A Place Called Waterville

There is a place, an exit off the interstate highway that is different than any other. There are no signs for gas, food, lodging, campgrounds or attractions. There is not even the *Exit 1 mile ahead* signage when you are coming from North Carolina into Tennessee. It is right on the border of these two mountainous states, the peak of the Smoky Mountain section of the Southern Appalachians. You see the *Welcome to Tenneessee* sign, then the next thing you know, there is an exit, with no warning.

It is a mysterious place, the no gas, food, lodging exit. Is it part of the twilight zone, a figment of imagination? But it lives up to the name, Waterville. There is water. But there are no houses, no buildings of any kind, beyond the cloverleaf ramps of the interstate exits, the roads are not even paved.

So much water can weaken the bond that holds the rock together on the steep slopes. Sometimes there are rock slides, some so large the big interstate highway is closed for many months while the boulders are removed from the roadway. Sometimes the slides are little.

It seems so isolated, this exit. Why is there an exit here at all, one wonders? The sound of trucks and cars that are known to be near, traveling to their destinations, is drowned out by the sound of rushing water. It is loud, that sound, very loud. Is that a banjo in the distance?

There are signs of humans, though. Someone erected this cairn, a man-made pile of stones, from the fallen rocks of the slide. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

Someone, perhaps the same stone stacker, placed a piece of dead wood to mark this deep sinkhole in the middle of the gravel road. It would not be visible at night, however. there are no electric lights in Waterville.

Oh look, a sign. Let us climb up and see what it says. Perhaps the darkness of mystery will be illuminated.

But we must climb very, very carefully, for the footwear on this extra-warm, humid, summery day are flip flops and there is poison ivy everywhere we look. Everywhere.

Oh, yes. The Trail. Once again we are hiking on the famous Appalachian Trail, this time in flip flops rather than ballerinas. Click here-Appy Trails To You to read of the earlier adventure. I have often wondered why there are no signs on the interstate advertising this wonderful scenic place. Is it because the hikers prefer to keep it a secret from the thousands of vehicles that pass by here daily? We know now, too, but will honor the sacredness of this secret spot. But if you are ever traveling from Knoxville, Tennesee to Asheville, North Carolina, or vice versa, who’s to know if you make an unscheduled stop to partake of a brief hike? You will see pristine wilderness and hear…water.


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17 Responses to A Place Called Waterville

  1. Racquel says:

    Good to see that we haven’t destroyed a beautiful place like that with homes and fast food restaurants. 🙂

    Exactly, Racquel! It is very surprising that the road is not even paved. There are waterfalls everywhere, too. A wonderful, pristine piece of nature, the hikers make very little impact, too. The cairn was a marvelous discovery.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Oooo this is one of those places that would lure one back again and again. The path so inviting.I have read several accounts of people hiking the trail or bits and pieces of it. It sounds like quite the adventure.

    Hi Lisa, it really is an amazing place. I am a big chicken, but having the interstate so close by gives me the courage to hike a bit, even in flip flops!

  3. Paul Daniels says:

    My wife Linda is from the Cosby/Newport, Tennessee area, just down the road from Waterville, she’s taken me there many times as well as other amazing places that are even now kinda hid from the millions of tourists that come to that area every year…..I hope some of them find Waterville but not to sound too selfish, not too many of them…..:-)

    Hi Paul, good to hear that you know the place of which I speak. I feel exactly the same way, wanting to share it, but not wanting people to ruin it, either. Places like that, and so many other natural, unspoiled by human spots are precious beyond measure. Once developed, it cannot be replaced.

  4. Paul Daniels says:

    Sorry, one more thing, you want to see something else amazing and out of the way? Try Max Patch, a bald mountain nearby Waterville, with amzaing 360 degree views in all directions of the surrounding mountains, which are the Bald Mountains in the immediate vicinity, the Unakas to the north, the Great Smokies to the south, and the Great Balsams and Black Mountains to the southeast. You gotta see this place. If you like wild berries depending on the time of year you go, well you better bring you a bucket with you, you’re gonna need it……:-)

    I know the place, Paul. There is another garden blogger, http://www.outsideclyde.blogspot.com/, Christopher of Outside Clyde that lives up on the mountain. He is my friend and I have been to his place several times. You need to read his blog!

  5. I just love the Smoky Mountain area. I could spend a lifetime there. Tennessee was my favorite place to visit because as you hinted, it is like entering another place and time.

    Hi Donna, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here. You are right about this area, it exists in another dimension from the large bustling cities. I love it, too.

  6. Layanee says:

    It is important to take ‘the road less traveled’ every now and then.

    Oh yes it is, Layanee. We take that road as often as possible.

  7. Gail says:

    My dear, perhaps it should be called a “Place called Wonderful”. Those mountains are wonderful and the AT is on my list~let me assure you that I don’t intend to walk the entire trail~a decent hike would suffice! Love the flip-flop shoe wearing adventure. xxoogail

    Thanks Gail. You would love it, absolutely. But don’t wear flip flops, would be my advice.

  8. Rose says:

    What a beautiful place! Thank you for sharing it with us, Frances. I promise to keep the secret. It’s good to know there are still some places of unspoiled beauty like this left in our country.
    The sound of water is so peaceful; I’m listening to it right now as a gentle rain falls outside my window–a very welcome sound.

    Hi Rose, thanks. I know you can keep a secret. Unspoiled beauty, an apt description. Man cannot tame this place. I still marvel at the way the interstate highway winds along the river, with sheer rock cliffs hanging over the road. Sometimes the rock gives way, in a big way, to let man know who is really in control. I am glad for your rain, wish we had some.

  9. My Kids Mom says:

    I love how the sound of rushing water and the sound of rushing cars can sound so similar. There is a nice hike near us which comes very close to I285- Atlanta’s busiest highway. And yet I’ve hiked it thinking of water (which is right there too) and easily forgotten about the road.

    Hi Jill, thanks for adding in here. You are lucky to have such a spot nearby. I believe the beginning of the southern end of the Appalachian Trail is just northeast a bit from Atlanta.

  10. Carol says:

    I know someone who’s son walked the entire length of the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine. He most certainly passed through Waterville and saw the beauty of it all.

    That is such an impressive accomplishment, Carol. Think of the sights he saw!

  11. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Oh, how lovely and serene! I’m so glad you were able to stop and savor it for us!

    Thanks Cindy. I was thinking of you all the whole time I was there. 🙂

  12. Lola says:

    Such a wonderful discovery for you. I’m sure there is a reason for it’s obscurity. But it would be nice to see. Sadly my hiking days are over. Yes, do be careful when walking with flip flops on.

    Thanks Lola. It does seem odd that this is an official interstate exit, and is not even paved. I am glad it is hidden, and glad I found it. Flip flops are not for mountain hiking.

  13. Phillip says:

    It is beautiful!

    Thanks Phillip.

  14. Nell Jean says:

    It sure looks cool. We had a tiny rain shower and it turned to steam. Your pictures made me feel better.

    Hi Nell Jean, it was very cool and nice there. Much better than at home. Glad to have helped out!

  15. The Musician has hiked that section. And, many more. He says it is very deserted to hike to New Found Gap from that area

    Good to know, Freda. This part of the trail got a bad rap in the Bill Bryson book, I wonder if some avoid it for that reason? There are still places in these here parts where stills are operating, among other things. They don’t like strangers, stay on the trail.

  16. Frances,

    This is both a spooky and wonderful place!


    Hi Eileen, thanks for stopping by. It was both of those things.

  17. What a nice post, Frances. It is such beautiful country! And unpredictable. And untame-able, it seems. 🙂 Thank you for the tour. (No guitar music? Whew!) ha.

    Thanks Shady, for visiting. It was a little eerie there, I have to admit. Total isolation, no one around. If someone came down the trail to cross under the interstate bridge to continue on while I was there, I would have had a heart attack! Then talked to them! HA

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