Completely unaware of the serendipitous nature of the hike I was about to take, I headed off on Oct. 31 to see what I could find up at Big Ridge State Park. I had been getting more annoyed with the crowded nature of the Smokies in the fall, and going in the opposite direction to find a quiet experience in the woods seemed appropriate.
Big Ridge State Park is about 45 minutes north of Knoxville, and the route I took (the one suggested by the Google) took me through some very out-of-the way areas of rural Tennessee. It was actually quite comforting in a way, satisfying that small-town country side of me. When I arrived, it was quite the contrast with the situation in the Great Smoky Mountains. There were a decent number of cars, but not too many. Most of them, it appeared, were involved in some sort of to-do in a park pavilion.
I went into the visitor's center, and a very nice docent gave me some maps of different hikes available in the area. Once I looked at the maps, I knew precisely where I was going to go. The park is a network of different hikes that allows one to make one's own route around the mountains and a decent lake. Two of the trails are called Dark Hollow and Ghost House. How perfect was that?
The route I chose started with the Lake Trail that crosses a dam. This leads over to the Dark Hollow Trail, which follows the lakeshore for a while before heading across between two major mountain ridges. According to a placard at the side of the trail at one point, the Dark Hollow Trail is so named, because it is between the two ridges (Big Ridge to the north and Pinnacle Ridge to the south), and therefore, doesn't get as much direct sunlight for most of the day. It was not nearly as gloomy as its name indicates, however. The available light still brought out the autumn colors that were still in effect.
The hike itself isn't the most challenging, but it does provide some elevation changes to get the heart rate up, and it is nicely marked and maintained. I took a break somewhere along the trail to do a little reading. Unfortunately, I choose a log that was at such an incline, it wasn't very restful. I was trying to keep from sliding while concentrating on my book. After a while, and just after a small hiking group went past, I gave up and headed on towards where the Indian Rock Trail heads back down south.
The Indian Rock Trail heads down at a good incline, and then the Ghost House Trail breaks off from there. I found out later that the Ghost House Trail supposedly is the site of a number of "unexplained occurences," whatever that means. It is named for the remnants of an old house, although I apparently took the wrong side of the loop to see it. The entire network of trails seems shot through with cleared, flattened areas that were where old houses once stood.
The Ghost House Trail hooked back up to the Lake Trail loop and headed back to the dam. By this time, the clouds were getting more overcast, but with some clear sky showing through, and I could get some great views of the lake surroundings from the dam. After a brief time enjoying the landscape, I headed back to the car, and drove back home. I'll definitely be going back there again, to try out more of the trails in the area.