Round-trip from Knoxville
Points of Interest
Ozone Falls, Cumberland Escarpment, Grassy Cove, Watts Bar Dam, Watts Bar Nuclear Plant,
Bob's Burgers in Midtown
Watch Out For
Falling over Ozone Falls, nuclear power plants
After two weeks of snow, ice, and temperatures in the teens, I was beginning to worry about getting in the next ride. If it came down to me riding on a 20-degree day, the next Backroads article was going to be shorter than teenager's attention span.
Luckily the weather broke in a big way, and we had a 60+-degree day to make a ride out to Crab Orchard and back. I chose this route for several reasons: Number one was that it avoided upper East Tennessee where there had been quite a bit of snow only two days previous (thus more salt on the road); and number two was that there are some interesting things to see. The first half of the ride isn't as rural as I prefer, but sometimes you can't have it all.
This journey started and ended at Destination Motorcycles located at Dixie Lee junction (aka Kingston Pike and Highway 70). I quickly realized on the way down that just because the temperature was going to get into the 60s, it wasn't there yet. After I picked up a pair of glove liners from Jordan at Destination, we were ready to go.
Directions on this route are easy. Highway 70 makes up the entire first half of the loop. On 70 you will pass through downtown Kingston and cross the bridge over Watts Bar Lake. Interstate 40 will be on your right. Just around the corner, in the community of Midtown, the road briefly widens to four lanes in front of the Lowe's. If you're getting hungry, you need to be on the lookout for Bob's Burgers on your left. You'll see it just after the road necks back down to two lanes.
I was introduced to Bob's Burgers several years ago and haven't been back in quite a while. It was nice to see that it hasn't changed, and that the burgers are as good as I remembered. Big, hand-pattied chunks of beef on a fresh bun with the toppings of your choice, and more fries than you can eat. I'm talking serious road food. Besides the great grub, there's bluegrass music on Saturday nights, handmade quilts and baby blankets for sale, and an autographed picture of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show hanging on the wall. You just can't get more American than this.
Leaving Bob's Burgers, we got back on 70 West and followed it through Rockwood, where 70 merges with Highway 27. Just outside of Rockwood, 70 turns right and begins the climb up the "Cumberland Escarpment," or as we refer to it, the edge of the Plateau.
Soon after climbing up on the Plateau you come into the community of Ozone. Be on the lookout for the Ozone Falls State Natural Area on your left. Ozone Falls is a hidden jewel that most people never realize is there. The small parking area only holds a few cars, and you wouldn't know it, but there is a spectacular 110-foot water fall not more than 50 yards off the road. As you walk out to the falls you notice that the entire area is solid rock, and also that there is no handrail along the edge. If you fall off the top and die you won't be the first, so be careful. My advice would be to follow the trail down to the "plunge pool" so you can get the best view looking back up at the Falls.
Continuing on from Ozone you pass under I-40 for the first time as you come into Crab Orchard. You've probably heard of Crab Orchard Stone before; it has its own unique color and comes from this area. The roads are lined with businesses selling pallets of the stuff.
This brings you to the first tricky turn on the ride. As you pass under I-40 the second time, you immediately turn left onto Cox Valley Road. This road isn't shown on all maps. This is the furthest point on the loop, and this shortcut connects you to Highway 68. It also cuts out going all the way into Crossville. However, if you're needing either gas or grub, you may want to go on into town and pick up 68 coming back.
Highway 68 is fairly straight, but it goes through a beautiful area of unspoiled farmland called Grassy Cove. Grassy Cove is a "Cove" just like Cades Cove, meaning that it is completely surrounded by mountains. My guess is that the land is owned by one or two families that appreciate its natural beauty, and have resisted the temptation to sell it to developers. Whatever the case, I hope it stays the way it is. Be sure to take the time to appreciate it as you pass through.
About six miles out of Grassy Cove you'll top a rise and be surprised by the sudden view of sky. You have reached the edge of the "Escarpment" and the view is tremendous; 68 turns hard right and winds down mountain, and there are several pull-offs where you can take a break and look out over East Tennessee.
The Town of Spring City awaits you at the bottom, so if you didn't get fuel in Crossville you may want to here. I didn't, and at one point later in the day I ended up running on fumes longer than I was comfortable with.
In Spring City, 68 runs concurrent with 27 for about two miles, then turns off to the left, taking you by Watts Bar Nuclear Plant and across Watts Bar Dam. I've always thought it was cool to ride across a dam. The views are always great, plus there just aren't that many opportunities to do it. There are even fewer chances to ride by a nuclear power plant, but somehow the thrill of seeing giant cooling towers just isn't the same.
A mile or so past the dam you will turn left on Highway 304. It isn't the curviest road, but it parallels Watts Bar Lake, and has views of the lake at several points. There are several marinas along this stretch, and both Euchee and Blue Springs Marina each have restaurants that are open during the warmer months.
About three miles past Blue Springs Marina there is another shortcut you can take. We turned right on Mans Hollow Road, and jumped over to Highway 58. After turning left on 58, we followed it a little over three miles and turned right on Highway 72. There is a gas station/convenience store at the 58/72 junction in case you need it.
You have the option of following 304 until it ends at Highway 58,and turning right on 58 to come back down to 72. This isn't a bad ride at all, it's just a little longer.
Highway 72 is the last "good" section of road on this loop, and just may be the best. It passes over five different ridges, and has lots of tight curves and elevation changes. The only problem we had was that the county must have salted this road for this year, and next year, because the road was completely covered with salt and sand. When spring gets here and a few good rains wash it off, this road will be great. Until that happens, tiptoe around the curves and watch for grit on the road.
When you cross over I-75 you have officially come to the end of the good riding. If you need to hurry back to the house, you can jump on the interstate here. We stayed on 72 all the way to the intersection of 11. We then turned left on 11 and followed it through Loudon, Lenoir City, and back to the parking lot of Destination Motorcycles, thus completing a full loop.
We arrived in time to talk to Jordan just before he closed for the day. A final check of the odometer showed we had traveled 128 miles. In riding this 128 miles we had crossed Watts Bar Lake three times (once over the Dam), climbed (and come down) the Cumberland Plateau, saw a 110-foot waterfall, and had a great hamburger. Not a bad day at all.