Colditz Cove State Natural Area (SNA) is in the northern portion of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. This ‘bell of the ball’, as they say, of this hike is Northrop Falls but there’s also some classic rock houses and features characteristic of this area. The Colditz Cove Trail is a relatively short (2-ish miles) hike that goes around the top of the falls and behind them in a boomerang-shaped loop.
This SNA is right down the road from Pickett State Park and Big South Fork. (And I’m using the rural definition of ‘right down the road’ which means it’s within 20 miles 😂) Because this whole area of TN is off the beaten path, it stays relatively under the radar. Even on a nice Saturday afternoon, there were only a few other cars in the lot. If you’re making the trek up here, I’d suggest making a weekend of it and visiting all 3 areas because they’re all pretty special. You can also throw in Pogue Creek Canyon for good measure.
P.S. There’s typically no trash cans at the trailheads in state natural areas, so please prepare to pack your trash ALL THE WAY OUT (like all the way home or a gas station or whatever). There’s, unfortunately, just not enough resources for all these areas to have trash cans.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 15 min
Trailhead: Northrop Falls Rd off of Rugby Pike (TN-52) near Allardt, TN
As with most mountains, the terrain starts to feel different when you’re nearing the top. With LeConte, it feels cooler and a bit quieter as your feet pad along pine needle beds instead of rocks and roots. LeConte is the terminus of 6 trails, so make sure you know what trail you are trying to find once you get up there. The actual highest point of LeConte is past the lodge along the Boulevard Trail.
We stopped at the lodge, checked in and made ourselves some lunch before heading out to explore the trails of the top; there’s a couple different spots to explore.
First, we made our way past LeConte Lodge along the Boulevard Trail to the summit of High Point, which is denoted by a rock pyramid. There isn’t a view from the actual point – it’s hidden in trees – but there’s a few spots along the way that will make your jaw drop. This summit is about .4 miles from the lodge. You’ll also pass the LeConte shelter, where you can stay the night if you don’t have a reservation at the lodge (a backcountry permit and reservation is still required in advance.)
There’s also Cliff Tops, which is a great place to watch the sunset if you are staying the night, either at the lodge or in the shelter. I think it’s one of the best views in the Smokies, but I may say that about every view because it’s all just so beautiful. This trail is about .3 miles from the lodge; you’ll see signs for Cliff Tops. There’s almost nothing in this world that makes me happier than those rolling blanket-like blue views of the Appalachian Mountains.
I was so focused on getting the the Lodge as our destination, I completely forgot about what else was going to meet me at the top. If you make the trek, don’t forget to add on a few more tenths of a mile, even if you aren’t staying the night.
As night fell, and we were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of our cabin, the lights of Gatlinburg started illuminating. It was such a strange feeling to feel so remote, yet also see the light-filled town below. I don’t think it “ruined” it, but rather, was just unexpected.
LeConte Lodge itself feels like a little village where everyone seems to just ‘get it’. You do have to climb a mountain to get there, so that automatically weeds out folks who may be, well, those annoying people who don’t know how to act in wild and sacred spaces. (You know who I’m talking about: those people at some campsites who blast their music, car lights and bang on their guitar loudly until all hours of the night. Not quite the experience many people want to have outdoors…) I think LeConte may be a yearly trip for us; it was absolute bliss.
Distance from Nashville: 4 hours
Trailhead: Any trailhead for any trail that gets you up Mt. LeConte
Trail: Cliff Tops and High Point of LeConte summit
When I first visited Beaman Park, I was so excited to find something like this so close to the city. This metro park is located in the Bells Bend area of the county, northwest of downtown.
There’s three different trailheads: Nature Center (entrance is off of Old Hickory Blvd), Creekside and Ridgetop (entrance off of Little Marrowbone Road) Trailheads. Creekside is the one nearest to the entrance and Ridgetop is up the hill. The Nature Center and Creekside have toilets and all three have parking lots.
There’s also three different trails of varying length and difficulties: Henry Hollow, Sedge Hill, and Laurel Woods. For this post, we’ll focus on the two shorter trails: Sedge Hill and Henry Hollow Loop. You can access any trail from each of the trailheads, but typically, you’ll start at the Nature Center for Sedge Hill and Creekside for Henry Hollow. (Although all the trails connects though in some fashion.)
The Henry Hollow Loop (2 miles) follows Henry Creek then ascends onto the ridge. You get a good mix of walking creekside and along the ridge. There’s a little bit of elevation change climbing out of the hollow, but nothing too strenuous. You’ll have plenty of chances to sit along the creek or take a splash in warmer months. You’ll also see a few cascades from smaller streams leading into the creek, looking like mini waterfalls. I really love this stretch of trail; it feels so peaceful.
The Sedge Hill Trail (.6 miles) connects the Nature Center to the Henry Hollow Loop. It’s short, but gets your heart pumping. It has a few ups and downs before it descends to join the Creekside trail. Plus, you’ll see one of my favorite trees in the world.
By connecting these two trails, you can make a just-over-three-mile balloon loop for a perfect little local hike. I love that you can be 20-25 minutes from downtown Nashville, but feel like you can grab a slice of wilderness.
Distance from Nashville: 20 min
Trailhead: Nature Center (Sedge Hill) or Creekside (Henry Hollow)
Stinging Fork Falls is a wonderful hike to a beautiful waterfall on the Cumberland Plateau In the Stinging Fork gorge. It’s located in Caryville, TN, east of Crossville and is part of the Cumberland Trail State Park, where you can connect these falls to the Cumberland Trail. (When finished this trail will be over 300 miles across the entire Cumberland Plateau. I’ve done a few sections of this trail.)
While a hike to a waterfall is usually reward enough, it’s always great when the hike to the waterfall is just a beautiful and scenic. That’s what you get with the hike to Stinging Fork Falls, which is reminiscent of parts of Fiery Gizzard. You’ll find a mix of an oak and pine forest as you descend in the the gorge of Little Soak Creek.
This waterfall is also a unique shape, which doesn’t really remind me of any other waterfalls. The water cascades over a fan-shaped rock and then flows into a beautiful rock filled gorge. Oftentimes, I don’t find it very relaxing to sit by a waterfall because the water is typically way too loud and violent for it to be relaxing to me. But, this waterfall is a gentle cascade that lends itself to a peaceful setting to sit and stay awhile. (Bring your hammock!) Plus, it feels a bit tucked away and more private, which I absolutely love in a waterfall hike.
There’s a short side trail to an “overlook” called Indian Head Point. In the fall, many of the trees were blocking any view that there may have been. Perhaps in the winter, you can get a more sweeping view. It’s not a very long trail, so why not just check it out.
Like I mentioned above, the Cumberland Trail can also be accessed from the Stinging Fork Falls trail and you can make this a point-to-point hike from Stinging Fork Falls to Piney Falls! See more info here.
It’s a bit far to drive (about 2.5 hours from Nashville) for a just over-2-mile hike, but pairing it with other trails in the area makes for a wonderful day. Or it would be a great stop on your way to Knoxville or the Smokies.
Distance from Nashville: 2.5 hours
Trailhead: Shut-In Gap Road, about 5 miles east of Spring City, TN
Piney Falls is one of the many waterfalls on the Cumberland Plateau. It is near both Ozone Falls and Stinging Fork Falls east of Crossville. It’s a nice waterfall to visit because it combines a free falling waterfall with a mini cascade as it spills into a small pool.
Piney Falls is designated as a National Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior. This recognition means that it is one of the “best remaining examples in the US of major biotic communities and geologic features.” (Source: TN Dept of Environment and Conservation)
Piney Falls lies within Piney Falls State Natural Area, which is a little off the beaten path. I only saw 1 other small group of people hiking. (But, it has been reported this has been much busier lately.) Contained within this natural area, there is Upper and Lower Piney Falls. I only made it to Upper Piney Falls because of the getting slightly lost. So, maybe you’ll make it to both parts of this fall!
The trail is relatively flat for most of the way (especially if you don’t lose the trail and have to haul it straight up the side of a steep hill bushwhacking the whole way…). The trail also leads up up to the top of the falls, where you cross the small creek that feeds the waterfall and see the water plunging below. There’s an area at the base of the falls where you can walk behind the falls to continue on the trail or go swimming when it’s warmer.
I may have a slightly negative view of these trails because, somehow, I got lost on the less than 3 miles of trails. (See my route at the bottom of this post.) This hike is a balloon loop, so I think I would suggest going left at the fork. It may be easier to follow from that way. From the maps I saw/had, there’s 2 loops that almost make a figure 8. I didn’t really see how this worked out, but again, I did lose the trail. It did seem to be better marked from the clockwise way (going left at the fork). But, I suggest keeping your eyes up and looking for the blazes.
Overall, it’s a nice waterfall with a slightly boring hike to get there. Is it my favorite waterfall and hike? No. But, if you are in the area, why not check it out!
Distance from Nashville: 2 hours
Trailhead: Piney Falls Trailhead on Firetower Rd in Grandview, TN
Yes, Ozone Falls in stunning but it’s not really much of a “hike”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it lends itself to crowds because of it’s beauty and proximity to the highway. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out; it’s truly stunning.
There are two short trails: Fall Creek Rim Trail and Plunge Pool Trail. The Rim Trail takes you on a short loop along the creek that feeds Ozone Falls, takes you through a small patch of oak forest and to the lip of the falls. The Plunge Pool Trail follows the highway then turns sharply down to the left right before the metal road barrier. This is the trail that takes you to the base of the falls where you can wander all around the falls and the pool including going behind the falls (always a personal favorite).
The rim trail is rated as easy and the plunge trail, while short, is quite steep and requires some careful footing over a very rocky and boulders path. But, I like to work for my views!
Kind of similar to Virgin Falls, Ozone Falls plunges many feet then Fall Creek disappears into the ground, then re-emerges downstream. Also! Ozone Falls was selected for filming scenes of the live action Jungle Book.
As is classic in Cumberland Plateau hikes, there are HUGE boulders in creek and such interesting rock structures like the amphitheater that the falls is situated in and a small cave nicknamed ‘The Gambler’s Den’.
So, if you are in the area, or just driving through, Ozone Falls is a great place to stop and enjoy some Tennessee beauty. Just PLEASE remember to recreate responsibly and leave no trace, especially at high volume areas. Let’s keep nature wild and beautiful for generations to come.
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 55 min
Trailhead: Ozone Falls State Natural Area, right on the side of TN-1 near Crab Orchard, TN (parking on both sides of the highway
I first saw Winding Stairs on an Instagram post and figured it was in East Tennessee because most of the waterfall trails I haven’t been on are 3+ hours away. But, no, this winding cascade housed in a city park (!) is a mere hour and change away from Nashville.
My initial research deemed that this would be a very short and easy trail (under 2 miles), which sometimes deters me from checking something out. (I know it shouldn’t matter, but I stan a challenging hike with a reward.) But, to my surprise, there were almost 5 miles of trails within the park. AND it was more of a challenge than I expected (Hello, Jacob’s Ladder section).
And can we pause a minute to give some love to cascading waterfalls? The way the water hugs the jagged rocks making them look smooth coupled with a typically gentler descension of the water makes the earth look like it’s just seeping water.
What’s great about this park is that you get to clamber all up and down the falls if you’d like. They are truly like stairs (very slippery ones, but still stair-like nonetheless) so carefully explore to your heart’s content.
And don’t sleep on the other trails in the park! You’ll find an overlook of the ‘Winding Stairs’ and a view of the many layers of actual stairs to get you to the natural ones. You’ll also find a trail called the ‘Milk Pail Trail’ and you’ll just have to visit to find out the story behind this odd name and a bonus trail surprise.
PRO TIP! Because online maps are few and far between (All Trails just has the 1.5 mile loop), make sure you take a photo of the map at the trailhead! (We did not until after we were finished and just followed our hearts and probably did some trails twice?) The trail also has numbers at various points which correspond to your location on the map.
This hike is perfect if you only can devote a few hours of the day to hiking and want to get out of town. Plus, it will get your heart pumping and reward you with a beautiful cascade.
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 15 minutes
Trailhead: Turn by the sign for ‘Winding Stairs Park’ off of Hwy 52 just outside downtown Lafayette, TN. (When I went, the map directions were just a bit off, so just be sure to turn when the sign tells you to!)
Trail: Entire trail system at Winding Stairs Park (Cascades, Jacob’s Ladder, Red Oak, Milk Pail
Trail map: I haven’t been able to find a trail map online, but here’s a photo of the trail map from the trailhead
Length of hike: 1.5- 4.5 miles, depending on your route/trails
Brief overview: Surprisingly beautiful cascading, winding falls within a city park with opportunities to both explore the falls and see them from above along the few trail options.
It’s not often that I find a hike I haven’t done within an hour of Nashville. Usually, even if it’s a short hike like this one, I make the short trek to explore new places.
I did this hike way back in February. The day we hiked it, it was snowing so beautifully. Hiking through the snow flurries was absolutely magical. Everything’s quieter and the white blanket makes the terrain feel even more peaceful.
This hike is less than two miles, but the payoff is a great waterfall: a combination of cascading and free-falling.
There’s a trail directly to the falls that the maps you will find online detail, but there’s also a ridge trail that meanders through the forests and adds a little bit more a mileage. It’s a pretty straight forward hike but definitely worth checking out since it’s pretty close to the metro Nashville area.
There’s a small parking area right off of highway marked by a brown sign denoting they state natural area. It can be kind of easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled!
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour
Trailhead: Small parking lot off of US-43 (Lawrenceburg Hwy) near Summertown, TN
Harpeth River State Park is unique because it is a linear park following the Harpeth River and it’s split up into 9 sections across 40 river miles. Some sections are just canoe/kayak launching points and others also include a few short hiking trails. Some of the more popular sections of the park are Narrows of the Harpeth and Hidden Lake.
The Narrows is a part of the Harpeth River that consists of a high bluff with two different parts of the river on both sides, forming a very narrow bluff in between the two sections. Above, you’ll see the view from the high bluff.
There are three very short trails in the Narrows of the Harpeth section: the Bluff Trail, the Harris Street Bridge Trail and the Tunnel Trail.
Bluff Trail (.25 mi) – Steep climb to the top of the bluff, views of the Harpeth and the rolling Tennessee hills.
Harris Street Bridge Trail (.35 mi) – Hugs the bluff on the one side (beautiful rock ledges) and the river on the other
Tunnel Trail (.2 mi) – Short and flat walk to the tunnel through the bluff.
Fun history fact: This tunnel used to power Pattinson Forge which was used to break pierces of iron into smaller pieces of iron – pretty exciting stuff for 1818.
Because they are all so short, I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t just try ‘em all. You’ll end up doing an out and back of all three trails because they don’t form a loop. So, even though the trails only add up to .8 mi, you end up hiking at least double that amount. (I did about 2.5 miles because I parked near a canoe access and walked along the paved road for a bit.) Although these trails are short, there’s a few pretty nice things to see.
Bring your hammock or a packable chair and hang out on top of the bluff or near the tunnel if you need to get a quick relaxing reset from the city.
Distance from Nashville: 40 min
Directions to trailhead: Either near Harris Street Bridge parking area off of Cedar Hill Road or near the canoe/kayak access point on Narrows of the Harpeth Road
Trail: Harris Street Bridge, Bluff Overlook, and Tunnel Trails
When I look for hiking trails, Columbia, TN is not a location at the top of my list. But, I was looking for something relatively close that I could complete in less than a couple hours.
The Cheeks Bend Bluff Trail borders a portion of the Duck River, which is the longest river located entirely in the state of Tennessee. Also, according to Wikipedia, it is the most biologically diverse river in North America. The Duck River also winds through Old Stone Fort and Henry Horton State Parks if you wanted to see other portions of this river.
It’s a short and easy hike – less than 2 miles. You’ll meander through cedar groves on your way to a couple bluff views of the Duck River about halfway through right before the small loop at one end. There’s also a small cave just off the trail near one of the bluff views. Put your back to the bluffs and walk straight back and down around to your right and you’ll see the opening to the small cave.
I would imagine this trial is hardly ever crowded, so it’s a nice place to get some alone time. There’s plenty of trees near the bluffs to set up a hammock. However, it’s pretty close to the interstate so it doesn’t necessarily feel like a completely secluded spot.
It’s a pleasant little hike and would be a great option for families with kids.