A Big Character in a Small Town

On an overcast day, (not the best for taking pictures) Matt Farr and I headed north to drive USBR21 from Jellico to Knoxville. We had both driven the route previously but this time our goal was to visit and chat with folks along the way, scout out a few campsites and find some good places to eat en route. Starting out in Jellico our first stop was Indian Mountain State Park — less than a mile from downtown. For touring cyclists that enjoy camping out, the park has 49 sites with water and electricity. There are stocked ponds for those that want to do some fishing. The rangers were super excited about cyclists visiting the park and one of the rangers shared a few stories from his adventures as a SAG for BRAT – Bike Ride Across Tennessee. We also learned that we HAD to stop and visit with “Buck” at the Hardware Store/Museum in downtown.

Indian Mountain State Park

Indian Mountain State Park – near downtown Jellico, TN


Campground and pond at Indian Mountain State Park

Ronald Buck, “Buck” to the locals, turned out to be quite the character and an awesome story teller! Buck owns Buck’s Jellico Hardware and Jellico Family Museum on Main Street. A robust, storyteller if there ever was one, Buck shared facts, along with a few wild tales, of the history of the area — from the coal mines that sprang up in the late 1800’s to the railroad car packed with dynamite that exploded downtown in 1906. He reminisced on the changing of the town when the coal industry started to wane in the 1950’s, and the lumber industry started to boom. Buck gave us a tour of his Hardware Store and the adjoining Museum which was the vision of the four Buck brothers, “Junior”, “Porky”, “Buck” & “Bucky”. It was quite a treat and we wished we would have had more time to hear more about his family and the memories he recants.


Matt Farr and “Buck” in the Family Museum


Jellico Family Museum on Main Street

A few places on our list to visit on another trip are  the Oldest Barber Shop in town and the US Post Office and Mine Rescue Station. The best thing about bike touring are the folks you meet and the places you are able to visit so easily by bike. Cars are so limiting for inquiring travelers!


US Post Office and Mine Rescue Station


Jellico’s Oldest Barber Shop

Before leaving town we headed over to possibly the only vegetarian restaurant in or near Jellico — Sweet Pea Garden Pantry — this was a real delight and quite a surprise since we were sent there by Buck! Below are a couple of shots taken along the way to Caryville. Forests border old TN-63 that runs alongside the creek and the railroad. There is logging in this area and cyclists may encounter logging trucks, but in the three different drives we made, we only saw a couple of trucks and very few cars. There are numerous single lane bridge crossings.


Old TN-63 follows the railroad tracks


Logging mills along Old TN-63


Cove Creek winds along Old TN-63

Narrow single lane bridges

Next stop Caryville! For those wanting to stay overnight, there are hotels along the route or campsites at Cove Lake State Park, just 1/2 mile northeast of the main route. As you leave Caryville, you leave those lovely flat grades and start winding up and over to cross Norris Dam and the Clink River. Norris Dam State Park has camping and cabins including 19 historic rustic cabins that were originally constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are a few Points of Interest to visit after crossing the dam. First is the Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn which was originally built on the Holston River in the 1830s and relocated to its present site in 1978. It displays old farm tools, plows and a horse drawn wagon; the Rice Gristmill, originally constructed in 1798 in Union County, then dismantled and rebuilt on Clear Creek in 1935; and the Lenoir Museum which offers a diverse collection of many artifacts depicting life in Southern Appalachia from 12,000 years ago to present day.

Grist Mill

Rice Gristmill circa 1798

Threshing Barn

Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn 1830

The city of Norris offers food but no overnight accommodations. Leaving Norris the route winds along wooded sections and open farmland. Keep an eye out for the tractor forest.


Beautiful Hill Street


The Tractor Forest

The last stop for this post is Knoxville. We enter the city through the Historic Fourth & Gill neighborhood built during the last quarter of the 19th Century. Many of the houses are Queen Anne and Craftsmen styled featuring large porches and complex rooflines. Among the architects for these homes were two of Knoxville’s most notable architects — George F. Barber and Joseph Bauman. Bauman designed several houses for his extended family, and Lovenia Street is named for one of his sisters.


Forth and Gill Historic District

Unique to Knoxville is the weekday live performance radio on the WDVX Blue Plate Special on stage in the Visitors Center from 12-1pm. One block off Gay Street is Market Square – an open-air mall of eateries, shops, street performers, and a Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturdays (in season).


Performers on the WDVX Blue Plate Special


Market Square

Here’s the updated link to the full route where you can download the gpx track. I’ve also updated the cue sheet and overview maps — USBR21-CueSheet-KY-GA. Now it’s time to get those panniers packed and head out on a tour through Tennessee!

Proposed USBR21 from KY to GA


Proposed USBR21 Tennessee Section from Kentucky to Georgia

I’ve previously posted details and pictures covering the southern section of the proposed USBR 21 route from Knoxville to Chattanooga/Georgia state line, this post discusses the proposed northern section.

Finding a route that would travel from the Kentucky border south to Knoxville to complete the Tennessee section of USBR 21 was quite the task! Anyone that has driven the northern section of I-75 knows the long climbs that take you over the Cumberland mountains that traverse the northern tier of our state. There are few paved backroads through this area. Traveling on US 25 W to Jellico is busy while US 25 E has the Cumberland Gap Tunnel which is only open to motor-vehicles.

Not many cyclists that I know have traveled that far north and searching the Strava Heat Map seemed to verify this. As luck and synchronicity would have it, it was my good fortune to meetup with my friend Kendall Chiles, president of the Southern Appalachian Nature Photographers. While sharing tales and pictures of old barns we have photographed, I shared one of the Getty’s Mill near Athens along the southern route of USBR 21. I mentioned the difficulty that I was having in completing the route to the Kentucky border, and to my surprise, Kendell has traveled (by car) a copious array of backroads all over Tennessee — which proved to be an amazing resource for us cyclists!

From my routes in Bicycling Around Knoxville, I was able to map out the section running north from Knoxville through Powell and Norris, then with Kendall’s help, the route extended into Jellico, TN. And here is the good news — Kendall’s section parallels I-75 — but rather than climbing over the mountain, it winds alongside the railroad tracks on the valley floor. At railroad grade!

Below are a few details of the proposed route. Please note that since I live in Knoxville, I headed north to scope out the route, so my comments are geared in that direction, rather than starting in Jellico and heading south.

The proposed route leaves downtown Knoxville and rides through several quiet neighborhoods before leaving the urban setting for rural backroads. The route travels through the city of Norris which was built in 1933 as a model planned community by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to house workers building the Norris Dam on the Clinch River. Accommodations in Norris include a store and restaurant. From here, cyclists will ride over the Norris Dam. Accommodations at Norris Dam State Park include both camping and cabins.

Heading west, the next stop is Rocky Top — a town with an identity issue. Originally named Coal Creek in the early 19th century for the stream that runs through the town, it was renamed Lake City in 1936 when the completion of Norris Dam formed an artificial lake above the dam, then once again renamed in 2013 to Rocky Top when a business group proposed to establish a theme park in the city if the name was changed to “Rocky Top”, taking advantage of the song of that name. Personally, I think it should have stayed with the name Coal Creek.

Next marker is the city of Careyville, (for those wanting a campsite, Cove Lake State Park is about one mile off the main route on US 25 W). Leaving Careyville, we head northwest on Old Highway 63 toward Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. This section twists up and over the mountains affording a few spectacular views. After splitting off onto TN-297 towards Pioneer, the route winds through wooded forests to follow Elk Fork Creek. Travel here is on narrow roads that cross several one lane bridges. Running alongside the railroad tracks makes this section quite flat for Tennessee standards, a welcome relief after the earlier climbs.

Newcomb is the next populated area on the route — 746 was the recorded population in 2000! The approximately 15-mile section from outside Careyville to Newcomb is in short supply of amenities, however there are several churches along the way that might welcome cyclists for water refilling and possible lodging. Last stop in Tennessee is the town of Jellico, one of the most productive coal fields in Kentucky and Tennessee throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. Many of the building on North and South Main Street are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Jellico Commercial Historic District.

Another point of interest — just west of Jellico at the base of Indian Mountain, sits Indian Mountain State Park. The park was developed as a reclamation project in which abandoned strip mining pits were converted to recreational use. Amenities include campsites with water and electricity.

Here’s the updated link to the full route where you can download the gpx track. I’ve also updated the cue sheet and overview maps — USBR21-CueSheet-KY-GA. We hope to post some pictures soon, we weren’t able to take any on our scoping drive. We’ve cycled the route from Knoxville to Norris but now look forward to a bike tour to Kentucky! If you happen to get a chance to ride the route before we do, please email us with your comments or suggestions.

A heartfelt thank you to Kendall for these great route suggestions!


Maps and Cue Sheet for USBR 21

Matt at the top of the Foothills Parkway

Matt Farr, Executive Director for Bike Walk Tennessee atop Foothills Parkway

Bike Walk Tennessee’s new executive director, Matt Farr is off and running to get USBR 21 official! Matt and I drove the route earlier this summer and visited with the various Chamber of Commerce folks to get them excited about having the route wind through their towns. We were fortunate to get a personal tour of the old Getty’s Mill with John who lives across from the mill in the Old Post Office/Store. His Dad worked at the Mill back in the day so he had plenty of great stories to share.

Gettys Mill

Getty’s Mill circa 1859

The only disappointment with our scouting trip was the temporary closing of the the Mayfield Dairy Visitor’s Center for remodeling — we were so looking forward to ice cream! However, we did enjoy coffee and biscuits in Madisonville and then lunch in Athens — driving sure can work up an appetite.


Mayfield Visitors Center in Athens, TN

This proposed section travels from Knoxville to Chattanooga and the Georgia state line. The route is currently 152.2 miles one-way, excluding spurs. We are currently working on the section of the route that runs from the Kentucky state line to Knoxville.

Here’s a link to the route where you can download the gpx track. I’ve also prepared a cue sheet and overview maps — USBR21-CueSheet — these include a spur to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with an alternate route for those that would like to ride up and over the Foothills Parkway and then connect back to the main route; and another spur to Tellico Plains and the impressive Cherohala Skyway. It’s a beautiful touring route that travels along bucolic backroads, winding through  main streets off the beaten path, and sharing a glimpse of historic Tennessee along the way.

Elle on the USBR Route

Elle Colquitt surrounded by the amazing vistas along USBR 21

Athens-Main Street Downtown

Main Street Downtown Athens, Tennessee


Historic US11 in Charleston, Tennessee

Please visit our page Knox to Chatt Route, for more information, gpx tracks, and pictures for this route and its spurs — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Foothills Parkway, Tellico Plains, and the Cherohala Skyway. Since we are in the planning phase, we are requesting public comments. USBR 21 is being undertaken by Bike Walk Tennessee. Anyone with feedback on the proposed route, can email Matt Farr at matt@bikewalktn.org.

A Proposed Route for USBR21

Knoxville to Cleveland Map

A Proposed Route — Knoxville to Cleveland

Earlier this summer Jon and I started working on the section of USBR 21 that will connect Knoxville to Chattanooga, while other folks are working on the connection from Chattanooga to Atlanta. There are three phases to implementing a US Bike Route — planning, designation, and promotion — we are in the early planning phase. We have designed a preliminary route and now need valuable input from the cycling community! We invite you to print or download this map/cue sheet and ride the route and offer suggestions and comments. Please note that the criteria used in planning a USBR is that the route should attract touring cyclists to scenic destinations and cultural attractions and it should connect cities and/or transportation hubs. Read more about the US Bicycle Route System

Route Overview:

The proposed route starts in downtown Knoxville, heads south winding along scenic backroads of Knox and Blount County. On Old Walland Highway, we propose a spur route for cyclists to continue south to visit Townsend and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cyclists will find plenty of lodging and food options in addition to tourist attractions. Cyclists will have another spur option to reconnect to the main route via the beautiful Foothills Parkway. Continuing southwest, the route travels along the southern tip of Maryville, riding by two farms that offer seasonal markets for local produce. After crossing US 129, the route fringes the scenic Kyker Bottoms Wildlife Refuge and connects with US 411. Although a busy road, US 411 offers wide shoulders and access across the Tennessee River (Lake Loudon) into the town of Vonore. Here, there are several options for refueling before the route connects with the less-travelled backroads of Monroe County. Off Niles Ferry Road, we propose another spur — connecting to the town of Tellico Plains, where cyclists can find lodging and restaurants, enjoy the Cherohala Skyway, Bald River Falls, and the Cherokee National Forest.

Fairview Rd

Mountain views on the horizon

Old Athens Rd

Backroads nestled between farmland

The main route continues through the small town of Madisonville where folks can refuel! The roads towards Athens, pass by many pastoral farms including the legendary Mayfield Dairy Farms (historically on the Century Farm roster), and Goldie Denton Mayfield’s old Farmstead. Next stop is the Mayfield Visitor’s Center where you can enjoy ice cream flavors that you don’t find at your local stores! You can also take a tour of the dairy plant. The route continues through Athens’ historic downtown and then winds along McMinn County backroads. The route rides by Spring Briar Farm, built by the Getty family in the 1820’s, and Getty’s Mill just across the road, built in 1859. The structure across from the mill was once a Post Office and general store.

Spring Briar Farm circa 1820

Spring Briar Farm circa 1820

Getty's Mill

The Old Getty’s Mill circa 1859

There are very few busy roads on this route, but  Bowater Road is sadly unavoidable as it is the best option for traveling to the small town of Calhoun where there is the much need bridge for crossing the Hiwassee River. This 3-mile section has no shoulder with fast traffic, but the three times I rode this route, drivers moved over to provide me with space. Bowater Road connects with US 11, also a busy road but there are shoulders. Just after crossing the river, the route jumps back onto quieter roads in the historic town of Charleston. History buffs will enjoy the homes and stories along this section of the Civil War Trail. The route travels along a short section of Historic US 11 and it’s predecessor, the concrete highway! And here’s a surprise — from Market Street, turn west on Cass Street, and glance to the left — you’ll think you’re in Charleston, South Caroline not Tennessee, as you gaze upon a bald cypress swamp!

Market St Henegar House Charleston circa 1890

Henegar House, circa 1890

Bald Cypress Swamp Charleston

Bald Cypress Swamp Charleston TN

Leaving Charleston, the route enters the northern border of Cleveland on quiet backroads with easterly mountain views. The route  merges onto the busier US-11, for approximately one mile, before traversing through a neighborhood to connect with the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. The paved 4-mile greenway travels to the heart of Cleveland’s historic downtown, bypassing busy streets, while providing access to parks, grocery stores, eateries, and lodging along the way. From downtown Cleveland the route will offer a spur route west to downtown Chattanooga. This section is still on the drawing board.

Please share this route with your cycling friends and clubs. We want your feedback and will consider any and all suggestions for improvement!

We invite you to join the US Bike Routes 21/121 Facebook Group page.