The drive is short, the hike is swift and the view from the top is

breathtaking.

House Mountain State Natural Area is a hiker's paradise this

time of year, bursting with fall splendor. Brilliant hues of amber, gold

and crimson decorate the trees and cover the five miles of trails and rock

outcroppings in a soft blanket.

Perhaps the best part about House Mountain

is that it boasts the same scenic beauty of the Smokies but is much closer

to home. "Since it's only 15 minutes from campus, House Mountain is a great

afternoon getaway and a beautiful place to check out the fall colors," said

Jennifer Rice, a senior in travel and tourism management.

House Mountain

has long remained a secret to most, but those who have discovered it return

time and time again. Patrick Mulroy, a '95 UT graduate in landscape design,

wished he had found House Mountain sooner. "It wasn't until my senior year

when a friend turned me on to this place," he said. "After that, my dog and

I came up here every morning for three months straight."

Hikers will find

the trail head well-marked, with pocket maps to help decipher the sometimes

confusing maze of trails ranging from easy to difficult. The House Mountain

experience is guaranteed to take one's breath away, first while hiking the

vertical one-mile trek to the mountain's crest and again when the

incredible 360-degree views from the overlooks reveal an intricate

patchwork of city, farmland, rivers and ridges. Mulroy recommends

completing the loop to take full advantage of the finest fall foliage. This

route takes the hiker to the old fire tower on the west overlook, offering

substantial views of the Smokies to the north and Knoxville to the west.

Continue along the crest following the rutted four-wheel drive track and

soak in the views of the Clinch and French Broad rivers at the east

overlook.

"House Mountain is the perfect hiking alternative," said Jeremy

Keyser, an environmental studies senior. "The hike is easy, the views are

awesome, and it's so much closer than the Smokies." To get to the mountain

take I-40 East to the Rutledge Pike exit. Follow 11W North for 10 miles and

look for signs on the left. House Mountain State Natural Area is open

Wednesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to dusk.