Journeying to Scott’s highest peak


From its base, Guinea Hill Knob isn’t that impressive. In fact, because of dense vegetation and its relatively low prominence, you can’t really see Guinea Hill Knob at all until you’re directly upon it. But once you’ve climbed to the top, the beauty is jaw-dropping.

At an elevation of more than 3,250 feet above sea level, Guinea Hill Knob is the highest point in Scott County — even though it’s barely in Scott County at all. In fact, Guinea Hill Knob is unique for more reasons than just its designation as the county’s highest peak: It is one of only a handful of places in the Cumberlands where you can stand in three counties at the same time.

Situated at Scott County’s extreme southern point, Guinea Hill Knob is where surveyors set their stake in 1849 when they carved Scott County from portions of Campbell, Anderson, Morgan and Fentress counties. It is here, at this mountain summit, that Scott, Anderson and Morgan counties connect.

If you make the trip to Guinea Hill Knob expecting it to tower above the surrounding terrain features because it’s Scott County’s highest point, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This general area — where “Brimstone Mountain,” “Gobey Mountain” and “Windrock Mountain,” as they’re known to locals in these three counties, more or less merge — is all high country, with a series of Cumberland Mountain peaks that loom tall over the valleys below. In fact, there are eight peaks in Scott County with elevations greater than 3,000 feet, and all of them are within a two-mile radius of Guinea Hill Knob.

It could be a matter of debate that Guinea Hill Knob is even Scott County’s highest point. The Lists of John, a digital inventory of more than 200,000 peaks around the world, names three peaks in Scott County with equal heights of 3,250 feet: Burge Mountain, Walnut Knob and Guinea Hill Knob. And because Guinea Hill Knob has a slightly lower prominence than the other two — that is, how high its peak towers over the surrounding ridgeline — it is often listed third on the list.

But Tom Dunigan, a former adjunct associate professor at the University of Tennessee and retired research assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory whose inventory of landforms in this region includes a wealth of knowledge about the Cumberland Mountains and the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, lists Guinea Hill Knob’s elevation at 3,268 feet, compared to 3,246 feet for Burge Mountain and 3,240 feet for Walnut Knob.

Either way, all three peaks are located in close proximity of one another, and with such a minute differences of elevation, it’s a matter of splitting hairs.

The one thing that these peaks in southern Scott County are: they’re among the highest in the Cumberlands.

By comparison, Griffith Mountain further down Brimstone is 2,644 feet in elevation, Signal Mountain — which is visible from various points along Brimstone Road — is 2,914 feet, and Chitwood Mountain on the other end of Scott County is 2,170 feet.

In fact, if you stood atop East Rim Overlook in the Big South Fork NRRA and gazed down at the BSF River far below, you would need to take that elevation and double it, and that would be the height difference between Chitwood Mountain and Guinea Hill Knob.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when accessing this summit was a chore at best. It was until recently located on private property, and while there were access roads that led to near the peak, many of them were gated.

That has changed in recent years. First, the State of Tennessee purchased this area and added it to the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. Then, the natural gas exploration boom of the 2000s caused many of the gates to be opened, and new roads built.

A 4×4-accessible well access road actually leads to within 1,000 linear feet of the summit, but the final ascent requires access the old-fashioned way: on foot. And if you’re one of the adventurous types who seek out Scott County’s highest point, you’ll definitely want to make that final climb. It’s a bit of a chore — steep and densely wooded — but the view from the top is certainly worth it.

In fact, thanks to the work of timber cutters on the mountain’s east slope, you can stand in one spot on the southeast side of the peak and look down the Smoky Creek valley in one direction and see the TVA’s magestic windmills in the other direction.

There are many ways to reach the saddle at the base of Guinea Hill’s peak, most of them gravel and requiring only a standard two-wheel-drive vehicle. You won’t want to take the family sedan; erosion has taken a toll on these mountain roads in spots and there are plenty of puddles along the way. But, by the same token, you don’t need an ATV or a Jeep to get here.

Perhaps the easiest way in is by way of the Emory River in Morgan County, just north of Wartburg. Gobey Road leads to the top of the Cumberland Mountains just a hop, skip and a jump from Guinea Hill Knob. Other ways in include Lone Mountain Road near the head of Brimstone or by way of Smoky Creek. The truly adventurous can enter from Huntsville, following the old Brimstone coal haul road — long known to locals as “the Four Lane” and now known as Brimstone Recreation’s Trail No. 1 — most of the way.

For the purpose of this story, the way in was the Slick Rock community along Brimstone Road. The road from Slick Rock Cemetery to the top of the mountain intersects with the old coal haul road near the powder bin — which has been torn down. From there, it’s 10 miles — as the crow flies, of course; the ride in will encompass quite a bit more distance than that — to Guinea Hill Knob. For this more adventurous route, a 4×4-equipped vehicle is needed for a short distance around the base of Round and Signal mountains, but for the most part the road is gravel and only moderately rough.

The coordinates of Guinea Hill Knob will be a necessity for anyone wishing to reach it. The peak is located 36,163395 and -84.441049. Much of the route on the way in falls within the North Cumberland WMA. A WMA permit is required. If entering through private land managed by Brimstone Recreation, a Brimstone land use permit is required.

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