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
Right before you hit Pickett State Park on TN-154, there’s a small pull-off trailhead nestled between fields of fall goldenrod and asters is one of the access points to Pogue Creek Canyon SNA. You’ll also find an astronomy field where you can view to night skies of this International Dark Sky Association certified area.
You’ll start this hike descending into the canyon, briefly ascending, then making the final plunge into the canyon before climbing out again as you near the final overlook. You can also access the Mesa Top Overlook from a shorter, flatter hike from the Moccasin Trailhead (which also marks Moccasin Rock trail that connects to Pickett), although, you will miss out on some pretty stellar things about this state natural area.
This hike will give you rock formations characteristic of the TN North Cumberland Plateau. You’ll pass by several rock houses and a few arches on your way to the Mesa Top Overlook, which is a great place to enjoy lunch and a view of the ‘canyon’. Make sure to take the short side trail to Circle Bar Arch and don’t miss the ‘biggest tiny arch’, Killdeer Arch. There’s also an unmarked side trail to a dripping waterfall (heavier flow when there’s rain), but be prepared to take off your backpack and squeeze through some rocks (not claustrophobic rocks, just rocks jutting out that you kinda off have to snake around). Even though the water was barely flowing, it was a cool area to explore. My favorite part about the hike was how evenly spaced all of the interest points were. There was enough to see to keep the hike engaging the whole time.
One more note: There is an actual ladder about a mile in. I had to carry Luna down and up the ladder (over one shoulder holding with one arm, so I could still grip the rungs; it was quite the sight I’m sure! 🙃) She is very great with steps, even really steep ones, but she could not do this ladder. So, if you can’t safely carry your dog down and up an 8 rung ladder, you may want to leave the pup at home for this one.
If you find yourself in the North Cumberland Plateau area or want to do multiple hikes in this area, I’d suggest doing Pogue Creek Canyon first. It truly is a cool hike with unique features, but I don’t think that it quite impresses as much as Pickett or Big South Fork. So, build up to the rock beauties and do Pogue Creek first, so you are extra impressed by the other hikes in the area.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 25 min
Trailhead: Near the Astronomy Field on Pickett Park Hwy (TN-154)
Trail: All of ‘em (Overlook, Upper Canyon Mesa Top)
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)
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
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
When I learned of a quasi-thru-hiking trail less than an hour and a half from Nashville, it was only a matter of time before I tackled 20+ miles in one day.
This trail encircles the property of the University of the South and the town of Sewanee which makes sense if you, well, just read the name of the trail. It also follows the perimeter of the Cumberland Plateau (a personal favorite ecological feature of Tennessee). So, you’ll find all the perks of this area: a few waterfalls, heavily wooded areas and landscape views. But, as a bonus, you’ll really feel like a mini thru-hiker when you pass by the “downtown” and follow the road for a portion of the trail. (Oh, and also you literally walk through people’s backyards at one point…) It truly is an experience.
This trail is managed by the university and they recently put in really helpful way finding points along the entire trail, which makes it really easy to make sure you are taking the right trail. There are many opportunities to veer off the perimeter trail to see things like caves and additional falls. Because we opted to do the entire trail in one day, we didn’t take advantage of these side trails this time.
There is a spot to camp, but according to the Sewanee website, it is for students, faculty, staff, and alumni only. But, there is a note about other groups being taken on a case-by-case basis. See more information here. I’ll probably look into camping for another time so I can more fully enjoy every part of the trial system.
Overall, this trail is really not difficult; it’s almost all flat terrain. So, truly the hardest part is just the pure length of the trail. We did it in about 8 hours (moving time). Obviously, it’s a little easier to fit the hike in in the summer when daylight hours are longer. But, it’s also hotter and buggier. It’s is cooler up on the Plateau, so it wasn’t too terrible even in June when we did the hike.
This hike marks the longest I have ever hiked in one day at 21.4 miles. So, if you are looking to push yourself mileage-wise, this is the perfect trail, especially because you won’t absolutely kill yourself with elevation changes or boulder hopping. (Both of which I LOVE but pairing that with 20 miles in one day is A LOT!)
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 30 minutes
Trailhead: Just past the University gates on Hwy 41A/Sewanee Hwy
Sometimes if a trailhead is over 2 hours away, I casually put off hiking that trail. I convince myself that I won’t be able to drive 4+ hours round trip and also hike multiple miles. But, when you have a hiking pal, you stop putting those farther away hikes off.
I’m willing to bet that if you live in Tennessee and have hiked with some regularity, you’ve seen the view from Snooper’s Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest. But, this area is so much more than just that overlook.
The Pot Point Loop is just shy of 12 miles. It’s moderately long but the terrain isn’t too strenuous. There’s technically three overlooks on the trail – Raccoon Mountain, Snooper’s Rock, and Ransom Hollow – but the Raccoon Mountain one is surrounded by trees therefore rendering it not-so-much-of-an-overlook when leaves are on the trees. I’ve already mentioned Snooper’s Rock, which is the most popular and it’s a great view, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Ransom Hollow Overlook. Sure, it could have been the magic of golden hour, but, wow, this view of Nickajack Lake is not one to be missed.
In addition to these views, you’ll find a natural rock bridge, multiple creeks and streams, a campsite and “boulder gardens”. We didn’t see a single soul on the trail, except for a few voices we heard at Snooper’s Rock. I’m not quite sure why this trail isn’t more popular, especially being so close to Chattanooga (~ 10 miles from downtown). It’s also part of the Tennessee River Gorge Segment of the Cumberland Trail. While, the loop isn’t technically part of the CT, it’s connected to the southern terminus.
For whatever reason, I was very confused as to where the Pot Point trailhead was. (There’s literally a parking icon on the map via Cumberland Trails Conference.) It’s right near Snooper’s Rock, but I thought “Surely this trail doesn’t start right at one of the overlooks!”, so I decided that the trailhead was the Trail Kiosk at Tower Dr. However, about four tenths of a mile before reaching the kiosk, the road was closed so that ‘nesting turkeys’ weren’t disturbed. (This area is closed in parts of the spring for turkey hunting, so make sure you check the Prentice Cooper State Forest website if you are planning on hiking in the spring.) So, we just pulled over and parked on the side of the road, and hiked down the road to the kiosk. But, I am SO GLAD we did because we caught the beautiful views at Ransom Hollow at sunset.
I highly recommend this loop in Prentice Cooper. I would make sure you have a good 6-7 hours to hike because you’ll want to stop and enjoy the views.
Distance from Nashville: 2hr 30min
Trailhead: Snooper’s Rock Trailhead on Tower Drive (or unofficially the park-on-the-side-of-the-road at the Trail Kiosk farther south on Tower Dr)
Trail: Pot Point Loop (see my route below)
Link to trail map/info: Pot Point Loop via Cumberland Trails Conference
Length of hike: ~12 miles
Brief overview: Stunning overlooks of the Tennessee River/Nickajack Lake, natural rock bridge, huge boulders and forest and creek walking. Must do if you want a beautiful, challenging hike.
The Great Stone Door gets its name because it is supposed to resemble a door. There is a large rock that has a crack in it that separates most of the rock from its surrounding, mimicking a large door. (However, I’ve never really thought it looks like a door and more of just a rock with a split in it…)
The Stone Door Trail is one of the most popular in Savage Gulf. It’s only a mile to sweeping views and interesting rock structures and staircases.
But, if you know me at all, if I am going to drive more than an hour for a hike, I want to complete more than 2 miles roundtrip. You can easily connect the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Gulf (BCG), Big Creek Rim (BCR), or Laurel trails. Big Creek Gulf is the most difficult of the three trails, so, of course, I chose to hike that plus the Big Creek Rim, making a lollipop trial route.
I hiked this route about 5 years ago and I forgot how challenging the BCG trail was, which was made even more difficult being connected to a dog who loves to hike faster than I do. It’s quite a steep descent into the gulf and you hit lots of boulder/rock terrain. Most people recommend doing the BCG trail first, then the BCR because the descent from that end isn’t as brutal.
Down in the gulf, you’ll follow Big Creek and see enormous rocks the size of small houses. If it’s been rainy, the creek will absolutely be gushing. There’s a few times where you can traverse slightly off trail and get right up next to the water.
The rim trail is flat and relatively easy with multiple overlooks, which are a welcome reward after hiking the gulf trail. There’s lots of quiet places along this trail to rest and take in the views.
Camping: Walk-in sites at Stone Door Ranger Station or Alum Gap Campground about halfway through
Brief overview: Elevation changes, rocky path at times, huge boulders, overlooks of Savage Gulf and rock staircases. Great for a long day hike or to connect to other trails in the Savage Gulf system for backpacking.
I always get a little nervous doing a hike in an area that I am unfamiliar with. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find much about this specific trail on other hiking sites. If I am being completely honest, I almost bailed on the drive there. My hiking confidence is very low; I haven’t done a new hike in almost two years. Right before I left for the hike, I found a card for a free year of a GPS service through GAIA, which was the confidence boost I needed to feel like I could tackle this hike. (Although, I did forget to end the route on the GPS when I finished hiking, so it tracked my entire drive back to Nashville. COOL.)
This trail is part of the still-in-progress Cumberland Trail. When finished, this trail will run from the TN-VA border to the TN-GA border traversing across the best of the Cumberland Plateau. Right now, you can hike sections of the trail. (I’ve also hiked the Mullens Cove Loop in the Tennessee River Gorge Segment.)
I pulled into the trailhead (just a paved pull-off on the highway), laced up my boots, and started off on what I thought was the hike. (It wasn’t.) The trailhead and section that I wanted to hike was on the other side of the road. However, walking up to the trailhead sign, all I saw was a barbed wire fence. Surely, this was not the beginning of the trail. So I set off in the opposite direction. But, looking at my map, I knew I wasn’t going the right way. So, I turned back around and just climbed over the barbed wire fence and only snagged my pants twice. (On the way back out, I realized there was a trail to the far right of the trailhead sign – see below. -__- Yeah, I’m rusty.)
So, don’t make the mistake I did! Start on the right trail and don’t hop a barbed wire fence!
This hike was a good challenge with a great payoff. The trail is relatively easy to follow; keep your eyes up for the white blazes. You will wander through wooded areas, see Windlass cave, pass by huge boulders and switch back up Black Mountain. It’s hardly a ‘mountain’ at 2828 feet, but it’s still got a killer view into Grassy Cove. On really clear days, you can see the Smoky Mountains in the distance. There’s also a backcountry site about 3 miles in, if you wanted to hike in and stay the night.
This trail is 3.6 miles one way from the trailhead to the Black Mountain Loop Trail. But, you’ll want to add on just a little bit more to see the sweeping views. So, you’ll end up doing more than 7.2 miles if you go to the overlook, which is basically the whole reason for the hike. I ended up doing about 9 miles, but about a mile of that was when I wandering around trying to find the correct trailhead at the beginning. I was also being pulled along by a dog that seems to love hiking more that I do, so my pace was probably faster than it should have been. (I completed the hike in about 3.5 hours.) Since you are climbing a small mountain, you will gain elevation – about 1300 feet – but the good news is that this hike is an out-and-back hike, so half of the hike is downhill.
The Black Mountain Loop Trail is a 1.5 mile loop, which is also accessible from another trailhead/parking at the top. So, you could just do the shorter, flat loop and see the great view. But, if I am driving 2 hours to hike a trail, I am making it worth it. (For me, apparently that’s hiking 9 miles up a hill).
Once you reach the loop trail, I would suggest only seeing the south overlook if you don’t want to add on the whole loop. That’s where you will see the stunning views. The north overlook is a bummer because it’s just standing on top of a large rock and looking at trees that are blocking a (potentially great) view.
So, if you want a semi-challenging, less-crowded hike showcasing the best of the Crossville area, this trail is perfect.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hours
Trailhead: Brady Mountain Trailhead on TN-68 outside of Crossville, TN.
Trail: Black Mountain Trail (part of the Cumberland Trail) and Black Mountain Loop Trail (See my mistaken path south of the trailhead?)
Length of hike: 3.6 miles one way with the addition of part of the loop trail makes this come in just around 8 miles total (more if you do the entire loop trail around the summit), allow around 4-5 hours depending on pace
Type of hike: Out and back
Camping: Black Mountain Campsite about 3 miles from trailhead
Overview: Woods walkin’, elevation gains, a cave, and a great view make this hike a perfectly challenging day trip from Nashville.
The true, full Fiery Gizzard is best done point to point for maximum enjoyment (see my in depth review of the full trail here), but you can also do a portion of it as a day hike if you don’t want to backpack or don’t have 2 cars to park at each trailhead. I think that either way is a great way to experience one of the best trails in the country. I mean it is considered on of the top 25 trails in the nation after all because of it’s great diversity in terrain.
Fiery Gizzard has a weird name, but a not weird beauty. It’s been one of my favorite and most challenging hikes, and not because of elevation gain (which there is some), but because a lot of the time, your path is just rocks and boulders. (If you do the entire trail, there is some relief from the boulder walkin’.) Each step is precarious, and must be taken with care. So, it can be slow going at times, but it makes it interesting’ the kind of interesting I like.
You’ll find small waterfalls, beautiful overlooks, especially at Raven Point (Don’t skip the view from here!), and riverside hiking in this 9 miler. It’s a great way to see some of the best of the Fiery Gizzard Trail if you can’t make the 13 mile point-to-point trail work for you.
It’s a truly spectacular hike. Go in late October for best results.
Distance from Nashville: 1 hr 30 min
Trailhead: Grundy Forest Trailhead WARNING: It looks like you are driving into a sketch neighborhood thing/someones house, but you aren’t, just keep going until you see signs for the trailhead. It will take you to the Grundy Forest/Tracy City side, which is where you want to be for the day hike.
Loop: Grundy Forest trailhead to join the Grundy Forest Day Loop. Follow signs for Fiery Gizzard. You’ll take the Fiery Gizzard trail to Raven Point. Then, from the Raven Point campsite, you’ll take the Dog Hole trail back out until it joins the day loop again. (See my route in black below)
Brief overview: A beautiful and diverse trail showcasing the finest middle/east Tennessee has to offer. You’ll find small waterfalls, beautiful overlooks, especially at Raven Point, and riverside hiking in this 9 miler. Bring your sturdy boots and strong ankles.