While that Canyon in Arizona may be grand, you don’t have to travel over a thousand miles to enjoy deep river gorges. Over thousands of years Mother Nature has carved deep paths into the Appalachian Mountains. Each gorge presents countless opportunities to witness the awesome power of what she has done over time. Best of all, these five wonders are all within a few hours’ drive of Knoxville and definitely worth a road trip.
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area – This rugged piece of the Cumberland Plateau stretches from Oneida & Jamestown, TN to Whitley City, KY. At overlooks like the East Rim or Devil’s Jump you stand about four hundred feet above the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. The walls of the gorge are covered in thick forests and massive rock walls. Large remnants of those rock walls block the river’s waters in such a way that the waterway has become a haven for whitewater enthusiasts.
Obed Wild and Scenic River – Located near the Big South Fork, this gorge isn’t very long, but in many ways is just as spectacular as its “big” cousin. The 5-thousand acre park stretches along Clear Creek, the Obed and other tributaries. Hiking from the river to the overlooks at the top is a relatively easy endeavor. The Obed isn’t highly developed, but you will likely find the access areas quite inviting and worth a stop.
New River Gorge – Perhaps best known for the bridge spanning the nearly one-thousand foot deep gorge, this natural wonder in West Virginia is filled with both natural beauty and history. Ironically, the New River is considered the oldest river in the country. Through the gorge this waterway takes on a dramatically different look and feel as it tries to squeeze through the steep and narrow “canyon.” Numerous overlooks and a drive down into the gorge both give you a good sense of the size of the gorge.
Breaks Interstate Park- Straddled along the Virginia-Kentucky State line, this area is known as “the Grand Canyon of the South.” This gorge along the Russell Fork River is five miles long and nearly a quarter of a mile deep. The area gets its name for the break in Pine Mountain created by the river. There are several places to see the gorge famous for its sharp turns and high rock walls. You will also find several access areas along the river that are easily accessible.
Cane Creek Gulf – Located inside Fall Creek Falls State Park, this deeply carved gorge is a must see when visiting the area. Steep rock walks tower over the small creek hundreds of feet below. A scenic drive runs along the top of the gorge making access to numerous overlooks easy. However, hikes to the bottom of the gulf are generally considered to be treacherous.