Big Ridge was first developed as a state park in the 1930s, but its human history begins much earlier. Survey crews discovered more than 20 archaeological sites there in the early 20th century, including several structures believed to be from the Mississippian Period—between 1000 and 1500 AD. A group of longhunters (frontiersmen of the late 1700s) also made their mark on the area, establishing a settlement that’s now beneath the lake created by the Big Ridge Dam. Today, the park is a beloved hiking destination, with both easy and difficult hiking options.
What Makes It Great
Big Ridge State Park is named for its natural features. Set in the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, the park is defined by three major parallel ridges that give way to the fertile valleys below. Trails at Big Ridge range from short and easy to rugged and difficult.
Several of the park’s well-maintained trails lead to remnants of its human history. The easy Old Mill Trail (0.3 miles each way) leads to the Norton Gristmill, which operated as a grain mill for over a century. The Ghost House Trail, a moderately difficult 1.2-mile loop, is legendary for its spooky, inexplicable occurrences, including a phantom dog. The trail makes a stop at the Ghost House, once the home of the Hutchinson family, and the Norton Cemetery, where the Hutchinson patriarch has been known to show up in photos. In October, the park offers guided night hikes of the area—not for the faint of heart.
Big Ridge trails also offer a look at the area’s natural surroundings. The strenuous Big Valley Trail (1.7-mile loop) climbs to the top of Big Ridge and boasts incredible views of the valley, plus, in spring, dozens of species of wildflowers. This trail also accesses the rocky, strenuous Indian Rock Loop Trail, which, at 2.6 miles, is recommended for experienced hikers only.
Who is Going to Love It
Big Ridge offers something for everyone, from thrill-seekers to families with young kids. Several short, easy trails (under a half-mile) are ideal for groups with little ones, and the park offers affordable rustic cabin accommodations for those not ready to spend the night in the backcountry. Fifty campsites on Norris Lake offer great views and fishing, and backpackers looking to get away from it all can camp at designated backcountry campsites with a permit.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Big Ridge is just 25 miles north of Knoxville at 1015 Big Ridge Road in Maynardville, and is accessible year-round.
In the busy summer months, make reservations at the campground in advance. Note that the park requires campers to make fires with only certified heat-treated wood (available for purchase from concessioners in the park) to stop the spread of emerald ash borers. For backcountry permit information, call the park at 865-992-5523.