try the nearby Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, with riding paths accessible from the byway or camp at nearby Fox Creek Horse Camp. More than 450 miles of multi-use trails surround the byway including the Lewis Fork Wilderness Trail, where hiking and cross-country skiing can be enjoyed almost year-round. The Appalachian Trail crosses the byway three times, covering about 60 miles of the area. To reach the top of Mount Rogers, travel six miles west of Troutdale and pick up a path that connects with trails to the mountain.
Those who want a roof over their head but still want to “rough it” without modern conveniences can rent a cabin in the recreation area (1-800-628-7202). Last stop on Va. 603 is Konnarock, another logging town with period structures such as a lumber mill.
Directions: From I-81, exit 45, take Va. 16 to Troutdale to Va. 603. Information: Mount Rogers NRA, 276/783-5196; Smyth County Chamber, 276/783-3161.
Georgia: Follow the Ridges and Valleys
The Armuchee Ridges, a unique part of the Appalachian Mountains, are tucked in the northwest corner of Georgia. These ridges are mountains that are by definition ridges, narrow and linear with valleys that hide coves called “pockets.” The sides of ridges are different. Taylor Ridge has a western summit face of sandstone and east face cliffs of chert, a noncrystalline quartz.
The Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway, a 51-mile loop through the area located between Lafayette, Summerville and Rome, offers visitors this different view of the Appalachians. The area’s beauty is summed up in its name “Armuchee,” a Cherokee word meaning land of flowers. Located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, autumn brings riotous color to the ridges and valleys.
One stop on the route, Keown Falls Scenic Area and Hike, was preserved because of its rock bluffs and high elevation swampy areas formed by springs. Twin falls are located along spring-fed streams in the area. John’s Mountain loop trail has an overlook with a view of Lookout Mountain. Nearby Keown Falls Recreation Area (706/638-1085), is known for its wildflowers and mountain laurel as well as a mixture of oak, hickory and sourwood that provide fall color.
Next stop is The Pocket Recreation Area, named because it lies in a low cove surrounded on three sides by the ridges of Horn Mountain. The area features a campground, picnic facilities and hiking trails such as the 2.5-mile Pocket Loop Trail or the 0.5-mile Pocket Nature Trail (706/695-6736). On the upward swing of the byway loop, lies James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park at the base of Taylor Ridge. Year-round fishing, boating and trails that circle two lakes are available. Programs at the park include wildflower planting and restoration of the bluebird population (706/857-0826).
Directions: From I-75, take exit 306, turn west on Ga. 140, north on U.S. 27 and the byway begins at Ga. 156; or I-75, take exit 320, west on Ga. 136, the byway begins at CR 723. Information/map: Georgia Department of Transportation, 404/651-7603 or www.dot.state.ga.us.