Knoxville: Knobby Rock Loop

This 4.8-mile loop links caves, sandstone towers, waterfalls, and a scenic overlook in the old-growth forests in Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve.

-Mapped by Bill Jackson

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 7.7



Location: 36.858891, -83.381981

Head NW from lot to gravel road and turn R; pass through Camp Blanton, then follow shore of stream-fed mountain lake with rustic log cabins


Location: 36.861679, -83.378929

Cross short concrete bridge to offi cial trailhead on L. Path follows Watts Creek; see chainsawed cutouts in downed trees


Location: 36.86208, -83.37352

Keep straight on Watts Creek Trail past two junctions for a 1-mile side trip into serene hollow with rhododendron, mossy hemlock, and gurgling mountain stream


Location: 36.865711, -83.366508

Unspoiled creek setting @ Trail's End turnaround. Look for keyhole-shaped tree on NW hillside. Backtrack to WPT 3; go R onto Knobby Rock Loop Trail. Waterfalls ahead


Location: 36.869999, -83.371986

Straight @ T onto Sand Cave Loop for a challenging ascent N along a sheer wall of contorted sandstone


Location: 36.87495, -83.36953

Rest in the natural rock amphitheater under Sand Cave towers


Location: 36.874409, -83.368736

Follow yellow blazes through the Maze, a labyrinth of huge, fallen boulders


Location: 36.869652, -83.371712

L @ T; climb a long set of stairs to Knobby Rock


Location: 36.86861, -83.371384

Exposed crown of Knobby Rock (1,880 ft.) serves up sweeping views S over Cumberland Valley. Be careful climbing down. Loop around .6 mi. to WPT 3; return to trailhead

Cumberland River Valley

Location: 36.868732, -83.371201

Big views open southwest over the Cumberland River Valley. Note the eponymous bumpy whorls on the crest of Knobby Rock. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.85976, -83.382042

Rustic camp cabin. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.859783, -83.381958

Stream-fed mountain lake at Camp Blanton. ©Bill Jackson

Trading Post

Location: 36.861699, -83.378549

Bring money to summer camp and enjoy the ice cream, sodas, candy, and trinkets. ©Bill Jackson

Trails End

Location: 36.865674, -83.366425

Anyone can enjoy the leisurely walk along Watts Creek, but it officially ends here. A short patch of private property is just ahead. ©Bill Jackson

Keyhole Tree

Location: 36.865751, -83.366414

Spot this odd-shaped protuberance just above the Trail's End sign, on the northwest side, dubbed the "Keyhole Tree" by our intrepid map contributor. ©Bill Jackson

Cliff Trail

Location: 36.874401, -83.372192

Trail hugs tall cliffs of sandstone caprock. Near the top, it changes to conglomerate. ©Bill Jackson

Sand Cave

Location: 36.874695, -83.369057

This picture just doesn't do Sand Cave justice. It's very tall and quite roomy, with a nice flat bottom area. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.874672, -83.369057

Here the trail passes large tumbledown rocks stacked upon each other as it approaches the Maze. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.869453, -83.371414

Ascend the stairs as the trail to Knobby Rock gets steep near the top. ©Bill Jackson

Knobby Rock north

Location: 36.869431, -83.371437

A view from Knobby Rock toward the north. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.875103, -83.370422

Just around the bend ahead is the expansive Sand Cave. ©Bill Jackson


Location: 36.869408, -83.371384

Patch the dog waits (for the moment, patiently) at Knobby Rock. ©Bill Jackson

Enter the maze

Location: 36.874741, -83.36908

Pick your way through a jumbled boulder field. ©Bill Jackson

Patch the dog

Location: 36.871376, -83.371498

Patch will meet you at the parking lot, if you're first to arrive, and keep you company on the trail. He's not very tolerant of slackers though. If you stop too long, he'll cry a little and bark at you. ©Bill Jackson