Hiking Beyond the Smokies: Jackson Bend Branch of East Lakeshore Trail

Distance From Knoxville: 37.4 miles or about 52 minutes.

Length: About 6 miles out and back to see the best part of this trail section.

Difficulty: Several hills.


My plant-ecologist dad is usually modest about his nature knowledge. Yet put him in the forest with other hikers and he’ll go into full tour-guide mode as he did this winter when walking with my mother, my girlfriend Yvonne, and me on the Jackson Bend Branch of the East Lakeshore Trail. After finding a cluster of puffball fungi on a stump, he began to poke them, letting off small smoke-like puffs of spores. His hand movements sped up, becoming a quick patting that let off greenish clouds of spores. He ended by lifting his hand in a magician-like flourish.

“Those are tiny spores that can grow a bunch of little fungi,” said Dad. “It’s a greenish smoke, and now I have a greenish hand.”

Soon Yvonne joined in, popping the puffballs and making spore clouds.

“Well now I’m nice and messy,” she said, after looking at her hands and jeans.

As we walked, Dad continued to share his knowledge.

“Actually when studying the DNA, we’re closely related to trees,” said Dad.

“Really? Huh, cool. We’re related to trees,” said Yvonne. “I got that right—we’re related to trees?”

“All the higher life forms actually,” said Dad, turning and making a level motion with his hand. “We all have similar kinds of cells in our bodies and similar DNA, which is different from bacteria.”

With his hands in his pockets and rustling the leaves as he walked, Dad scanned the ground for more plants and fungi to show us.

The hillside along the lake became a tall jumble of cliffs and boulders. Resurrection fern, named for its ability to shrivel during dry times before becoming green again, grew along the ledges in the rock. The ferns looked like a crowd of spectators in bleachers, looking out at the lake and the people on its other side.

Even in the winter, motorboats made wake-lines across the water. On the lake’s other side, bulky mansions and their lawns interrupted the forest. The reflections on the water showed only the trees on the hills above them, though.

The blue lake I saw was Tellico Reservoir, famous in the Knoxville area for its fancy lake-front homes and golf courses. The Jackson Bend Branch of the East Lakeshore Trail follows that reservoir. It takes hikers through wet places, dry places, and rocky places. Its habitats range from cedar barrens with prickly pear cacti to limestone caves inside of cliffs. It also goes down to the water, allowing hikers to watch for herons and turtles.

The volunteer group Watershed Organization of the Tellico Reservoir (WATeR) with help from TVA is building the East Lakeshore Trail and maintaining it. The trail is nearing its full length of 34 miles, running from the area near Lenoir City almost all the way to Vonore.

To get to the East Lakeshore Trail’s Jackson Bend Branch from Knoxville, take I-40 W toward Nashville. Get off at exit 386 B to merge onto US 29 South, also known as Alcoa Highway. After following Alcoa Highway for a long stretch, take a right onto US 321 South/ West Lamar Alexander Parkway. Alternatively, you could get onto Tennessee 321 by taking I-75 South to the Lenoir City exit.

Turn left onto Tennessee 95 South. From here, you will find helpful signs pointing you to the various trailheads. Turn right onto Axley Chapel Road. Then turn left to stay on Axley Chapel Road, which by this point is also called East Coast Tellico Parkway. Take a slight left to stay on East Coast Tellico Parkway until you get to the access road for the Lotterdale Cove Campsite. The Jackson Bend part of East Lakeshore Trail starts just after the intersection of the Lotterdale Cove Campground Access Road with East Coast Tellico Parkway.

On the trail, you can continue for about 5 miles until you reach the Peterson Road Trailhead. However going three miles until the end of the rock formations will show you the best parts of the trail. A quarter-mile side trail connects the Jackson Bend Branch to the Lotterdale Cove Campground, which makes the trail convenient for people using that campsite. If you hike during a hunting season, make sure to wear orange or other bright colors.

For more information about Jackson Bend Branch and the East Lakeshore Trail, check out WATeR’s website tellicowater.org. For a full schedule of hunting seasons, go to tn.gov/twra and look for Tellico Lake.