By Mike Steely
It’s either the first or the last Tennessee State Park you will pass, depending on which direction you are traveling on Interstate 75 entering or leaving Kentucky. Indian Mountain State Park is only about an hour north of Knoxville and is unusual because, at one time, the land there was a murky swamp due to the effects of strip mining. Locals called it the Ponds or Frog Level and the land there sat unused for many years.
If you’re in Kentucky visiting Cumberland College in nearby Williamsburg or Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Corbin, you might want to visit and camp at Indian Mountain. It’s a small park, only 203 acres, but has most of the things other state parks feature. There are paddle boat rentals, fishing, hiking, picnic tables and pavilions, a playground and camping with 47 sites on concrete pads. Each campsite has water, electric and sewer hookups and there is a bathhouse with restrooms and showers. Pets on leashes are permitted.
Just past the visitor center and across the footbridge is a small trail that takes you around Ballard Lake, named for the park’s first ranger, Billy Ballard.
There are lots of ducks and waterfowl and in the evenings and on weekends the park is a favorite place for local residents to walk, socialize and picnic or hold reunions.
While you are on your way to Indian Mountain State Park, so named because it is at the foot of Indian Mountain, you may want to stop and take a look at Jellico. You have to drive straight through town to the park and the downtown is right out of the 1880s. Built during the Jellico Coal Boom, the original buildings still have their original facades although, unfortunately, many of them are now empty.
It’s a handy and little-known park that some people traveling with campers know about and use. It’s only about five minutes off the Jellico exit and often not full of campers.
The I-75 exit has fast food, and motels, and seems to be always busy. Just south of the interstate, along Highway 25W, are the cliffs that locals call “The Narrows” with legends of lost treasure, moon shining, and beautiful rugged scenery you can see from your car.
Back in Jellico, there’s a museum, historic post office that doubled as a mine rescue headquarters, and the usual shops and convenience stores. Downtown features a Veterans Park, a stage, and an old railroad caboose. Craft and flea markets use the site on weekends.
Just north of downtown is the old stateline marker with Tennessee on one side and Kentucky on the other. Before I-75, many travelers heading south, especially to Florida, came right through the small town and on through The Narrows to LaFollette, Jacksboro, Caryville and beyond.
You can return to Knoxville via the interstate, Highway 25W, or take Highway 297 west to pass through the small communities of Newcomb, Elk Valley and Pioneer. It links up with Highway 63 in Scott County and, if you take a left, you can get back on I-75 at the Royal Blue exit. If you turn right you’ll end up in Huntsville and Oneida and link with Highway 27.
If you’d like more information about Indian Mountains State Park you’ll find it on the internet or call the park office at (423) 566-5870.