Even though Cumberland Mountain State Park isn’t known for spectacular waterfalls or panoramic vistas, this plateau-top natural treasure is certainly worth a visit.
Located on the outskirts of Crossville, Tennessee, on a broad and relatively flat section of the Cumberland Plateau, this 1,720-acre park, shaped like an inverted C, contains 14 miles of hiking trails. In addition, the park features a popular buffet-style restaurant, a 50-acre lake, an 18-hole golf course, a picnic area, cabins, a combined total of 145 tent and RV campsites, and more.
Byrd Lake, created when a dam was built on Byrd Creek in the 1930s, is the park’s main focal point. Rental fishing boats, paddleboards, canoes, kayaks and pedal boats are available for use on the lake. Fishing is allowed, with bass, bluegill and catfish being caught year-round and trout stocked in the winter. Almost 3 miles of hiking trails circle the lake, and a wooden footbridge allows options for a 2-mile or a 0.7-mile loop.
On a recent visit, I explored the 2-mile Pioneer Short Loop, beginning near the boathouse and following upstream along the shoreline of the increasingly narrowing lake. The trail passes through an abundant variety of plant life, which includes mountain laurel, white pines and hemlock trees. It’s easy to believe the claim that the park contains every type of tree, shrub and flower found on the Cumberland Plateau. One can also see good birding potential, especially around the lake.
In a mile, the main Pioneer Loop continues following Byrd Creek for an additional 3-mile loop, while the Pioneer Short Loop crosses the creek on a swinging bridge and heads back along the other side of the lake. A long wooden footbridge took us back across the lake to our starting point.
Afterward, I hiked the 1-mile Cumberland Plateau Nature Trail, which follows a loop through another biodiverse forest area next to Byrd Creek downstream from the dam. It connects to the 2.1-mile Byrd Creek Trail, which in turn accesses the 6-mile Overnight Trail. Note: The 0.7-mile Byrd Lake Trail, just above the dam, is currently closed until further notice for the construction of an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant paved trail. In addition to the hiking trails, a new mountain bike trail is in the works.
Other park amenities include an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a recreation lodge, a group lodge, a visitors center, a camp store, a gift shop inside the restaurant and several picnic pavilions. At the time of my visit, an aviary next door to the camp store appeared to house only a barn owl and a red-tailed hawk.
History of the park
Cumberland Mountain State Park was originally created to serve as a recreational facility for residents of the nearby Cumberland Homesteads community. A New Deal era project, Cumberland Homesteads was established in 1934 to be a model cooperative community for the region’s distressed farmers, coal miners and factory workers. The community, which housed 250 families, never achieved the level of success envisioned, and the federal government withdrew its involvement in the 1940s. Most of the houses, made of Crab Orchard sandstone, remain and are today part of the Cumberland Homesteads Historic District.
The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps helped construct the park’s original buildings and other facilities. The CCC completed construction of the unique Byrd Creek Dam, also made of Crab Orchard sandstone, in 1938. The 28-foot-high, 319-foot-long dam is the largest masonry project ever constructed by the CCC. The state of Tennessee acquired the park in 1938. Alvin C. York, of World War I fame, was the park’s first superintendent.
One of the original park structures, a combination bathhouse and picnic pavilion next door to the restaurant, houses a CCC museum that contains historical photos and considerable information about the history of the park and the Cumberland Homesteads.
If you’ve not yet visited Cumberland Mountain State Park, I recommend taking the opportunity to explore its trails and history. You may find this unassuming park offers more than you expected.
Click here for a trail map.
Get directions and contact information here. Cumberland Mountain State Park is approximately 80 miles from downtown Chattanooga.
Learn more on the park’s website.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.