Observation Point Trail
Observation Point Trail starts at Reservoir Hill and goes to Observation Point. The trail
is an old road, open to all but motorized traffic (purple trail). If you start at Reservoir Hill, the elevation is 1360 feet
and then descends to a low point of about 1190 feet before climbing back to 1380 feet at the top of Observation Point. The
trail distance is 1.1 miles, which includes the loop up and back down Observation Point.
are two ways to access the trail from Reservoir Hill; you can take the old road on the right side of the circle or take the
steps down through the center of the wall. The trail descends from Reservoir Hill on a moderately steep grade through a rocky,
dry slope that is facing west and south. Forest vegetation is primarily chestnut oak, red maple, sourwood, blackgum, and scattered
shortleaf pine in the overstory with inedible blueberry, pinxter-flower, and saw brier in the understory. At one time there
was a population of pink lady slippers as well, but like several other spots in the watershed they seem to have disappeared.
This lovely native orchid has declined throughout its range for several reasons; digging for commercial sale and by home gardeners;
deer browsing; and changing ecological conditions (they need some direct sunlight and as the forest becomes denser the plant
populations decline). It is very tempting to dig up the beautiful pink-flowered orchids, but they are extremely difficult
to successfully transplant because of their specific needs for highly acidic soil, certain soil fungi, and preferred forest
light conditions. It is best to enjoy them in nature and take only pictures, especially since it is unlawful to dig plants
in the Norris Watershed and other public lands. This species is now listed as endangered in Tennessee because of commercial
The trail begins to flatten on a surface with numerous roots, and runs parallel
to a power line. In a short distance you will see the Baxter Blueberry farm on the left; the Norris Watershed boundary is
on the far edge of the road under the power line. In 1999, the watershed board purchased a 3.6-acre parcel from Paul Baxter
that ran across Observation Point Trail. As the trail smoothes out you will come to the junction of Reservoir Hill Circle
Trail on the right. The trail then crosses under two power lines separated by a short section of woods. These are main power
lines from Norris Dam. You will enter a woodland of large oak trees and pass a house on the left. Gristmill Trail then branches
off to the right as the main trail turns left and then back right before reaching Eagle Trail on the left. You now reach a
split in the trail; both options go up to Observation Point. It is nice to go up one trail and then back down the other. The
straight option is the steeper of the two, climbing up a moderate to steep slope. The trail to the right is a more gradual
climb that is slightly longer. If you want an aerobic workout go up the first (straight) option which climbs steeply for the
first two-thirds before leveling out somewhat before reaching the top.
Once you reach Observation
Point the view is very nice. In 1970, the trail crew enlarged the vista, cutting several large chestnut oak trees. It has
been maintained periodically over the years and was opened up significantly by the 2010 trail crew to provide better views
of the dam and Walden's Ridge, in the distance. There are some incredible sunsets from this viewpoint. Also, notice the large
horseshoe bend in the river. The CCCs built a shelter at the top in the mid 30s that was still standing in the 80s. But because
of deterioration, the shelter was dismantled. In the early 90s a group of men from Norris, who called themselves the ‘knights
of the round table', rebuilt the shelter on the original stone foundation, using redcedar posts cut from the watershed. In
the spring of 2013 the Norris Lions Club did significant reconstruction on the shelter and installed a metal roof which should
insure the structure's survival for many years. There is also a memorial bench that looks out over the river below.
Notice the very large chestnut oaks around the top. These trees are very old and many have fallen in the
last 10 years or so. After a stop at the top proceed on around to the right to make the descent on the other trail. This old
road was grown up and not used when the 1970 trail crew came through. We opened up the road and it has been used ever since.
A nice option down, it goes through an old field that is now in yellow poplar, hickory, red maple, and sugar maple. We seldom
go down this trail without seeing numerous squirrels and often see deer as well. According to old maps, this was the original
road up to the top. Prior to the subdivisions that are now on Butternut, Hickory Trail, and other newer connecting roads,
there were old woods roads that ran from CCC Camp Road and Eric Harold Park to Observation Point.