By Mike Steely

If you’re looking for a surprising park and a great overlook you might think of the Great Smoky Mountains but there’s a 1,444-acre state park near Morristown that’s not as crowded and a nice place to visit within an hour’s drive.

Panther Creek State Park might be one the most over-looked parks but has just about everything you’d expect plus a place in its local history. There’s more than 30 miles of trails, three picnic areas, 10 miles of horse trails, and another 10 miles of mountain bike trails.

The area’s history goes back to the Panther Springs settlement there, once a popular stage coach stop that rivaled Morristown for size and importance.

One of the trails there takes hikers past seven sinkholes atop a ridge. The only problem on that trail is that it not well marked and you can get turned around at some of the intersecting paths. Each sinkhole is marked as you walk, climb and circle the rocky holes.

The picnic areas have grills and a variety of picnic tables.

At the far end of the park is the Smallman Area with picnic shelters and a beautiful roadside overlook of Cherokee Lake. There are various hiking trails along the lake waters, a Maple Arch Trail, a swimming pool and a friendly visitor center with a small gift shop. The park also features a boat launch, tennis courts, and a playground. At the Visitor Center you may want to say “Hello” to Teddy Roosevelt, an old owl in a large cage outside. The injured owl was found on the side of Interstate 40 near Crossville and, because of being blind in one eye and other injuries, was relocated to Panther Creek Park.

The Recycling Trail is a self–guided walk with signs teaching about conservation located along the trail with the cooperation of the Morristown-Hamblen Chapter of Keep America Beautiful Chapter. This trail was awarded the Governor’s Greenway and Trail Stewardship Award.

The easiest way to reach Panther Creek State Park is to follow Andrew Johnson Highway, Highway 11E,  east through Jefferson City to west Morristown. Watch for Panther Creek Road on the left. Unfortunately there’s no state park sign there. Follow the road to the park entrance.

The address is 2010 Panther Creek Road and you can find the park on the internet or call the park office at (423) 587-7046.

While you’re in the area you may want to drive through Morristown’s unique downtown area where the “Skymart” second story walkway exists or you may want to visit Crockett Tavern, a log cabin built where Davy Crockett’s father operated an inn and tavern.

You could loop back to Knoxville via Bean Station and Rutledge or drive south to Interstate 81 and then west to Interstate 40.