Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cove Lake State Park (Blog Hike #504)

Trail: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Cove Lake State Park
Geographic Location: north side of Caryville, TN
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2015
Overview: A fairly flat hike on asphalt trail through wooded creekside habitat.

Directions to the trailhead: North of Knoxville, take I-75 to US 25W in Caryville (exit 134).  Exit and go north on US 25W.  Drive US 25W north 0.9 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, then proceed straight at each intersection to the main park road’s end at a parking circle just uphill from the lake.  Park here.

The hike: Like its brother/sister state parks Norris Dam and Big Ridge, Cove Lake State Park has its roots in the depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  The TVA’s construction of Norris Dam on the Clinch River several miles downstream caused water to back up into Cove Creek, which in turn threatened to flood the town of Caryville.  The TVA’s solution was to build a second auxiliary dam on Cove Creek called Caryville Dam.  Water held back by Caryville Dam created Cove Lake, the centerpiece of this state park.
            In addition to the lake, Cove Lake State Park features a 106-site campground, a Recreation Village that contains tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a restaurant, and several picnic shelters.  In hiking circles, the park is best known as an access point for the Cumberland Trail, the master path of eastern Tennessee.  When complete, the Cumberland Trail will trace a diagonal course for more than 300 miles from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in the northeast to Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Military Park in the southeast.  Check the website of the Cumberland Trail Conference at for trail construction updates.
            For dayhikers, Cove Lake State Park is the least desirable of northern Tennessee’s three TVA state parks because its trails do not form loops.  Some short out-and-backs can be done starting at the campground, and an unnamed paved trail makes a figure-eight route along the east bank of Cove Lake.  In my view, the best option for dayhikers is the northern lobe of the figure-eight trail, which is the hike described here.  Although the trail is paved, the route stays in the woods most of the time and explores the headwaters of Cove Lake.
Signs at trailhead
            Pick up the paved trail at an information board and directional sign near the back of the parking circle.  The trail is open to both foot and bicycle traffic.  To minimize the potential for collisions, park regulations require that bikers turn left and ride the loop clockwise while hikers must turn right and walk the loop counterclockwise.
            The asphalt trail immediately enters the woods and undulates gently as it makes a sweeping 180-degree turn to the left.  I heard and saw many songbirds here including robins, sparrows, woodpeckers, and cardinals.  This trail would make a very nice short hike but for the ugly asphalt constantly stretching out before you.  On the bright side, your feet will stay dry on this trail even when other dirt trails are too muddy for comfortable hiking.
Hiking the paved trail
              At 0.2 miles, you reach a point where the other western arm of the loop comes very close on the left.  The loop continues as the trail curves right and approaches a power line that sits just over the park’s eastern boundary.  The trail never passes under the power line but instead curves back left to stay in the woods.  The next segment of trail parallels the park boundary, which lies immediately to your right.
            Near 0.5 miles, you reach the trail’s northern-most point as it makes a sweeping left turn to begin heading south.  One of the main streams that feed Cove Lake comes into view on the right for the first time here.  When I hiked this trail on a cold winter afternoon, thin layers of ice remained on the edges of the creek’s shallow waters.
Feeder stream for Cove Lake
            The trail meanders south as the creek weaves in and out of sight on the right.  At 0.8 miles, a dirt trail exits right.  A sign identifies this trail as the Beaver Workshop Loop and Cumberland Trail Access, but it quickly led to a frozen wetland on my visit.  Thus, I chose to remain on the main paved loop.
Cove Lake
            The primary direction remains south as Cove Lake’s backwaters begin to appear to the right.  Just before closing the loop, you pass a wooden wildlife observation tower that was inaccessible due to high water on my visit.  I managed to see some Canada geese in the lake even without the tower.  The lake comes into view just as you approach the parking circle, thus marking the end of the loop.  If you want more lake views, you can continue straight and hike the southern lobe of the paved figure-eight-shaped trail for just under another 2 miles, but that lobe passes through a more developed area of the park than the nice woodland loop you just completed.

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