One of the great things about living in East Tennessee is the wide variety of places you can go to see the splendor of fall. With varying elevations from the Smokies over to the Cumberland Plateau, leaves change at different times. One place to experience the brilliant colors along with history and spectacular scenery is the Ocoee River Gorge in Tennessee's southeast corner.


Starting your journey through the gorge

Photo by Clayton Hensley @knoxdaytripper

The Ocoee River is known for its raging whitewater and spectacular scenery. At the western end, the Ocoee #1 dam stands as a testament to man's attempts to harness the energy of the river. The dam is the oldest dam still in operation in the Tennessee Valley Authority system. Just past the powerhouse, TVA and Tennessee State Parks operate Sugarloaf Mountain Park. It's a great place to begin a trip into the gorge. The park has a short walking trail that hugs the banks of the river, there is a playground for the kids, and special displays highlight the rich history of the Ocoee River Gorge and the Copper Basin.

The splendor of serenity

Photo by Clayton Hensley @knoxdaytripper

Behind Ocoee #1, Parksville Lake (or Lake Ocoee) fills the narrow spaces between the ridges. U.S. 64 winds along the shores of the lake which is mostly surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest. Be sure and stop at one of the access areas or pull offs to catch the colors of the season. Boat and canoe rentals provide another way to enjoy the lake. Both are available at the Ocoee Inn.

Who needs a drone to get a view like this?

Photo by Clayton Hensley @knoxdaytripper

Just past the marina, you'll find a road that will take you high above the lake. Oswald Road (which starts near a Ranger Station) winds its way up the side of Chilhowee Mountain. About two miles up you'll find a small overlook with a big payoff. From here most of the lake comes into view along with the pyramid shaped mountain beside the dam and miles and miles of rolling hills stretching out across the Great Valley to the Cumberland Plateau.

The rush and the fall

Photo by Clayton Hensley @knoxdaytripper

Whitewater lures thousands of thrill seekers to the Ocoee Gorge each year. Even toward the end of October, you might catch rafters and kayakers making their way through the gorge. TVA's releases from the Ocoee #2 and Ocoee #3 dams make this one of the premiere spots for whitewater activities in the Southeast. In 1996, the river was the site of the Olympic Whitewater competitions of the Atlanta Centennial Games. Today, you can see where it all happened at the Ocoee Whitewater Center.

History winding through the gorge

Photo by Clayton Hensley @knoxdaytripper

At the Ocoee Whitewater Center, a large pedestrian bridge spans the gorge. As you walk across it, just picture thousands of people gathered around the gorge witnessing Olympic competitions. Upriver from the bridge, remnants of the Old Copper Road have been restored and converted to a trail. At one time the Copper Road stretched from the Copper Mines in Ducktown all the way to Cleveland, TN. Another unique historic feature of the gorge is the wooden flume constructed to channel water from each of the reservoirs to the powerhouses. The flume is visible from several spots along the gorge.