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Directions to TVA's Buffalo Mountain Wind Power Plant

See for Yourself - Southern Approach - Shorter

Also Available - Directions for a longer route to Buffalo Mountain from Route 116 on the northern (Petros) side.
Welcome to Coal Creek Mining

Disclaimer: This is free information. Use at your own risk. This is only my opinion based on my experience. There is No guarantee of accuracy. I am Not responsible for anything that may happen to you because of using or not using this information.

Notes from 4/27/2006: The short route via Windrock was in good shape, with paved road about half the way up, and gravel in good shape the rest of the way.

Notes from 09/05/2004: It's been a long time since my last update. The short route via Windrock is much improved, and I would now consider taking my personal road car. With the Suburban I never needed 4WD on this visit. Access to near the wind power plant is more restricted than previously, as described here.

One great improvement by the Windrock ATV Club (and/or Coal Creek Mining Company) is the signs marking roads and trails. Although not every intersection was marked, most were. Using Tommy Rhea's map and the road signs made it much easier to find the way.

Notes from 6/24/2001: The Coal Creek Mining Company (warning, slow-loading javascript and pictures; old archived site) has re-asserted its authority over the land. They have teamed with the Windrock ATV Club to institute a Permit (and fee) system for access to the area. Notable improvements include some cleanup of trash dumps, and signs with difficulty ratings of roads and trails. Interestingly, there still appeared to be no controls (signs) from the northern approach to the area.

Road Rocks Uphill If you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, or at least something with high clearance underneath, you might want to go for a visit. You could also take a hike or bike ride up the approximately 6 miles of road from the church in Windrock.

Other places you could visit in the general area include Frozen Head State Park, Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Oak Ridge - the Atomic City, Knoxville, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

As far as I know, there are no organized tours. On the few times I've been, I've usually seen a government jeep coming or going (I think) to either the communications facility on Windrock Mountain or the power plant on Buffalo Mountain. I suggest contacting TVA to ask them to start running tours ( info@publicpowerinstitute.org ). They took 2 weeks to respond to my inquiry, so be patient.

  1. More Cautions and Warnings
  2. Road Narrow and Wet No Good Road: The road gets steadily worse from bottom to top. In a few miles you go from regular, 4-lane highway, to 2-lane, paved, local road; to 1-2 lane, rough, steep, pot-holed, paved road; to ~1-lane steep, gravel/dirt, rocky road. Sturdy Off-Road Vehicles are Strongly Recommended. Using your regular street car is not advised, but I have seen them up there. You can probably make it if you're very careful going over the rocks and holes in the road, but again, I don't recommend it. Be warned - I have scraped bottom (rear differential, I think) in a Suburban 4WD, and I've seen a muffler and tailpipe left behind on the road. I've also seen a big old sedan driving back down the mountain on a rim (with a flat tire). On a positive note, there's no posted speed limit.
  3. No Traction: Obviously, the dirt road will be slippery when wet. There are no guard rails and the mountain side is very steep in many places.
  4. No Sidewalks: The road is narrow and you may be sharing it with fast moving ATV's or SUV's. On the dirt road, naturally, there will be dust in the air after vehicles pass. It's also a steep climb. Bring comfortable walking clothes and shoes for walking around. The surface is gravel and dirt. Close to the wind mills it is mostly flat, but depending on where you wander, or how far you back up to take pictures :) you could easily find yourself on steep, slippery slopes.
  5. No Facilities: Beyond the parking area at the church in Windrock, there are no facilities (bathrooms, gas stations, fast food, etc.).
  6. No Trespassing: There is a coal company's No Trespassing sign just past the 1-lane bridge at Union Valley Church in Windrock, but that doesn't seem to deter many people. The sign has been partially painted over. [6/24/01 Notes: New signs are in place at the parking area before the 1-lane bridge, and a permit system has been instituted.] There are also TVA No Trespassing signs around the power plant, but that doesn't seem to deter many people either. The signs are small and widely spread, so it's easily possible to approach the towers without passing within reading distance of a sign.
  7. No Security: There have been troubles in the area. Junk Car by Road On the other hand, they still hold a miners' re-union at the Union Valley Baptist Church in Windrock (Oak Ridger Newspaper articles: 10/10/00, and 10/6/00 ). I've personally not had any trouble in several visits. Also, there actually is a roving government jeep around some times.
  8. "High" Altitude: At the top the altitude is around 3,300 feet, versus about 800 feet at Oliver Springs. Generally, it will be cooler and (hopefully) windier as you climb. This is nice in summer, but be prepared for cooler weather by bringing some warmer clothes.
If, after all that discouragement, you're still interested in visiting, here are some directions:

Directions

To help with the area beyond Union Valley Church in Windrock, here is a scanned and annotated portion of a USGS/TVA Topographic map with 3 different file sizes (and jpeg qualities): Small File = 50 KB, Medium File = 90 KB, and Large File = 140 KB. The screen size or "Zoom" is the same, but the sharpness or fuzziness differ. See the Related Links below for how to buy a complete map. The annotated numbers correspond to the reference points in the table below. You may prefer the terraserver aerial photos or topographic maps with adjustable zoom, which are linked to in the table below.

The directions begin near Route 61/62 in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, USA. As Tom Dunigan's mountain biking web site says, "Take Windrock Rd out of Oliver Springs just east of the 61/62 junction." This is another example of confusing Tennessee road numbering, where the two routes are together for a few miles. From Oak Ridge, the road is the continuation of Illinois Avenue going towards Oliver Springs.

When you can look over old downtown Oliver Springs to the left, while going over the Southern Railway overpass and curving left, you need to take the next road to the right. There are several small signs for churches, but no street sign. This is also the first right turn after the "Downtown Oliver Springs" exit from the "highway." If you get to the "red light" where 62 goes right toward Frozen Head and Big South Fork, then you've gone too far. Maybe easier directions would be to go to the traffic light where 61 and 62 separate, do a U-turn, and go back one street and turn left.

Bear to the right at a couple intersections while heading towards Union Valley Church. Notice the old oil well rigs along the road as you approach the church. This road is paved and in good shape.

Welcome to Coal Creek Mining Approaching the church, bear left. Follow the road to the left, across the 1-lane bridge over the creek. Trusting this bridge will be your first test of confidence. To the right near this spot was the lower end of the the mine tramway. Although it is now dismantled, a large concrete block and signs of railroad can still be seen. It is also clear that the old L&N railroad from Oliver Springs crossed the creek, and the current roadway, here. This also begins the 1-2 lane, rough, steep, pot-holed, paved road, which goes for about 2.3 miles.

Follow the directions in the table below. On the dirt road, you "can't go wrong" if you follow what looks like the more used, main road, and avoid turning off on roads heading downward. Keep your eye out for the really tall radio tower, which you pass about a mile before the wind mills. You can see the radio tower from a long way off, but it is not visible for the whole route.

Final tips: Somebody has painted arrows on the pavement or other conspicuous places at several decision points - follow them (assuming they don't get vandalized). Pay close attention on the way up, because on the way back down everything looks different. On the way down, there are a couple places, particularly the "T's," where you need to remember to turn, rather than going straight.

Buffalo Mountain Wind Power Plant Distances
Reference Point Description, Links to yahoo maps or terraserver aerial photo Miles from Route 61/62 Miles From Union Valley Church
- Windrock Road and Route 61/62
0 -
1 Union Valley Church in Windrock, Aerial photo 3.3 0.0
2 1-Lane Bridge 3.4 0.1
3 Open Viewpoint, Upper Windrock 5.4 2.1
4 End of paved road at T
take dirt road to left
5.65 2.35
5 Bear right - fork to uphill 5.8 2.5
6 Bear sharp right - fork to uphill 6.1 2.8
7 False Peak 6.7 3.4
8 Bear ~ straight, upward
9 Bear right (up fork) 7.2 3.9
10 T, go left 7.4 4.6
11 Intersection go straight/left
along power lines (ENXCO sign)
8.1 4.8
12 Communication Station, radio tower, atop hill at left
13 Wind Power Plant along hill at right (Note vehicle in road in photo) 9.4 6.1

Related Links and References


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Disclaimer Fine Print: This site is personal, and is independent of TVA or any other organization. Use of the abbreviation "TVA" is purely for descriptive purposes (for example, to distinguish from wind power plants on Buffalo Ridge in Minnesota). No endorsement, no approval, and no involvement by TVA is implied.

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