Norris Dam Area

Songbird Trail and Norris Dam Tailwater
Norris Watershed
Norris Dam State Park
Riverbluff Trail


Norris Dam is a good year-round birding location about 20 miles north of Knoxville. It was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the early 1930s and was the first of the many large and small dams built by TVA. Over the years since then, TVA, Tennessee State Parks, and the City of Norris have developed many recreational facilities near Norris Dam. The area now offers a variety of habitats including Norris Lake, the river, riparian forests, mature woodlands, old fields and hedgerows, and a woodland stream.

Norris Dam
Norris Dam from the west overlook. Photos by Charles P. Nicholson.

From I-75 north of Knoxville, take exit 122 (Norris/Clinton). After exiting, turn east on TN 61 (right turn if exiting from I-75 N, left if exiting from I-75S). Turn left onto US 441N after 1.4 miles and after passing the Museum of Appalachia. After driving 6.3 miles on US 441N you will arrive at the dam (coordinates 36.2244°N, 84.0922°W). Alternatively, if traveling on I-75 south from Kentucky, take exit 128 (Lake City) and then US 441S for 4.5 miles to the dam.

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The Clinch River below Norris Dam will first be visible on the east wide of US 441 about 2.6 miles from TN 61. After another 0.8 miles (3.4 miles from TN 61), stop at the parking area at the low weir dam (across from the entrance to the state park's Lenoir Museum) to scan the river. Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, semi-domesticated Mallards, and Belted Kingfishers are regular here, and Double-crested Cormorants and Wood Ducks are occasionally present. Ospreys are sometimes present during spring and fall. A Long-tailed Duck and Surf Scoter were recorded here during the 1995 Christmas Bird Count.

Continue towards the dam on US 441. After 0.6 miles, turn left onto the road to the base of the dam. After another 0.6 miles turn left into the parking lot (coordinates 36.2200°N, 84.0886°W). This is the trailhead for the Songbird Trail, a 2.5 mile loop trail. A portion of the trail (also called the Edge Path) along the river bank is paved and wheelchair accessible. The rest of it is flat and easy walking. During the spring and summer, look for nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Peewees, Great-Crested Flycatchers, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Orchard Orioles along the trails. The trail is also a good place to observe spring and fall migrants. During the winter, watch for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Winter Wrens, Hermit Thrushes, kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows. Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Cardinals, and Song Sparrows are present year-round. Eastern Screech-Owls, Barred Owls, and Great Horned Owls are also permanent residents in this area.

Songbird Trail
Above left: Paved portion of the Songbird Trail. Above right: Field of native grasses along the Songbird Trail.

The Songbird Trail area and the adjacent fields along US 441 are also the home of a large population of Eastern Bluebirds. Former TVA employee Gordon Hall established a bluebird trail here in the 1960s. Since then, the nest boxes have been maintained by the late J. B. Owen and others. The first East Tennessee nest record of the Tree Swallow was in one of these boxes in 1968.

The fields along the Songbird Trail and US 441 have an interesting history. About the time the dam was completed, as fish hatchery was developed in shallow ponds in this area. At that time in the 1930s, large reservoirs were a new phenomenon and there were doubts about whether the fluctuating water levels in the reservoirs would inhibit successful fish spawning. So the hatchery ponds were built to rear fish for stocking in the reservoir. This eventually proved unnecessary for most fish and the hatchery ponds were eventually abandoned. The fields have also been used for many forestry tree improvement experiments and tree orchards from this effort persist. From the 1970s through 1990s, many of the fields became choked with invasive trees and shrubs. In recent years TVA has renovated many of these fields and planted them in native grasses. They now support a good winter population of sparrows including Field, Song, White-throated, Swamp, the occasional Savannah, and during late fall, a few Lincoln's Sparrows.

At 5.0 miles north of TN 61, US 441N crosses over Clear Creek. Immediately past this turn right onto Lower Clear Creek Road (use caution in the sharp turn). You will quickly come to a parking area at an historic grist mill that is part of the state park. The gravel road beyond this point enters the Norris Watershed, a 2000+ acre forested area owned and managed by the City of Norris. The gravel road runs along Clear Creek for almost a mile, and this stretch of the creek is a reliable area for nesting Acadian Flycatchers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Parulas, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Louisiana Waterthrushes. Either walk the gravel road or cross the creek at the grist mill and walk the trail along the south bank of the creek. This trail is also great for spring wildflowers. Eastern Phoebes nest on the buildings near the parking area and under the nearby bridges.

Other birds nesting in the Norris Watershed include Broad-winged Hawks, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-eyed, Yellow-throated, and occasionally Blue-headed Vireos, Wood Thrushes, Black-throated Green (occasionally), Pine, Black-and-White, Worm-eating, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Scarlet Tanagers.

In addition to birding and wildflowers, the Norris Watershed has many miles of hiking, horse, and mountain bike trail. Trail maps are available online or at Norris city offices. The portion of the Norris Watershed north of Clear Creek is closed to non-hunters during parts of the fall deer season. Contact Norris city offices for the closure schedule; signs describing the closure may also be posted in the Watershed. Many of the roads in the Watershed are rutted and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Four-wheel drive is rarely required.

Clear Creek
Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush habitat along Clear Creek in the Norris Watershed.

US 441N crosses Norris Dam 5 miles north of the junction with TN 61. Scenic overlooks are present on both the east and west sides of the dam. The east side overlook has restrooms and some interpretive displays. Rock Pigeons and Cliff Swallows nest on the dam. The lake normally has few birds on it, although a few Ring-billed and/or Bonaparte's Gulls are occasionally present during the winter. Bald Eagles may also be perched in shoreline trees on rare occasions.

The two sections of this park are located on the east and west sides of Norris Dam. Both portions are good for woodland birding. The older part of the park, first developed by TVA and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, is on the east side, and the entrance road turns off of US 441 at the east end of the dam. Drive uphill on the park entrance road for 0.4 miles to the parking area at the picnic shelters (coordinates 36.2257°N, 84.0861°W). This area is good for nesting Summer Tanagers, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Yellow-throated Vireos. Red-headed Woodpeckers can occur here at any time of year.

The newer part of the state park is west of the dam. After crossing the dam on US 441N, go 2.1 miles to the park entrance on the right. Stop at the parking area at the bottom of the hill (coordinates 36.2363°N, 84.1113°W). Trails originating here have a variety of typical forest birds. To get to the park headquarters, turn right at the intersection just past the parking area; the headquarters is ahead on the left.


The Riverbluff Trail is a 3.3-mile trail through old growth forest on the west bank of the Clinch River below Norris Dam. To get to the trail head, go north on US 441 for 1 mile and turn left onto Dabney Lane (the second paved road to the left). Immediately after turning off of US 441, turn left at the fork and follow the road down the hill to the marked trailhead parking area (coordinates 36.2202°N, 84.0947°W).

The Riverbluff Trail has one of the most spectacular early spring wildflower displays in East Tennessee. The first part of the trail follows the riverbank and passes below moist limestone bluffs before climbing away from the river and returning along the ridgetop. The trail difficulty is moderate; allow plenty of time to enjoy the wildflowers and birds. The wildflowers are best from early March into May. Among the most showy wildflowers are large beds of trout lilies, bloodroot, celandine poppies, Dutchman's breeches, dwarf crested iris, columbine, and several species of trilliums.

Trout Lily River Bluff Dutchmans Breeches
Left to right: Trout lilies, one of the namesake riverbluffs, and Dutchman's breeches.

Breeding birds found along the Riverbluff Trail include Pileated Woodpeckers, Acadian Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebes, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Wood Thrushes, Yellow-throated, Pine Black-and-White, Kentucky, and Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds and Scarlet Tanagers. Many spring and fall migrants can also be found along the Riverbluff Trail.

Wildlife viewing in the Norris Dam area includes more than birds. The road from US 441 to the base of the dam is a favorite spot for observing a large heard of dder in the evenings. The deer are quite tame and will come close to cars to eat bread tossed to them; this feeding, however, is not encouraged. Also watch for river otters in the tailwater area; they have been seen from the Songbird Trail and the Riverbluff Trail.

For more information on area:

Tennessee State Parks Norris Dam State Park web site.

Tennessee State Parks Norris Dam State Park map.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife account.

TVA Norris Dam web site.

DeLorme Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer page 59, grid C-6.

Wildlife Viewing AreaRestroomsAccessibleDrinking WaterHiking TrailsPicnic AreaBicyclingFishingBoating Camping

Prepared by Charles P. Nicholson, January 2007.

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