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Home Outdoors Hike of the Week: Obed Wild & Scenic River

Hike of the Week: Obed Wild & Scenic River

The view of the Clear Creek gorge from Lilly Bluff Overlook in the Obed Wild & Scenic River.

Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 810 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Lilly Bluff
Features: Overlooks

The Twenty Week Hiking Challenge continues its tour through some of our region’s beautiful public lands this week with a visit to the Obed Wild & Scenic River in northern Morgan County.

The Obed is a sister park to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, and not just because they’re two national parks that are located in close proximity to one another. They’re under the same National Park Service management. Niki S. Nicholas, the superintendent of the Big South Fork, is also the superintendent at Obed. Often times, rangers and other staff share duties between the two national parks.

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As you explore Obed, you’ll discover that it has much in common with the Big South Fork, from the incredibly scenic, free-flowing river that winds through a craggy gorge to the recreational opportunities that exist throughout.

At just over 5,000 acres, the Obed Wild & Scenic River is much smaller than the 125,000-acre Big South Fork NRRA. There are also few aminities; a campground and a couple of picnic areas are basically the extent of it, along with a visitor center in nearby Wartburg. 

But recreation opportunities are abundant here, and the Obed attracts an even more adventurous sort than typically make the trip to the Big South Fork. Whitewater rafting is popular in the late winter and early spring, and rock climbing is much more prevalent at Obed than in the Big South Fork.

And then there’s hiking, which is what we’ll be doing on our trip to Obed. For the purposes of the hiking challenge, we’ve chosen the Point Trail, which meanders along a ridge to an overlook at the confluence of Clear Creek and the Obed River.

The Point Trail is not an especially difficult trail, totaling 4.2 miles out-and-back. It’s not the easiest trail of the challenge, either. Generally, it’s an intermediate trail, one of those that falls somewhere between “easy” and “difficult.”

One thing is for certain, though: somewhere between the Lilly Bluff Overlook and The Point, you’ll decide this trail is well worth the effort. The scenic beauty ranks up there with any other trail that has been a part of the hiking challenge.

The Point Trail begins and ends at the Lilly Bluff trailhead and picnic area just above Clear Creek. It begins with a walk along a boardwalk to the Lilly Bluff Overlook, which offers incredible, sweeping views of the gorge that encases Clear Creek. The overlook is frequently visited by folks who aren’t necessarily hikers, and it is handicapped-accessible to aid visitors who want to take in the views that await at the edge of the cliff line.

From the overlook, the trail begins to descend towards Melton Mill Branch. A short distance away are two incredible waterfalls, both just off-trail. The trail eventually ends at the Lilly Bridge over Clear Creek, which you crossed on the drive in. But we’re going to turn right to access Point Trail, which continues south along the ridge top. 

For the next two miles, or a little less, the trail more or less sticks to the edge of the ridge, following Clear Creek. The ridge gets narrower and narrower along the way, until it eventually becomes a rocky spine separating Clear Creek from the Obed River.

This is “The Point,” as the locals knew it long before the federal government purchased these lands, and it lends its namesake to the trail leading to it.

Hikers often describe the Point Trail as featuring a good mix of terrain that keeps things interesting and provides just enough challenge to make the hike fun. To be sure, the trail isn’t completely flat, but it also doesn’t offer the steep gorge climbs that we’ve seen at other points in this hiking challenge, such as along the hikes at Honey Creek and to Needle’s Eye. 

Lee Ensign, a frequent hiker, described the Point Trail after hiking it earlier this month: “Very enjoyable moderate hike with numerous views of the Obed River gorge, rock cliffs and faces along the way. The hike is mostly shaded so is comfortable in the summer. The terrain has enough ascents and descents to be interesting, but is varied without sustained elevation gain/loss.”

If there’s a disappointment to the Point Trail, it is that you won’t find a clear view of the confluence of Clear Creek and the Obed River once you’ve reached the end of the trail, which is what most hikers are expecting. Still, there are a number of scenic views of the river gorge along the route, and plenty of other rock formations to spice things up. One of the most spectacular of the rock formations is the Lilly Point Arch, which is located slightly off-trail near the end of the trail and measures more than 10 ft. wide and 15 ft. tall.

Getting There: From Oneida, take U.S. Hwy. 27 south through Sunbright. Between Sunbright and Wartburg, turn right onto S.R. 62 and continue west for 4.3 miles. Then turn left onto Ridge Road and continue for another 3.8 miles. The road will dip to Clear Creek and cross the Lilly Bridge before climbing back to the top of the gorge on the west side. Lilly Bluff Trailhead is located on the left at the top of the gorge.

Fun Fact: The Obed River was named for Obediah “Obey” Terril, a longhunter who passed through the Cumberland Plateau in the late 18th century. Originally, there were two rivers on the plateau named the Obey River. Eventually, maps changed the southern river, which flows into the Clinch River, to the Obed. The northern river, which flows from west of Jamestown into the Cumberland River and is a part of the Dale Hollow Lake, is still known as the Obey River.

An even more interesting story involves the naming of the Lilly Bridge. Alva Howard owned a grist mill near the bridge, which was originally built by Woodson Hawn. In the early 1900s, Howard and one of his neighbors, with the last name Lilly, decided to build a bridge over the river. They started from opposite sides, then met in the middle and completed their task. When it came time to name the bridge, an argument ensued. Howard felt the bridge should be named for him, since his mill was nearby. Lilly thought his name should be on the bridge, since he had done the most work on the structure. The two men ultimately had a fistfight to determine who the bridge would be named after, and Lilly won.

Be Careful For: There are a number of unprotected blufs along the trail. There are also rocks along a stream crossing that can be slippery when wet.

Look For: Along the edge of the ridge near The Point is Lilly Point Arch, a large natural arch, or natural bridge, that hovers over the surrounding landscape. While large rock arches are more plentiful in the Big South Fork NRRA than in the Obed WSR, this is one of several examples of the stunning rock formations in the Obed.

Make it Better: As you’re completing your hike and near the Lilly Bluff Trailhead, turn right and follow the trail into the gorge, along Melton Mill Branch. There are two waterfalls located just off-trail, which are spectacular when there’s enough water flowing to bring them to full strength.

Share the Adventure: Tag your photos on Facebook and Instagram, #20WeekHikingChallenge, for an opportunity to win prizes (please be sure your post privacy is set to public in order to be eligible for a drawing.

Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you pack it in, please pack it out!

Independent Herald
Contact the Independent Herald at newsroom@ihoneida.com. Follow us on Twitter, @indherald.
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