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Fall Colors: The back roads of Tennessee and Kentucky


We decided to head east to visit family in Louisville KY and take a road trip to enjoy the fall colors on the Smokey Mountains.

We took highways from Louisville KY to Gatlinburg TN, but decided on our return we would select no highways as an option on our GPS.  As said in the movie Doc Hollywood: “Get off the interstate Ben Stone.” The admonition of a small town mayor to a doctor bent on just passing through to the big city… advice to actually take it slower and see life.

Well I can’t say they drive any slower on the country roads of Tennessee or Kentucky… despite posted speed limits! Take a good road map that denotes scenic routes and a GPS to talk you through the maze of country roads which in the east and mid-west are in good condition and follow routes a century or more old, taking you past farms, small towns, state parks and little heard of National Wildlife Refuges.

The only warning is look for safe pull overs, preferably a side road or paved area. There are no curbs. Roads have drainage ditches rich with grasses and wild flowers that hide depth and mud. If you choose to stop on a dirt drive to a farm, beware of unleashed dogs. Some dogs are overly friendly like the big hound dog that bumped me for attention–startling me to a scream while I was so engrossed in the viewfinder! A little fluffy white dog ran into the road to greet our car so we passed on the great image of dozens colorful little bird houses on a fence. However, also  be aware of unfriendly dogs let out by folks wary of strangers.

Unlike a highway, there are no marked rest stops so when you do go through a small town you should consider a stop. Our “drive-by shooting” day typically doubles the drive time. You might also consider exploring state parks en route—they are quiet, can be scenic, and have facilities.

Along the way property owners may came out to greet us–and we offered our card so we could email them images of their barns, horses and dogs. A the man came out to invite us to come closer to view his beautiful horses and tell us their story. He took pride in his magnificent 25 year old thorough bred horse he rescued 20 years ago. His owner was killed serving in the first Gulf War and the animal was abandoned and starving. A man of very meager means, he and his wife have been devoted to this animal and are determined to let him live out his last years with dignity. [As an aside the gentleman asked us to NOT feed other people’s animals–apple cores–hence the apple seeds are toxic.]

By not taking I-75 from Tennessee to Kentucky but rather TN-62 we passed a lovely little pond (near S-298 on TN-62) after our “pit stop” and “photo op” at Frozen Head State Park. Beware of unknown terrain, Rick’s Pho-Reel camera strap kept the camera safely at his side despite his fall climbing out of that pond area. Frozen head offered a quiet retreat to hunt for fall color unlike the bustle of Gatlinburg. Further up on this route we saw signs for Big South Fork National Park and it sounds worthy of a visit judging from the National Park Service brochure about birds and photo gallery. It sits on the border of TN and KY.

With family in the area, we will return to the back roads of Kentucky and Tennessee. There is a lot to discover and explore. After reading more about Frozen Head with “unobstructed views of Eastern Tennessee” and the the bird list for Big South Fork–we’ll study the satellite maps and dig deeper to find accessible routes to some very image-rich areas.

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