Roundtrip From Knoxville
Nice and Easy
Points of Interest
Veterans Overlook on 25E
Clinch Mountain Lookout and Restaurant
Watch Out For
On the Saturday after Christmas, we were looking for a three- to four-hour ride that would take us through some rural countryside and let us enjoy the unusually warm late December day. This route starts on Washington Pike and follows the base of Clinch Mountain up to Sneedville, where it runs adjacent to the Clinch River in three different spots.
Nearly all of the roads we traveled on this ride were extremely nice to tour at a leisurely pace. These are old two-lanes that follow the topography of the land so you're treated to a constant, yet gentle, left/right/up/down glide past old farms and through small communities like Washburn, Powder Springs, and Thorn Hill. Fuel Stops are fairly few on this ride, and there are more options for fuel than food. As long as you can go 100 miles between gas stops you should be okay.
We started the trip on the east side of town, on Washington Pike in front of Target, just off of I-640. From there we headed north. At first, Washington Pike is a pretty busy road with lots of driveways to beware of; but you‘ll soon find that it turns into a rural country road that travels though farmland you didn't even realize still existed in Knox County. The road sweeps left and right with gentle turns and hills, and as you distance yourself from Knoxville you'll see House Mountain your right.
Around the 13-mile mark, Washington Pike crosses Emory Road. This is the first stop sign you come to, and it can catch you by surprise. As you proceed straight, Washington Pike becomes 61. You will Follow 61 to Luttrell.
Just after we saw the sign that welcomed us to Luttrell (the home of Country Superstar Kenny Chesney), we had to come to a stop for a herd of goats that were crossing the road. I've been out west and seen signs that warned of open range for cattle, but this was my first experience with free-range goats. My friend Bob was leading the way, and said that when he saw the first three cross the road, he figured the rest would follow. It reminded me that I have got to get some type of quick-draw system for my camera. I missed a great picture.
After you pass through Luttrell, Highway 61 turns left. Stay straight on 131. This is where you will log most of your miles. For the whole length of this ride, Clinch Mountain is on your right, and 131 just meanders through the farm land below it—so don't be surprised if you come up on a tractor or slow-moving pickup.
During this stretch of road we saw a small child, who I'm guessing was less than 8 years old, riding a shiny new ATV in the yard in front of his house. I'm betting that Santa brought it. There was already a loop of well-worn grass around the perimeter of the yard. When we talked at the next stop, Bob said he noticed him too, and he and I both wondered how many tanks of gas had been run through that little ATV since Christmas morning.
Highway 131 eventually comes to a stop sign at 25E. Our ride takes us straight across, but you have to make a little side trip at this point. Turn Right on 25E and climb the mountain three miles to the top. Here you will find a spectacular view at the Veterans Overlook that looks out over Cherokee Lake and the town of Bean Station with the Smoky Mountains off in the distance. The historic marker says that Bean Station was one of the earliest settlements in East Tennessee, and that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett traveled through here. It also said that at one time it was the home of the largest tavern between Washington D.C. and New Orleans. No wonder Dan and Davy came through.
Also at the top of the mountain is the Clinch Mountain Lookout and Restaurant. If you're ready for some grub, this is the place to stop. If you're lucky enough to get a window seat, you will be treated to a tremendous view while you dine. Since my last-minute repairs had us running behind, we weren't able to stop for lunch, but the next time I plan on trying their famous Vinegar Pie. I know it sounds awful, but the way I see it, if it wasn't pretty good they wouldn't still be making it.
From the Overlook you need to backtrack down the mountain and turn right onto Thorn Hill Road (straight across from where 131 intersects 25E). You will stay on this road until it dead-ends into 31. Turn left on 31 and follow it until you come to Bridge that crosses the Clinch River. Turn left across the bridge, and turn immediately left again onto 33.
As you cross the Bridge you will see the Clinch River market on your left. This is another good spot to take a break. They have a neat little gazebo that looks out over the river and valley, and it's a great place to kick back for a few minutes. If you are looking for more than convenience store snacks, you can follow 33 North a couple of miles into downtown Sneedville where there is a Hardees.
There are some other great roads in this area, but we were running out of daylight, and we both needed to get back to Knoxville. When you start back on 33 South the first few miles are along the river, and then the road turns hard right and jumps to the other side of the ridge. This section of road is never straight very long, and has some turns that can sneak up on you. The surface is in good condition, so just pay attention.
33 dead ends into 25E, and by the time we got to this point we had a decision to make. We could have turned right and gone to Tazewell and come back down 33 all the way into Halls, but instead we decided to turn left on 25E and went about seven miles back to 131. This seven-mile stretch has some serious construction going on where the road is being widened, so watch for gravel. You also pick up the Clinch River again, so while you've got ugly on your left, you've got beauty on your right. My advice is to watch the road.
I always like to travel different roads back than I traveled going out, but 131 is a much better road than 33 out of Tazewell, so it was worth backtracking. Keep in mind that coming back you are looking right into the setting sun, so make sure you bring some sunglasses with you.
When we got back to I-640 and Washington Pike, the odometer said we had traveled 135 miles total. We didn't crash into a herd of goats, and we took advantage of a rare, warm December day. I'd say the only person who had more fun that day was the kid on the ATV.