Hops and Skips

Tennessee State Park Tour: Cumberland Mountain

We were supposed to be in Ireland, but the adventure gods had something else in mind. After one last-minute trip cancellation, thanks to two unfortunately-timed positive Covid tests, we booked another just three days prior to departure. Our destination was less ambitious, but at least we’d still get a passport stamp.

More than once I’ve heard Cumberland Mountain State Park listed as a personal favorite among the state parks. It’s situated on the Cumberland Plateau, in Cumberland County, and just shy of the region officially designated “East” Tennessee. The park’s eleven historic CCC cabins, originally built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression, were fully restored and updated last year, and it was one of these we’d booked to settle into for two nights.

Summers in Tennessee hit a point beyond which they can only be called oppressive, when the humidity pushes the heat index into double-digits past the recorded temperature. But early June is not that; it’s the sweet spot of warmth with low humidity – a pleasantness that deceives both locals and visitors into thinking summers here “aren’t that bad” year after year. We arrived at Cumberland Mountain in the late afternoon of one of these days. There were plenty of daylight hours left for settling in, exploring the playground across the road, and strolling through the area.

The park was designed as part of the Cumberland Homesteads Project, a New Deal initiative that helped poverty-stricken families relocate to small farms by providing low-interest loans to acquire land, build, and plant crops. Hundreds of locals from Crossville were hired to clear and prep the land, and both of these opportunities helped ease the effects of the Depression in the county. The project included construction of a recreational area; the result was Byrd Creek Lake, formed by the damming of Byrd Creek (the largest such structure ever constructed by the CCC), and its surrounding facilities of a swimming beach, bathhouse, boat house, restaurant, hiking trails, and cabins (including the very one we were calling home).

The cabin renovations did not disappoint. A King bed in the main room and single bed in the small bedroom offered the perfect space for our family of four. The central air conditioning was a welcome, and necessary, amenity; the black-out shades on every window, brand new appliances, cable TV, and WiFi were icing on the cake. After a restful night’s sleep, we ventured out for a morning hike, beginning with the .5-mile Byrd Lake Trail, paved and ADA accessible, and connecting to the 1.8-mile Pioneer Short Loop Trail, the park’s most frequented. There was plenty for our family to explore on this route – climbable boulders, cascading streams, an overlook, boat dock, and suspension bridge, in addition to the lush lake ecosystem. 

Park visitors can take advantage of other offerings such as paddle board and canoe rental, the Olympic-sized swimming pool, and one of the five Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear Trace golf courses. The Historic CCC Museum on site (free and self-guided) provides history of the CCC’s relationship with the area, or the Cumberland Homesteads Tower and House Museums, located off park property, offer a deeper look at history complete with artifacts and a look-out with vista view of the area (admission $6 adults, $1 children ages 6-12).

Our morning hike ended just in time for lunch, and the trail loop conveniently emptied us steps from the park’s restaurant. We arrived sweaty and hungry as it opened for lunch at 11; we shared the grand, vaulted dining room with other park-goers and local families taking advantage of the down-home buffet. Refueled and rejuvenated, we returned to the heat, transported back through the park’s past but thankful for the modern air conditioning.

CHECKLIST:

Date: June 2022
Count: 19 of 56
Must-See: Climb down the steps just off the road on the west side of the Byrd Lake Dam and Bridge for an up-close view of the dam and Mill House Lodge.

DIRECTIONS:

Cumberland Mountain State Park is located 2 hours east of Nashville, just outside of Crossville. From I-40 E, take exit 322 and turn right for TN-101 towards Crossville. Continue straight as the road turns into Miller Ave and follow for 2.5 miles. Turn left onto US-127 S/S Main St and veer right at the fork to continue past the Cumberland Homesteads Tower. The park entrance will be on the right.

Click here to read more of our adventures in Tennessee State Parks!

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