A colleague of mine at the University of Tennessee, another hiking enthusiast, let me know about the House Mountain State Natural Area. This mountain, with a network of easy or strenuous trails, is just 8 miles northeast of Knoxville. Since I currently live in the northeastern area of Knoxville, it's right nearby.
Now, if you're looking for House Mountain State Natural Area, do not look for it on Google Maps and expect to make it. I made the mistake of allowing the Google to direct me to this locale, and ended up being told to go through an area rife with "No Trespassing" signs that gave me the indication that I was at that moment in someone's sights. I cautiously backed out and left the vicinity. I then opened Google Maps and found a different way, not recommended by Google, but apparently without the threat of gunfire. I was much more pleased with my second route.
As for House Mountain, I got there and started up. I took a side trail at first, which just looped around quickly with very little to it. Apparently, this is for those with a couple of minutes to kill. I then was better able to interpret the trail map, and headed up the mountain. The trail was pretty straightforward for much of it, and I got some nice pictures on my way. It gradually inclined, but not enough to challenge me much.
However, once the trail started going up the mountain, the elevation change was pretty significant, and I had to put the camera away to focus on getting up the switchbacks that climbed up to the ridge. Rather rocky, but the trail was very well marked and cared for, and I arrived at the ridge trail without major incident.
The map let me know that there was an overlook to the east and one to the west. The one to the west offered another path down. I wasn't quite ready to go back, yet, so I went east. The overlook on the eastern point was worth the climb, in my estimation, and I stayed there for some time, taking pictures, having lunch, and reading. One can see for an impressive distance across the Tennessee countryside.
I went back along the ridge trail to the western overlook, which was very very rocky and quite occupied at that moment. I decided not to linger long, but make my way down the other trail to the bottom. This trail was much rockier and challenging, especially to my old knees. Note to self: don't forget trekking pole next time.
I made it down this mass of boulders and started down a more straightforward trail to meet up with the original trail to complete the loop. As a conscientious hiker, I took each switchback offered, so as to not cause unnecessary erosion. But apparently, not everyone shares this conception. I saw a group of folks struggling up between one leg of a switchback and another, apparently attempting a "shortcut". I watched, as they almost fell head over heels back down the mountain, pushing each other up with an amazing lack of grace or intelligence. So, they not only endangered themselves, but added just a little more damage to the countryside. Bravo, indeed.
After inwardly shaking my fist at the young whippersnappers (feeling like a cranky old man), I headed back down. It's nice to know that this place is right around the corner, and I hope to return again soon.