Caryville, TN; with a previous appearance on the blog due to the giant dinosaur on the side of the highway and the explosive fireworks that burned on a previous trip up I-75, the city has recently been in the headlines due to the rockslide that closed portions of I-75. I would never have guessed we would be staying overnight in Caryville, but it served us well during our recent trip, allowing us to arrive rather late in the day and depart refreshed to our next destination, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
In addition to the proximity to Big South Fork, Caryville is itself in a rather scenic little area of the state. To the east is the dammed Powell River and the resulting Norris Lake, on its shores a plethora of State and county Parks, Tennessee Valley Authority public lands, Wildlife Management Areas and State Forests. To the north is the North Cumberland wildlife management and the OHV riding area of the same name. But within Caryville is Cove Lake State Park, a 717-acre park encompassing wetlands and bottomland forests and serving as a buffer for the Norris Reservoir to the east, where the Clinch River and Cove Creek were dammed in 1936 to control flooding and provide electricity to the area.
In addition to the 1.4-mile Woods Loop that we hiked, there are an additional 6 miles of trail and the 11-mile section of the Cumberland Trail which connects Cove Lake State Park with Tank Springs in LaFollette. Indoor & outdoor pavilions, picnic tables, playgrounds and wildlife viewing structures offer birdwatching, picnicking and other recreation opportunities such as biking, boating, camping, fishing, golf and horseback riding. Spring was evident everywhere in the valley, with dozens of species of wildflowers blooming and the surface of the lake dotted with waterfowl. All this with the scenic backdrop of the mountains and the Cumberland Plateau…
There aren’t a bunch of options when it comes to dining in Caryville, the McDonald’s, Subway, BK and Bojangles typical of small-town USA lining Main Street. Closer to the highway a Shoney’s, and Scotty’s, the local diner my son is still raving about days later. Stools line the counter, and burgers are tossed on the grill once they’re ordered instead of sitting under warming lamps. You could do worse than eating lunch at this friendly place, with its finger on the pulse of the town and easy on the wallet, to boot. Then of course head to Cove Creek to hike off those calories.
After a nice afternoon at the state park you don’t have to drive far to find a dinner spot, as Rickard Ridge BBQ is right there, overlooking Cove Lake, the meadow and the mountains off to the west. If it’s not too crowded ask for a window table, where you can watch the sun slink behind the mountains and the valley grow dark.
There aren’t dozens of choices for accommodations either, but a few comfortable choices will give you a view of the park and mountains. We chose the Hampton Inn, and were rewarded with a clean, comfortable room and a balcony overlooking Cove Lake. The Model T collection out front was impressive, but the view over the valley more so. The horse-drawn carriage remnants dotting the hillside on the way up were supposedly used in the movie “Roots” and were part of the author Alex Haley’s estate, and an overlook with porch swings at the very precipice invited guests to linger over coffee.
Caryville. You might cruise through on your way north on I-75 and register the giant green dinosaur but completely miss the quiet State Park adjacent to the highway. However this little valley town stands up under a second glance, providing the amenities and even a few attractions that serve it well as a gateway to Bog South Fork and the Cumberland Plateau.