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Ocoee Scenic Byway

Scenic Byways or Routes
The view from Chilhowee is breathtaking in every season. – Jim Caldwell

The first-ever U.S. Forest Service scenic byway was designated in the Cherokee National Forest in Polk County. It includes a portion of U.S. Hwy. 64 and Forest Service Road 77. About half of the U.S. Hwy 64 section passes through the Ocoee River Gorge. Forest Service Road 77 turns off U.S. Hwy 64 and winds it way up Chilhowee Mountain following the crest of the mountain.

Within this drive are rock bluffs, mountain peaks, Forest Service management activities, Lake Ocoee and the whitewater Ocoee River, all of which offer visitors magnificent views of natural beauty. The scenic byway offers ready access to whitewater rafting, boating, swimming and historic sites related to the Civil War and Cherokee Indian culture.

The Scenic Byway is easily reached from the Copper Basin area or West Polk County. In fact, U.S.Hwy 64 is the main link between the two sides of the county.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

Along U.S. Hwy. 64

As you approach the Cherokee National Forest on Hwy. 64 heading east from Cleveland, Tn., the view includes Big Frog and Chilhowee mountains and the Big Frog Wilderness area. Entering the forest, you see an overlook with a magnificent view of the TVA dam that creates Lake Ocoee, also called Parksville Lake. In the background is Sugarloaf Mountain's sharp peak, a prominent landmark readily visible for many miles from nearly every direction. Sugarloaf Mountain Park, located just below the dam, offers a place to stop for a picnic, dip your feet into the river, and learn from interpretive signs. The park also has a model of the Olympic whitewater race course.

As you leave the dam site, several sightseeing pull-offs offer incredible views of Lake Ocoee with the Cherokee National Forest proudly painted as a backdrop. The 1,950 acre lake is entirely encompassed by National Forest land.

Continuing on the route is Parksville Beach, a mecca for swimmers. Many nooks and crannies around the shores of the lake provide colorful picture-taking opportunities.

Between mileposts 7 and 8 is the Ocoee Ranger District office, which serves as a welcome center with information, brochures and maps.

Mac Point swimming area is nestled in a cove between mileposts 9 and 10, just before the highway enters the Ocoee River Gorge. In the gorge, from April through October, there is an area of river recreation delight where whitewater rafters and kayakers take full advantage of the fun on the Ocoee River. The scene is dominated with views of the river and rock cliffs.

Just beyond the rafting exit point (the “takeout”) is the historic TVA #2 Powerhouse. A flume line, which carries the river water to the powerhouse, snakes its way around the bluffs of the Ocoee River Gorge for nearly five miles. Through a special arrangement with TVA, power generation is halted to allow water releases for whitewater rafting during the summer months.

Approaching the upper end of the gorge between mileposts 17 and 18 is the boat launching area (the “put-in”) used by the rafting firms. It is here that a "stick dam" is seen, an engineering marvel where the flume begins.

More scenic beauty abounds with a view of both the Big Frog and Little Frog Wilderness areas and the upper segment of the Ocoee River. This section is normally dry because the water is used for producing electricity. (Upstream water is diverted to a tunnel that goes through the mountain to powerhouse No. 3) There are limited water releases for recreation on the upper river.

The spot where the river veers away from the highway was the site of whitewater canoe and kayak slalom competition during the 1996 Olympic Games hosted by Atlanta. The Ocoee Whitewater Center remains to serve as visitor center and recreation center.

Finally, at milepost 22 is the Boyd Gap Overlook, a perfect ending to a trip that abounds in "oohs" and "ahhs," for it is here that you get an eye-popping view of the splendor of the Cherokee National Forest.

Along Forest Service Rd. 77

You can turn onto FS 77 off U.S. 64 about 200 yards east of the entrance to the Forest Service Ranger Station. A comfortable but steady climb begins immediately, leading you through a high-quality forest landscape. Between two and two and a half miles up the mountain are two overlooks that offer breath-taking views across the Tennessee Valley and down to Ocoee Lake more than 600 feet below.

A climb of another mile brings you to one of the most magnificent views in East Tennessee. From here, the Blue Ridge province, Tennessee Valley and Cumberland Plateau are all within view.

Just to the south the entire length of Ocoee Lake is visible. Further to the south are the mountains in Big Frog and Cohutta wildernesses; and to the southwest is the metropolis of Chattanooga. On to the west is the pastoral Tennessee Valley. One could have seen great armies moving through the valley toward some of the most decisive conflicts of the Civil War 125 years ago.

After driving six miles, you reach a 1900-foot mountain plateau where several overlooks offer views to the west. Just down the road is a Civil War interpretive site where evidence of an 1865 skirmish and small Confederate campsite was found.

A short distance further, the seven-mile paved road section ends at Chilhowee Recreation Area, which offers camping, swimming and hiking.

Worth Noting:

Old Copper Road. U.S. 64 is located on most of the historic Old Copper Road, although some of the old road is under the waters of Lake Ocoee. One original section of the old road still exists and has been rehabilitated as a hiking trail at the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The Old Copper Road was completed in 1853. High grade copper ore was transported in horse-drawn wagons from Copperhill and Ducktown down the Ocoee River gorge to the rail head in Cleveland, TN. From there, it was hauled by rail to smelters in Richmond,Va. and Birmingham, Al. The ore was the primary source of copper for the Confederacy during the Civil War. A smelting operation in the vicinity of Ducktown became operational in 1878.

Halfway House. An inn was once located near the mouth of Greasy Creek at Lake Ocoee. It took two days for the teamsters to haul the copper ore to Cleveland, so they spent the night here. Remnants of the old inn may be under the waters of Lake Ocoee. There are some questions as to its exact location.

Native Americans. This entire area is rich in Cherokee Indian history and cultural resources.

Civil War. Reportedly, repeated skirmishes took place between small guerrilla-type bands of renegade soldiers during the war throughout the Ocoee drainage area. A small confederate camp site/memorial is located on Chilhowee Mountain adjacent to FS 77.

Hydroelectric Power Generation. Tennessee Power Company constructed a complex around 1912. TVA took it over in 1939. Three powerhouses, a water diversion tunnel, the flume, remnants of Caney Creek Village and associated facilities are located in the gorge all along Hwy. 64. The entire complex is on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic precinct.

Length of Byway or Route

Approximately 30 miles

Nearby Places