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The Best Fall Picnic Spots in East Tennessee

When it comes to enjoying East Tennessee colorful grandeur, October is the best month. The weather is cool and comfortable and the skies are often robin egg blue. Here are a few of the great places to unpack your picnic basket and spend the day outdoors.

Clinch River

Clinch River

Clinch River

The grassy banks of the Clinch River at Kyles Ford are prime picnicking territory. Rolling farmland and gentle hills embrace the shallow, slow-moving river. As you paddle down the river, choose your spot and spread a blanket.  Enjoy the autumn spectacle in solitude because, more than likely, you will have the place to yourselves.

The river is buffered by the Kyles Ford Wildlife Management Area in Hancock County. You can rent a canoe and grab sandwiches, salads and MoonPies at the market at River Place on the Clinch. The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches are outstanding. Even before reaching  Kyles Ford, you will get a basket-load of scenery driving along curvy State Route 70 north from Rogersville. The road takes you through the boonies of Hawkins County and Hancock County.  River Place is at the Edward R. Talley Bridge. The café has a nice outdoor deck for glimpsing the river and the traffic moving across the historic bridge.

Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain

Beauty Spot

Beauty Spot

They don’t call it Beauty Spot for nothing. From this scenic overlook, cast your eyes toward the horizon from one of the highest elevation mountain balds in the Southern Appalachians. To reach this spot in Unicoi County’s Unaka Mountains, you will have to rumble up a gravel road off Rock Creek Road (Highway 395). You won’t find picnic tables up here so pack up your sandwiches and bring a blanket.

Watauga Lake, near Hampton

Watauga Lake

Watauga Point Recreation Area

If picnic tables are a must, then drive to the Watauga Point Recreation Area in Carter County. Tables are scattered along a grassy slope under tall shade trees. The park is about five miles south of Hampton along U.S. Highway 321/TN 67 South. You will be mesmerized by the quilt of yellow, orange, red, bronze and purple reflecting on the lake. I’m not talking about your picnic quilt, but about the mountainside flush with color.

Cove Lake State Park, Caryville

Cove Lake State Park

Cove Lake State Park

Picnic tables – more than 100 of them – make Cove Lake State Park a top choice for outdoor gatherings. The park also has six large picnic pavilions, so expect to see family reunions with lots of kids, because playgrounds and ball fields keep everyone occupied. The state park has many paved, flat walking trails – perfect for ferrying around family members in wheelchairs who can see the lake and fish from the pier. Mature trees in crimson, brilliant yellow and deep purple ring the waterfront where ducks, geese and herons set the scene for autumn in all its glory. Outdoor seating at Rickard Ridge BBQ at Cove Lake gives patrons sweeping views of the eastern edge of the Cumberland Mountains.

Savage Gulf Natural Area

Creeks – and the waterfalls that go with them – are in abundance in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area. So you can take your pick and picnic! Greeter Falls descends over a 15-foot upper ledge and then takes a 50-foot dive to a lower ledge and forms a clear pool. Savage Creek channels into the gorge over cascades and then takes a 30-foot plunge. Overlooks and old-growth forest make Savage Gulf a take-your-breath-away destination during October. Plant yourself among the oaks, hickories, maples, and yellow poplars and watch the leaves sail to the ground, listen to water tumbling into the gorges and smell the fragrance of pines. You can fill you picnic baskets at eateries in Monteagle or Dutch Maid Bakery in Tracy City or Cookie Jar Café in Dunlap.

Obed Wild and Scenic River,

Obed Wild and Scenic River

Obed Wild and Scenic River

Find your way to Nemo picnic area and watch the Obed River flow into the Emory River. The rushing whitewater makes this a gathering spot for kayakers. Hikers access the Cumberland Trail here. Another picnic place is the Lilly Bluff Overlook where you have a larger view of the Obed Wild and Scenic River. These destinations are easy to reach going north from Wartburg. An alternative site you may want to think about is picnicking in the nearby Catoosa Wildlife Management Area at the Devil’s Breakfast Table. This rock formation—a flat rock resting on a spire—is accessible by paddling the river or driving gravel roads. According to local lore, early settlers remarked, “Only the Devil would eat breakfast on a table like that.”

Where’s your favorite fall picnic spot?

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My story...Read on

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