Somehow I’ve never been to Pickett State Park and, wow, have I been missing out.
Like a lil sis to Big South Fork, Pickett CCC Memorial State Park is part of the Upper Cumberland Plateau region. She has within her sections of the Sheltowee Trace NRT and (one of) the John Muir Trail. She is a stunner, let me tell you! Sometimes I’m hesitant to drive 2.5 hours to a trail I’ve never been to that I really don’t see a ton about. But, I am over the moon that I didn’t bail on this loop.
This area was initially developed by the CCC, hence the ‘CCC Memorial’ part of the state park name. Because of this, there is a CCC Museum on the premises.
Actually, Hidden Passage has a “hidden” surprise around almost every bend of the trail. It’s such a wildly diverse trail and it will keep you enthralled the entire time. There’s so many rock houses, around 8 total and each one is stunning and somehow looks different from each other. There’s creeks, waterfalls, ridgetop views, parts of the trail that are open and feel above the treeline and also kind of look like the southwest.
The actual Hidden Passage is less than a mile, a beautiful, small stone arch. Right before this geological feature, you’ll find Crystal Falls, , which is a beautiful double tiered fall.
After passing these two highlights, you’ll meander along the “top” of a gorge that have both tree-lined and open parts that make you feel like you’re somewhere else far beyond Tennessee. And, don’t forget about the multiple rock houses. You’ll see these dispersed throughout the trail. The first one is right near the beginning of the trail, which also happens to be the largest. Some of them have mini waterfalls coming over them and some are covered with Cumberland Sandwort. (Delicate plant found ONLY in shaded rock houses on the Cumberland Plateau in NE Tennessee and SE Kentucky! Please stay on the trails and boardwalks to protect these fragile guys!) Another feature that is dispersed throughout the trail are rhododendrons, which I always think of as a ‘Smoky Mountain’ thing but they are all over the Cumberland Plateau too.
There is an option to add on the Double Falls trail, which will increase the total mileage by about 1.5 miles. I attempted this trail, but it had just rained and the trail was partially covered by a rushing creek and I didn’t particularly want to have soaking wet feet for the rest of the hike. (Also, I didn’t bring extra socks. Rookie mistake!) I made it a little more than halfway, then turned around. There’s also a nice campsite down this trail as well with water readily available from this creek.
If you’re not up for the full loop, you can do a 1.5 mile out and back to Crystal Falls and see the “Hidden Passage” as well as a huge rock house. Then, you can also do a couple shorter trails in Pickett like the Natural Bridge and Rock House trails.
Pickett CCC Memorial State Park should be on everyone’s list, whether a brand new or seasoned hiker. There’s a variety of trails depending on what you’re up for and each showcases a unique part of this area.
Get on up to the part of the state. I know I spend a lot of time in the South Cumberland region but I’m excited to explore more of the northern part. There’s tons of amazing things in the area.
Quick note: there has been bear activity reported in this area. Please be as safe as possible and know how to handle wildlife encounters. I like to clap often, bang my trekking poles and shout “HEY BEAR” frequently to make my presence known. You can also get a bear bell for, like, $3 at REI!
Trail: Hidden Passage Trail
Length: ~ 8 miles (~ 10 miles if you do the Double Falls Trail)
Distance from Nashville: 2 hours 30 minutes
Trailhead: Hidden Passage Trailhead on Pickett Park Highway (State Rte 154)
Link to trail map: Pickett CCC Memorial State Park Map
Brief Overview: Meander along diverse landscapes and flora in this underrated state park in the North Cumberland Plateau. You’ll see waterfalls, creeks, sweeping views and jaw-dropping rock houses.