I know this is a little outside my normal range of coverage, but I think it’s important that we recognize the little jewels that surround our city. We all know about the Smoky Mountains, which are only about an hour away or a bit more if traffic is heavy. Certainly the Urban Wilderness, just south of downtown, gets a lot of press – and I plan to talk about that more in the future. But House Mountain, about twenty minutes northeast of downtown has been there all along offering a mountain adventure just a bit outside the city limits.
It’s a straight shot out of downtown via Magnolia Avenue and out 11W to 9601 Hogskin Road. Pro tip: type it into your GPS. My system, at least, could not seem to accept that a road would bear such a name. Once you arrive, you’ll find a small parking area which, so I am told, is often overflowing. We arrived well before 8:00 AM and didn’t have a problem.
What you’ll find when you get there is over 500 unspoiled acres, 5.8 miles of trails and a pretty steep climb to the top. The trails to the top (there are two) each measure about a mile, but with switch-backs, a seriously eroded trail and a 2100 ft. peak (probably a thousand foot climb in altitude from bottom to top), it isn’t a simple one-mile stroll. It’s the highest point in Knox County.
Urban Girl and I decided to give it a try recently just before the start of her school year. At six years old, I wasn’t certain how she would do. I’m not much on whining and I feared I might get more than I wanted. It turns out that the trail is fine for a spunky, adventurous six-year-old. Any time she had to use both hands and feet to climb (quite a few times), she said she was using her “bear skills.”
According to the website, the mountain is a great place to observe wildlife and, particularly, birds such as, “Ruffed grouse, pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, wild turkeys.” Strangely, we didn’t see a bird the whole time we spent on the mountain. We saw some Turkeys as we were driving out. I’d hoped to see a deer or two and hoped we didn’t see a bear. Just a short time before our walk the news broke of the boy attacked in the Smoky Mountains.
We didn’t see anything larger than a squirrel, but I forgot the wonder a six-year-old brings to such an adventure. The quiet stillness of the woods and the light fog which greeted the beginning of our walk seemed enchanted to her. Every purple flower, every yellow or orange mushroom, centipede, frog, or granddaddy long-legs delighted her. We looked at rock formations to see if we could spot heart shapes and found a couple I would never have noticed. She slid down sloped rocks and gained confidence as we went. It really doesn’t take much for a child.
The two trails up lead to different ends of the mountain and then connect up. We went up the northern side and had some pretty good valley views. I understand the southern side offers views of Knoxville in the distance and better vistas generally, but I felt I’d be pushing it to try to make the whole loop with Urban Girl, so we went straight up and back down the same trail. We enjoyed nuts, cheese, grapes and carrots at the top and talked about leaving the mountain as nice as we found it. It’s really kind of amazing how many teachable moments are provided by a walk in the woods.
It’s a hike I’d recommend for anyone from around six up. It might be a bit much for someone younger and considering how uneven and steep it sometimes becomes, I’d be careful about taking anyone who has trouble with balance or stamina. We spent maybe a half hour on the top and the round-trip took about two-and-a-half hours, but ideally, I’d allow for more time along the top. If you want to walk the entire five miles along the ridge and take a different trail up and down, you might plan on most of a day.
Legacy Parks is, of course, involved in the natural area and has announced intentions to facilitate the development of fifteen miles of trails connecting the Eastbridge Business Park with House Mountain, which would make another amazing day of hiking available just outside the city. As part of their promotion for Wild Week, which I mentioned last week, you’ll find Trisha Gene Brady (of the Black Lillies) singing “Hills of Home,” while standing atop House Mountain as produced by AK Consulting and Pyxl.
While you’re all fired up about nature, you should head over to Blue Ridge Outdoors and vote for Knoxville as best outdoor larger city in the south. Finally, about that giveaway: I have two tickets to see the Milk Carton Kids next Tuesday night at the Bijou. I’ll randomly select a winner from all entries received by midnight tonight. Send an email to Knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com with the subject heading “I Want to Be a Milk Carton Kid.”