WHERE TO RIDE: The Tennessee Triangle
Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains provide some of the best and most famous ATV riding in the U.S. The riding experience in the area has prompted the formation of three great ATV and UTV riding areas in one general area. By road, the parks look like a horseshoe on a Tennessee map, with Brimstone and Ride Royal Blue close together. Windrock Park is the farthest south and about the same distance from the other two parks. As the crow flies, they lie closer together than by road. Unlike West Virginia’s famed Hatfield-McCoy trail system, the three parks don’t link with designated routes. Experts on the area agree that it should be possible to connect the parks with just a couple of miles of trailering to cross I-75. At the moment, the routes are not easily found.
The area between the parks is criss-crossed with dirt roads and trails, and many of those are open (with the correct permit) to OHVs. This area is a mix of private property and lands administered by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). The TWRA “consists of more than 600 professionals dedicated to the preservation, conservation and enhancement of Tennessee’s fish and wildlife for the enjoyment of all Tennesseans and our visitors.” The TWRA Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) program is funded by federal grants. The source of the grants is the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The RTP is funded by a percentage of the tax on each gallon of gas sold across the country. The agency is responsible for a 20 percent cash match (i.e., $100,000 grant: TWRA, $20,000; Federal, $80,000). The source of matching funds is TWRA’s wildlife and/or wetland fund, or fees charged by TWRA for use of the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (WMA) trails. It makes the cost of the fees more palatable when you see a direct result of improved or increased riding opportunities.
Rusty Dunn is the head of the off-highway riding areas in the Tennessee Triangle, and he would like to have the routes between the three researched, mapped and signed, but at the moment, he claims that your best bet would be to find a local guide if you are interested in an adventure like riding between the three parks. Dunn suggests contacting the ATV clubs in the area. Look for the RoyalBlue Rangers.com, RedneckRidgeRiders .com, MudAndGutsOffroad.org, or the Windrock ATV Club (www.wind rockatv.com) for expertise on the various areas.
To plan a ride between the parks, you will need riding permits from each of the private parks, as well as the TWRA permit for the TWRA and Ride Royal Blue trails. For the TWRA trails, riders under 13 are free, residents are $12.50 a day and non-residents are $30.50. There are yearly and multi-day options too. Check out the TWRA website at www.tn.gov/twra/ for all the information and maps.
RIDE ROYAL BLUE
You could always choose to drive between the three parks, and just spend time riding and camping at each one. We use the word “camping” lightly. There is tent camping at each park, but there are also RV campgrounds and cabins available at each park. The cabins are not roughing it. Ride Royal Blue is the farthest north of the parks. It differs from the others. A family-run operation owns the Royal Blue Campground, and it leases the property that the trails are on. Ride Royal Blue (RRB) ATV Guest Ranch connects to the Tennessee WMA called Royal Blue and Sundquist, so the total trail miles available are 600-plus! When you check in with RRB, they can let you know which of the trails in the TWRA OHV area you can ride with the RRB permit.
RRB’s Jessica Westray says of the ATV ranch, “My fondest memories are of growing up riding ATVs in the mountains with my brother and cousins. Nothing compares to the riding that the Cumberland Mountains has to offer. As a family, we never had problems having a blast with our ATVs—we only ran into obstacles when it came to finding places to stay and to park our machines.
“The idea of an ATV ranch was born, and Ride Royal Blue Resort got its humble beginnings. We wanted to create a safe haven for ATV enthusiasts and their vehicles—of all kinds. RideRoyalBlue.com is designed entirely for the all-terrain vehicle enthusiast. Our cabins are even designed so that the riders can drive their ATVs directly up to their cabin.”
RRB’s campground has over 30 cabins (two-day minimum), over 30 RV sites (some with just water and electric and some with full hook-ups) and many tent sites. In total, the campground can hold 400 guests. There is a restaurant, general store and a pro shop that sells gear, supplies and parts.
There is a large log lodge that has a breakfast buffet on weekends and can arrange for dinner buffets. Food and beverages are also available at the general store. RRB has trails to suit riders of all skill levels. RRB can accommodate ATVs, UTVs, trail bikes, 4WD trucks, buggies, jeeps and mountain bikes. The trail system is open 24/7 and night riding is allowed. If you don’t have a way to get your machines to RRB, there are ATVs and UTVs available for rent.
Riding fees are assessed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and not by Ride Royal Blue. TWRA permits can be purchased in advance at any Tennessee Walmart, sporting goods outlet or the Pilot Truck Stop at exit 141 off I-75. Tennessee residents can purchase their permits online at www.tnwildlife.org. For additional information, call (423) 784-9445 or go to www.rideroyalblue.com.
Windrock Park’s 72,000 acres makes it the largest privately owned riding area in the country. The trails are suitable for everything from mountain bikes to full-size 4WD trucks, though the majority of users are ATVs and UTVs. By coincidence, the riding area’s extreme mountain terrain touches four Tennessee counties. You will find 315 miles of managed OHV roads and trails. In addition to the general riding, Windrock Park is open 365 days a year, and there is a huge range of events for all sorts of vehicles. Two of the largest events—enormous, actually—are for ATVs and UTVs: the Windrock Park Spring Jamboree (April 24–26) and the Windrock Park Fall Jamboree. The events span a gamut of wheeled activities—from guided rides, ATV rodeos, rock crawls, poker runs, the Windrock Wide Open, the Windrock Challenge, drag races, mud bogs and the Dash for Cash! Spectators with a land-use permit are admitted free of charge, and participants pay only $10 ($5 for kids from 3 to 12 and 2 years and under are free) in addition to the land-use permit. Many of the other events held at Windrock are for specific brands of full-size 4WD vehicles.
Land-use permits may be purchased at the Windrock Park General Store ( 435-3492), the Windrock Park Campground Office ( 435-1251), Ginger’s Market & Deli on Hwy. 116 in Briceville, and Shell Food Fun at 557 Tri-County Boulevard in Oliver Springs.
Windrock Park’s campground is located on 259 acres and equipped with seven fully furnished cabins with two bedrooms, two baths, a living area, a kitchen and a covered deck overlooking the mountains; 10 smaller cabins with double bunk beds, a bathroom with shower and kitchenette; and 39 RV sites with full hook-ups (sewer and electrical accommodating 30, 50 amps and 110). There are also 100-plus primitive camping sites available. All RV sites and primitive campsites have a fire ring and picnic table. There are two bathhouses inside the park—one in the RV area and the other in the primitive camping area.
For further information or reservations, contact (865) 435-1251 or go to www.windrockpark.com.
If you are cutting across Baker Highway from Ride Royal Blue, the distance between the two parks is only 15.5 miles, and much of the TWRA North Cumberland Wildlife Management area is between the two parks. It is easiest to connect these two parks while riding. Brimstone Recreation manages and promotes the recreational use of over 19,196 acres, with over 300 miles of OHV trails and roads, hunting, fishing and river sports like kayaking and canoeing. Naturally, there is also camping. There are a number of cabins available that sleep up to 10 people, and RV spots are available in 30- or 50-amp service, plus water and some have sewer. There is a shower unit in the campground as well as tent camping sites. The campground has direct access to trail #1 and to many of Brimstone’s ATV trails. WiFi is available upon request with a $25 one-time additional fee. There are area hotels for those who wish to forgo roughing it, and there are off-site cabins available as well.
Brimstone is home to some crazily popular ATV and UTV events: The White Knuckle Event in May, SXS/ATV Roundup and Winterfest. Windrock has guided riding tours for those who want to be sure they catch all the good stuff. There are also ATV and UTV rentals available.
The trail system ranges from easy logging and gravel roads to moderate challenges with ruts, washouts, steep climbs and deep mud. The difficult trails are for riders looking to be challenged. If you tire of the 300 miles of trail (not likely), then the 140,000 acres of North Cumberland WMA— the largest such parcel of contiguous public property in Tennessee outside the Cherokee National Forest—is just down the road, or, for the more adventurous, just down the trail.
Brimstone permits are $11 for riders under 18 and $21 for adults. Passengers have to have permits as well. Prices drop significantly for multi-day or yearly passes. If you venture onto the WMA, you will need the WMA permit as well.
For more information or reservations, call (800) BRIMSTONE or go to www.brimstonerecreation.com.