It’s no secret the Top Secret Trail with its nearly 200 stops has something for everyone. From settlements to Civil Rights, the Secret City to State Parks, wineries, dining, and even the Devil’s Triangle, there’s much to be discovered here on this self-guided “Top Secret” experience. Proton beams to Utopian dreams and everything in between, it seems!
Its trailhead is at the Knoxville Visitors Center. Begin your adventure with the WDVX Blue Plate Special live music show held daily and open to the public right in the heart of downtown. From there, the next few Knoxville stops such as Market Square, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville Museum of Art, and the University of Tennessee, founded in 1794, are just around the corner or a quick, free trolley ride away.
Walk along Volunteer Landing, rent a bike or a kayak at the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center and get out on the Tennessee River, then explore the terraced gardens at the Crescent Bend/Armstrong-Lockett House, built in 1834… and this is just the beginning!
Now comes the secret … the Secret City. Hidden from maps until 1946, Oak Ridge housed more than 75,000 people at the peak of the Manhattan Project and is the site of the new Manhattan Project National Historic Park which tells the story about the people, events, science, and engineering that led to the creation of the atomic bomb, which helped end World War II.
Visit the Oak Ridge Welcome Center and ask the staff to tell the tale of mystic John Hendrix who prophesied the establishment of Oak Ridge some 40 years before construction began. Learn how the complex is utilized today at the New Hope Center at Y-12 National Security Complex and get your hands-on activities fix at the American Museum of Science & Energy. The stories held secret for so long are now yours to take in along with the unique scenery of this discretely integral city.
Next up: slow it down. You’re on lake time. Watts Bar Lake with its 800 shoreline miles and cozy communities demands a slower pace to take it all in. From the old-fashioned soda fountain at Live & Let Live Drugstore to the Temperance Building/Harriman Heritage Museum, the Cornstalk Heights Historic District to the Art Deco Princess Theatre, there’s so much to see and do.
About that Devil’s Triangle I mentioned earlier, it’s the most legendary motorcycle ride in the area and even begins at the castle-like, prisoner-built Brushy Mountain Prison on Hwy 116. I hope you’re ready for adventure because this ride guarantees it. On a motorcycle? It’s best to come with some experience. In the car? Roll down the windows and share the road. The name may sound daunting but definitely commands the respect this gorgeous 72-mile stretch of road deserves.
Need to stretch those legs? Rugby is up next! Known as “one of the most authentically preserved historic living communities in America: the would-be utopia of Rugby” offers waterfalls, overlooks, hiking trails, camping, fishing, picnicking, rock climbing … the list goes on and on. Basically, it’s time to get out of the car to explore and be sure to bring your camera. And did I mention the winery? When you’re ready to review those photos and rest your feet a bit, head over to the Highland Manor Winery, Tennessee’s oldest winery offering award-winning wines and crowd favorite: their Muscadine. Take a bottle home with you or get on the waiting list to order more. You’ll thank yourself for stopping.
You’re now in the Upper Cumberland region and Livingston, Celina, and Jamestown all await your call. Pickett State Park & State Forest and its uncommon rock formations, natural bridges and numerous caves will truly take your breath away. Stop over at the Farmhouse Restaurant for a meal on the screened-in porch, grab some of the famous fudge from Forbus General Store, and ride an ATV in the nation’s top ATV destination, Brimstone Recreation. Finish your day with live music at Hippie Jack’s.
It’s time now to hear the fatal tale of the Fraterville Mine Explosion at the Longfield Cemetery, the final resting place for many of the victims of the worst mining disaster in Tennessee history. After that, to ponder on what you’ve just learned, head to the breathtaking overlook at Norris Dam State Park. Norris Lake itself extends 56 miles with a backdrop of tree-covered mountain tops. If you’re quiet enough, the white-tailed deer that live along the river and among the trees will make an appearance.
At Norris, nature comes to you.
If you’ve just been in Norris, that means you’re a hop, skip and a jump from the Anderson County Welcome Center, Golden Girls Restaurant, Little Ponderosa Zoo, and the Museum of Appalachia. Head over to downtown Clinton to find some of the finest antique shopping in the area and be sure to stop in for refreshments at Hoskins Drug Store & Soda Fountain. This 1940s style original soda fountain transports you back in time so plan to “sit a spell” and take it all in. And no trip to Clinton would be complete without a visit to the Green McAdoo Cultural Center where you’ll learn the story of the Clinton 12 and the Civil Rights Movement that surrounded them. This “self-guided interactive journey will offer education and insight into the six-year battle to desegregate the first public school in the south.”
On your way back to Knoxville, be sure to stop in at Ciderville Music Store for some Americana music and hundreds of unique instruments. Ciderville not only welcomes musicians but also the not-yet-musically-inclined and offers an education into the music of the region.
Now you’re back in Knoxville for the final leg of your experience and there’s still so much to see. From Alex Haley Heritage Square & Statue to James White’s Fort where Knoxville began in 1786; the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (the only hall of fame dedicated to women’s basketball in the entire world); the opulent Tennessee Theatre (one of the last movie palaces in the nation); and the East Tennessee History Center with vintage catalogs of music, history of the region and its people and genealogical archives travelers from around the world come to view; your final stops in Knoxville are sure to fulfill your wonder.
From beginning to end, the Top Secret Trail will enrich your life, encourage your curiosity, and leave you saying, “Let’s do that again!”