Swimming at Piney River


Piney River Pocket Wilderness near Spring City, Tennessee has just a tiny number of trails and even fewer roads (the main one of which is closed now). But it is a glorious place for swimming holes. The clear, cool Cumberland water is delightful in a Tennessee summer, and unlike certain other places, it never gets crowded.

While there are swimming holes further back that are so obscure you can swim nude, you don’t even have to walk far from the parking lot to get in the water. Near the park’s picnic area there are a series of clear pools for splashing about in.

But even the beaten path in Piney River isn’t that beaten. Even on Labor Day, Yvonne and I just saw a few families visiting.

I’m no expert on fish. Fishing and/or ichthyology will probably be something for another episode. For now though I’ll just say that I love the fish in wild Tennessee pools as they’re among the few woodland creatures that actually enjoy a human presence.

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This was my first time visiting with Yvonne. When I visit with Dad, we usually go on the Cumberland Trail, as in our book, with any swimming as an afterthought.

With the Yvonne and me this time, the Cumberland Trail was an afterthought. We didn’t reach any of its more impressive scenery, but rather walked to a tiny rockhouse, kissed, contemplated our surroundings, looked at what appeared to be a whole community of centipedes under the same rock overhang and then headed back, not even getting as far as the first stream crossing the CTC website lists before jumping back in the water. Streams just call to Yvonne and me.

We have the paper company Bowater, founded by the Englishman Bowater to thank for the Pocket Wildernesses, now part of the state park system. His company created privately owned parks out of forests he did not want to use. Bowater area trails and features usually have a flair for the dramatic: tall bridges and long and steep flights of stairs.The Twin Rocks, with its steep stairs protected by a cage was one such feature, although it’s closed now and the trail to the rocks is poorly maintained.

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Obed Wild and Scenic River swimming



Imagine a clear stream. Tall boulders to sun on and sit on like a mermaid. Fish nibbling at your legs.  Larger fish swim by, with dull colored bodies but flashes of color on their fins. Pools deep enough to tread water and other, shallower spots to just sit and soak.
The Lilly Bluff area is most famous as a destination for rock climbers. But for me and my family, no summer would be complete without a swim there, hanging out on a slanting boulder, then splitting up with Dad doing his plant survey along the banks and the rest of us exploring the river by swimming it. There are plenty of trails to get warmed up with and as stated above the rock climbing will get you nice and hot to enjoy some natural Tennessee water.
The area is pretty well known, indeed it even has restrooms. But if you feel like it’s hard finding a spot to yourself, keep moving along the bank and you’ll find your own boulder.

Big Ridge State Park


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Big Ridge State Park

They hopped on the forest floor as I climbed to the Loysdon Overlook. Small shapes like crickets or beetles, just as easily ignorable.

And yet something inspired m e to pick it up. And then I saw it: A frog!

Heart, brain, organs bones, all in such a tiny fingernail sized package. Why do we need to sprawl into big bodies anyway? Certainly not ones my absurdly gross size. All the forms of backboned animals: endless variations on a theme. Eyes, feet, heart yet each twisted in a shape suiting a particular purpose.

Fragility. I could crush the little fellow. I videoed him stammering around, trying to say something worthwhile. I couldn’t even guess the species. The frogs I know are larger. Did that matter to it? Does its little mind even know it is a species?

I wished I knew how to sex frogs. That came out wrong. I wish I knew how to judge a frog’s sex. “It” always feels like an insult to a living being. If only “they” could catch on.

Golden light flooded through trees like something that floods through trees as I climbed. A sign told me Norris Lake had covered the Town of Loysdon, reducing it to the Loysdon Sea as some nickname it. Green leaves everywhere blocked the view, preventing it from being a panorama rather than just a view through leaves. Also it prevented the hike from being worth recommending at this time of the year. But I still enjoyed coming.

There was something satisfying about Big Ridge State Park, beyond just coming eye to eye with the tiny frog. Even though it should not have been satisfying. The boat rental with all its pedaled and paddled crafts sat closed.

I did not take even a moment to swim at the inviting area with a raft that still was open or even to eat at any of the picnic spots. The trail, strewn with logs led to nothing but an overlook crowded by leaves. I did not pitch a tent at any campsite nor did I stay at any of the cabins I walked past.

So what was it that satisfied me? Simply this: newness. I had not seen these woods or this lake since a very small age when Dad remembered me failing to be impressed at an osprey grabbing a fish.

I get restless. I want to go somewhere if only for two hours. I want to drive through the countryside, past where gas stations no longer have card scanners and their numbers flip manually, not digitally, then find a place like Big Ridge State Park. It really strikes me after being stuck in the same office all day, how amazing being in a new place is.

It was near the summer solstice. That really made the difference.

Things to do at Big Ridge

Loysdon Point is 0.9 miles from a trailhead near a playground. The area has many other trails, some of which are

Even if you don’t want to rent a boat at Big Ridge, you can launch your private one from a boat ramp near the park’s entrance.

I later returned to go swimming there, the first time my girlfriend and I got to go swimming.

The park has a variety of depths for swimming and even a raft. Out of all the lake swimming areas, in East Tennessee, it’s one of the best with plenty of room for families to mess about. The one thing it’s lacking is a long dry sandy beach, like at some of the areas on Melton Hill Lake.

When we were there a wedding was in progress and rangers were announcing water balloons ready for the children to throw.