History, hiking and dark skies


There are millions of reasons to visit Pickett State Park on the Kentucky border, adjacent to the Big South River and Recreation Area. In the fall, those reasons might include the fall foliage, even when they fall to the ground. But anytime of the year, the reasons are also overhead.

Pickett was formed in the 1930s following a donation by Stearns Coal and Lumber Co. of 12,000 acres for a forest recreational area. For the next 10 years, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps built hiking trails, five rustic cabins, a recreation lodge, ranger station and 12-acre lake. 

In 2015, the park became the first one in the Southeast to receive a Silver-tier International Dark Sky Park designation. Visitors can enjoy sweeping views of the night sky similar to those you might find in the western U.S. 

At least in theory. 

My husband and I spent a weekend at Pickett one fall for that very purpose. We rented one of those charming rustic cabins on the weekend of a new moon so it would not take away from the dazzling star show. But apparently nobody told the clouds of our plan. 

On the first night, the cloud cover was so heavy that we didn’t even try to stargaze. It was much the same on Night Two until about 3 a.m., when I woke up and lifted the curtain above the bed. Lo and behold, there were stars overhead! I roused hubby and he agreeably pulled on sweatpants and a jacket to step outside for the show. Sadly, it was a small one before more clouds moved in. 

Fortunately, Pickett’s dark sky is not its only attraction. Besides the rustic cabins and 10 more modern ones, all well equipped with kitchen supplies, linens and fireplaces, it offers 26 campsites with water hookups, grills and picnic tables. More than 58 miles of hiking trails meander past stunning sandstone bluffs, over natural bridges and beside waterfalls. A memorial at the ranger station tells the story of the CCC, and an interactive touch-screen exhibit lets visitors hear the stories of former CCC workers about their time building Pickett State Park. 

Its remoteness and quietude are as much a part of the park’s draw as any of its other charms. A weekend at Pickett doesn’t include cell phones (no service!) or screens. The crunch of the ground and calls of birds are the background noises to your time there. The hiking and the history will fill your days. And if you’re lucky, the light show overhead will supply the thrills.

For info or reservations go to tnstateparks.com/parks/info/pickett.

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