We all have our favorite places to get off the pavement. With ever-increasing amounts of public land being closed down to off-roading, we have to get out there in the dirt wherever we can. To that end, we set out recently to learn a bit more about one of our favorite spots. There are several options available to us in our local area. However, none are more enjoyable than Windrock Off Road in Oliver Springs Tennessee.
A Little Background
While at the park we had the chance to get the low down on the history from general manager Brent Galloway. The Coal Creek Company is the actual owner of the land that Windrock Off Road calls home. Brent manages both the off-road park and the interests of the Coal Creek Company on the land. The Coal Creek Company was initially established in 1872. The company currently owns the 72,000 acres of land that encompasses the off-road park. Coal Creek develops the natural resources of the land through its timber, coal, oil, and natural gas subsidiaries.
In 2001 the company started selling land use permits for recreation. Brent grew up in nearby Oak Ridge and can remember his mom bringing him to the land for recreation long before 2001. Brent explained, “People rode out here long before they started selling land use permits. Coal Creek didn’t mind and they were happy making their money through the timber, mining, and natural gas business.” Then Coal Creek started noticing that on weekends it wasn’t just local cars and trucks that were parked on the land. They realized that people were traveling from as far as several states away to go riding on the land.
The general manager at the time took note of this little development as well as the reality that there were some problems on the property. Trespassing, partying, wildfires, were all issues that needed to be addressed. By introducing a land-use permit system the company saw a way to not only monetize the property further but to also attempt to introduce some accountability and keep the riff-raff out. The first year the company introduced the permit system they didn’t sell very many. As you might expect those people that had ridden on the property for free previously were not all that keen on paying.
However, by 2002 the company was selling a lot of permits. Brent admitted, “I was one of them. I had ridden here for years and there just wasn’t a legal process to do it.” Once that legal process was introduced Brent and others realized it was the way to go. From there the Coal Creek Company formed a partnership with the Windrock ATV club. The club assisted with selling permits and there was a profit-sharing agreement put in place.
Lodging, Range, And Food
As time went on the company realized that many of the riders that were coming to the land we’re going into Oak Ridge to stay at hotels for the night. This led to the establishment of the Windrock Park Campground in 2007. It was officially opened in 2008 and consisted of ten one-room cabins, thirty-nine RV sites, and primitive camping. Brent came onto the scene in 2009 after the previous general manager was unfortunately diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Brent said, “At the time I was running my own timber business. The company approached me about the open general manager position. Shortly thereafter they purchased my business and I became the general manager. I think they did it for two reasons. The first is that because I was in the timber business I already knew that side of the company. Also from a rider standpoint, I knew the hobby. I’ve had dirt bikes and four-wheelers. I still have Jeeps and I know the recreation business.”
Once onboard Brent saw very quickly that the current campground options were not quite what some travelers were looking for. The park now boasts thirty-first rate cabins. Options range from one bedroom up to three bedrooms. All rooms are well-appointed with log and leather furniture. Full bathroom facilities, full kitchens, and considerably more square footage than what existed in the original cabins is all standard. In addition, two duplexes are available. They can be rented as individual units or as a single four-bedroom unit for larger groups and families.
In the last few years, the rental options have even spread outside of the campground to Windrock Rd. The road remains on the park property but exists outside of the campground and offers additional privacy for those that prefer it. Plans exist for continued cabin builds the goal is to keep prices competitive with other lodging options nearby. Brent shared that, “Our cabins might be a little more than a similarly equipped room at a hotel in Oak Ridge. However, most people feel like it’s worth it to not have to load up their machine and drive back into town for the night. During any given year all fifty states are represented here and we really are turning into a resort destination.”
Plush overnight accommodations are just the start at Windrock. A fully equipped general store, two wash plants, food vendors, fuel sales, and dedicated RC course all deserve a solid mention. The RC course is a favorite amongst the off-road crowd and one of the elements of the park that Brent is especially proud of. Brent explained, “A lot of the kids use it. There are also a lot of adults that get in on the fun too. It’s really common for people in the off-road community to have RC cars. It’s a fun thing to do in the evenings when you’re done riding to entertain yourself for a couple of hours.”
The park also features first-class downhill mountain biking trails that will challenge even the most seasoned riders. Windrock plays host to and leases some of the mountains to champion downhill biker Neko Mulally. He is a world-class mountain biker and he has an exceptional team that helps him cut and maintain trails on the mountain.
Let’s assume that world-class mountain biking, a mountain full of off-road trails, a dedicated RC course, and first-class camping are not your thing. Don’t despair because there’s more to do at Windrock than just those activities. Throughout the year concerts are offered, ATV rentals are available, and the park just happens to sit in the middle of some of the best motorcycle and sport car routes in the country. The Devils Triangle and The Tail of the Dragon both call this area home.
Still not convinced to make the trek to experience and conquer the mountain? Would you like to let loose with a fully automatic rifle? There are few places in the country that offer experiences as unique as riding in the back of an ATV with a fully automatic firearm. The Windrock Shooting Range and Training Center does. If none of this sounds like fun then check your pulse to make sure you’re still in the game.
We speak from first-hand experience that there is a lot of great wheeling to be done here. Waterfalls dot the park in various locations during the period of hard rains. Fun rock crawls, open fast areas with great views, and first-class technical trails are all available. Developed gravel roads suitable for stock front-wheel drive vehicles make it easy to navigate to less accessible areas. This is sometimes essential for difficult recoveries and makes for a sense of safety not present at other parks.
Brent gave the rundown of the terrain options like this. He said, “One of the things that separate us from other places is our size. Our trails have a mix of everything. As the name implies we have plenty of rocks. We do have some mud holes. Some of our red clay is extremely slick when it rains. In comparison to places like the Rubicon trail, Moab and other places out west, where I have ridden, our traction is significantly less. On days when it is super dry the traction is probably pretty comparable. On days when we get even just a little bit of rain a trail out here can go from easy to extremely difficult very quickly.”
Do’s And Don’t’s
When traveling to the park we recommend making your plan and reservations ahead of time. During the summer months, the park is busy. While this can make a campground or cabin reservation challenging the size of the park allows for solo exploration if desired. When making the choice to go for a more isolated adventure common sense applies at this park. As previously mentioned the size of the park, weather, and the rugged terrain can create challenges for even the most experienced off-roader. Plan accordingly.
Like any off-road centric adventure we always encourage a buddy system approach. Proper recovery items, tools, and a true sense of adventure are all must-haves when visiting Windrock Off Road. If you have a desire to really get out and explore some of the best terrains the Midwest and the Smokey Mountains can offer then look no further than Windrock Off Road.