Obed Wild & Scenic River

Location: Wartburg, Tenn.

Acreage: 5,173 acres.

Activities: Hiking, whitewater paddling, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, exploring, picnicking.


The Obed Wild & Scenic River is much smaller than the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (5,000 acres vs. 125,000 acres) but the two National Park Service units were established at roughly the same time (the BSF in 1974 and the Obed WSR in 1976) and are managed jointly, making the Obed a sister park to the BSF.


The land surrounding the Obed River was never home to significant European settlement. It was used occasionally by several Indian tribes — including the Creek, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Yuchi and, of course, the Cherokee — during the Mississippian period. 

The first white Europeans arrived on the scene in the early 19th century. These long hunters used the rock houses along the sandstone bluffs for shelter, but for the most part they didn’t stay long. They hunted the region for turkey, deer, squirrel and bear, among other animals, and they trapped furbearing animals along the streams.

There were some who lived in the region, of course. And there were several gristmills along the river that served the families who lived nearby. The Howard family and the Lilly family were among two of the most prominent families who lived in the region.

In 1930, a steel bridge was built over the Obed River at Nemo, just above the confluence of the Obed and Emory rivers. This was the first steel structure to cross the river. A more modern concrete bridge was built in 1999; today, the original Nemo bridge is used only by hikers.

Also in the 1930s, Woodson Hawn built a corn gristmill along Clear Creek, near Lilly Bridge. The mill was later operated by Alva and Elvie Howard. It was destroyed by a flood in the 1940s.

The Obed is believed to have been named for Obediah “Obey” Terril, a long hunter for whom the Obey River to the north was also named. 

Congress established the Obed Wild & Scenic River in 1976. It consists of about 3,500 acres of federal land, plus another 1,723 acres of state and private land. 

An adventure paradise

The Obed Wild & Scenic River offers some great hiking trails leading to expansive overlooks, stunning rock arches and amazing waterfalls. But it is best-known by whitewater paddlers and rock climbers.

Climbers from all over the world visit the Obed to hike the imposing rock faces that tower over the streams. There are more than 350 permanently-bolted routes (called sport routes) in the Obed, varying from 5.7 to 5.14 in difficulty. 

Whitewater paddlers also travel from all around to experience the Obed. The Obed and its primary tributary, Clear Creek, offers miles of Class III and Class IV rapids during the peak whitewater season in late winter and early spring. 

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Ben Garrett
Ben Garretthttp://gocumberlands.com
Ben Garrett is publisher of Go Cumberlands. He lives in Oneida, Tennessee with his wife, three kids and dog, Boone.



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