Not all National Parks Sites are created equal. And to be honest, I wouldn’t blame you if you had never heard of Obed Wild and Scenic River. I didn’t know it even existed until I looked at a map in our National Parks Passport to see what National Parks besides the Great Smoky Mountains National Park we could go hike.
Regardless of the time of year, this hidden gem of a National Park System site is low key but full of some great trails. Every season offers its own special rewards in the form of views and memories to those who take the time to explore the Obed Wild and Scenic River on foot!
Bonus points? Obed Wild and Scenic River allows pets! Just make sure you keep them on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. And clean up after your pet.
Obed Wild and Scenic River Trails
Obed Wild and Scenic River trails are divided into two groups, the Lilly Bluff Trails and the Nemo Trails.
Lilly Bluff Trails at Obed Wild and Scenic River
Distance: 0.3 miles one-way
The Overlook Trail is one of the easier Obed Wild and Scenic River trails. The trails is a flat stroll through a beautiful hemlock forest. You’ll be able to enjoy the high rock outcrop of Lilly Bluff and get a great sweeping overlook of the Clear Creek Gorge. The gravel trail and boardwalk can be fairly easily navigated by wheelchairs or those with strollers.
Distance: 3.8-mile round trip
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Point Trail culminates on the narrow, exposed ridge that separates the Obed River from Clear Creek before the two flow together- guiding you along the bluff with a secluded view overlooking the river gorge. It dips to Milton Branch, which depending on the time of year can trickle (summer) or roar with water (spring) before leading you past a hidden natural arch.
Distance: 0.5 miles one way
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Bridge Trail runs between Lily Bridge and the Overlook Trail. Cutting beneath Lilly Bluff along this short but scenic trail you will see exposed sheer cliffs, sycamore and ash trees along the rivers edge, and high among the hemlock, hickory, and oak canopies.
Boulder Field Trail
Distance: 0.4-mile round trip
Boulder Field Trail gets its name from the massive sandstone boulders that fell from the bluff thousands of years ago. Another one of the Obed Wild and Scenic River trails that is easy but offers some impressive sights. Climbers train on the sandstone boulders that pepper the trail so hikers often stop and watch them test their skills among impressive stands of Hemlock.
Nemo Trails at Obed Wild and Scenic River
Emory River Nature Trail
Distance: 1.0-mile loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
This trail leaves from Rock Creek parking area and follows the Cumberland Trail to loop back to the parking area. Portions of this trail follow the river which gives the trail a unique soundtrack as the water rushes and the birds chirp. The trail also gives you an up-close opportunity to appreciate the transition from bluff to gorge that you see at Obed.
Emory River Gorge Section – Cumberland Trail
Distance: 2.6-mile round trip
Above the Nemo picnic area is the historic Nemo Bridge. The bridge is now used by hikers to get a birds eye view of the Emory River below. From here, the trail ascends above the river for a sweeping overlook of the Obed and Emory Rivers meeting.
Obed River Section – Cumberland Trail
Distance: 14.2 miles one way
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
When it comes to Obed Wild and Scenic River trails, this section of the Cumberland Trail is a big beast to undertake! The trail leaves from the Rock Creek Campground and features a number of descents/accents along the Obed River. It features remote overlooks and is filled with solitude and sweeping views of the gorge. This trail passes through rugged terrain and offers numerous overlooks of the river canyon that you won’t find anywhere else!
A day on the trails
Ever since I was a little girl I have loved our public lands. My grandfather made a point to give me his love of the outdoors and much of our time spent together was done so walking the trails of National and State Parks and taking in nature’s gifts. I learned about birds and springtime babes, how to follow a river home, looking for arrowheads in the mud, and everything else in between. Those weekends spent in the sun walking barefoot on the wet earth are what gave me a love of public lands.
As we spent summers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drove through Cades Cove in the evenings looking for bears, I learned the story of our National Park System. And even though it wouldn’t be until much later that I would decide to visit all sites in the National Parks System, it was those moments that taught me how to travel and love the outdoors.
Spending time on the Obed Wild and Scenic River trails reminded me of those days with the man who I loved more than anything when I was a little kid.