Big Ridge State Park in the Cumberland Mountains, lies on the southern shore of Norris Lake just 25 miles north of Knoxville. Hikers can ramble along 15 miles of forested trails that range from short and easy to moderate and strenuous. Trails wind along dry ridges, lush hollows, old roadbeds, and lake shores. Some will take you past remnants of early settlements and old cemeteries. Bordered in thick foliage and deep groundcover, the singletrack trails are well marked. Hiking is the only activity allowed on trails — no horses or bicycles are permitted. Trails are open year-round and overnight camping is allowed on designated backcountry campsites by permit only.
Chestnut Ridge Trail: This 1.75 mile trail ranks easy to moderate. A wide grassy path winds up the ridge past the cabin area to the road near the park's back entrance. The trail winds past sinkholes, Lyon's Spring Branch and remains of American Chestnut trees. These trees once dominated the ridge before they were decimated by blight. One of the most notable sites is the land itself where signs of erosion, farming uses and forest succession can be seen.
Old Mill Trail: Short and easy, this trail leads from the lakeside cabins that look out over Big Ridge Lake and follows the shoreline to Norton Gristmill. The mill was built in 1825 and was privately operated until 1930. The trail meanders along Big Ridge Land and over to Lyon's Spring Branch which once supplied the water to make the millwheel turn. Be sure to look for signs of beaver along the way.
Fisherman's Trail: Another short and easy trail, here you'll begin near the back entrance of the park and hike to an area of Norris Lake known as Poor Land Valley. Some say that this area obtained its name many years ago because of the poor quality of the soil for farming. Follow this trail to find a quiet spot suitable for fishing or swimming.
Lake Trail: The trailhead for this easy to moderate 1.5-mile trail is just before the campground road. As the name suggests, the trail meanders around the scenic 45-acre Big Ridge Lake. It crosses Big Ridge Dam, which was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. This trail is excellent for viewing wildlife such as deer, frogs, heron, wood ducks and much more. Along the way is the Snodderly Cemetery where many of the area's earlier inhabitants are buried. A couple of offshoot trails that can be added to this hike are the Loyston Overlook and Meditation Point Trails.
Loyston Overlook Trail: This short but steep trail to Loyston Overlook leads up to a lookout point over Norris Lake, an outflow of the Clinch River. The area of the lake now known as Loyston Sea was once a bustling town called Loyston. It was founded in the early 1800s by John Loy, who established a foundry in the area. The town of Loyston included a grocery store, gas station, school, churches and even a post office, all of which are now covered by the waters of Norris Lake.
Meditation Point Trail: Soon after starting on the Lake Trail is a short and easy hike to a covered bench shelter — a tranquil spot to ponder the natural world.
Ghost House Trail: Beginning near the group camp, this 1.2-mile easy to moderate loop takes you deep into the history of this area's pre-1930s inhabitants. According to locals and some park visitors, eerie and unexplainable events occur along this trail. Make a stop at the Norton Cemetery and visit the sunken grave of Maston Hutchinson, who some think is responsible for these strange occurrences. Continue down the trail towards Big Valley and make a stop at the remnants of the famous Ghost House — Maston's home that was thought to be haunted.
Big Valley Trail: The 1.7-mile Big Valley trail is a strenuous hike that travels a road used by many of this area's earlier settlers as they hauled corn down to the Norton Gristmill. The trail traverses Pinnacle Ridge, descends into Dark Hollow and then climbs to the top of Big Ridge where it connects with the Indian Rock Loop. Several species of ferns and spring wildflowers can be seen here. The trail passes Langley Cemetery, where the only modern gravestone marks the resting place of young Edward Loy, who died in 1932 at the age of 5. The trail then follows the side of the ridge overlooking a deep valley. Several species of spring wildflowers can be seen including pink lady's slippers, yellow star grass, crested dwarf iris and many others.
Dark Hollow Trail: This trail has an eastern and western portion. The 2.7-mile western portion leads from Big Ridge Dam to Big Valley Trail, while the 1.3 mile eastern portion starts at Big Valley and dead ends at Norris Lake. This trail was once a country road and there are still many noticeable areas where some of Big Ridge's settlers made their homes. The ridge north of the Hollow is Big Ridge and the ridge south of the Hollow is Pinnacle Ridge, known locally as Pine Ridge.
Indian Rock Trail: Recommended for the experienced hiker only, the 2.5-mile Indian Rock Loop Trail begins just past Langley Cemetery via the Big Valley Trail. Indian Rock Trail leads to a rocky area where a plaque commemorates the location where Peter Graves, a settler of Sharp's Station was scalped and killed by Indians. Graves was turkey hunting when he thought he heard a turkey gobble behind some rocks. To his surprise there was no turkey, but a group of Indians.
Sharp's Station Trail: This trail branches off from Indian Rock Loop and travels 0.2 miles along the shores of Norris Lake to the site of Sharp's Station Fort. Sharp's Station, founded in the 1780s was one of the first of two settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains. The other was James White Fort in Knoxville. A stone wall is all that remains of Sharp's Station Fort, but a plaque commemorates the area.