A Longer Stone Door Loop :: Savage Gulf State Natural Area

The Great Stone Door trail is a pretty well known and easy trail with a great payoff. But, driving almost 2 hours for a mile of hiking doesn’t quite make sense to me, so I made a 7 mile loop connecting the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Rim and Laurel Trails for a nice longer, but relatively easy hike.

The entirety of the hike is on the plateau/rim so most of this loop is flat, but not without some views of the gulf along the Big Creek Rim trail. The rest of the trail meanders through a wooded area on the plateau, making for a nice walk in the woods. The total mileage is around 7 miles, so it may be a great way to try out a longer hike without a challenge from the terrain. Taking this route, you won’t descend into the gulf, so you won’t have to navigate steep or rocky terrain, if you’re looking to avoid that.

The loop I did makes a fantastic beginner backpacking loop with a camp at Alum Gap and a side trip to Greeter Falls. (Remember, there’s no overnight parking at the Greeter Falls trailhead!) Of course there’s the always stunning views from Stone Door, but Big Creek Rim has a few great overlooks and bluff-side walking as well. The Laurel trail is probably one of the least diverse and interesting in the area, but it is full of lush ferns and greenery. And when I hike from the Stone Door trailhead, I always pop by Laurel Falls because it only add on .2 miles. (The mini loop starts right behind the ranger station.) You can also walk-in camp at Stone Door but it can get crowded and out especially on the weekends.

This loop isn’t going to blow you away compared to others in the area, but it’s nice to mix things up and try a new route. Connecting Stone Door to Big Creek Rim and Laurel trials makes for a good long-ish day hike in one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee. It’s also great to build stamina for longer hikes. You’ll clock over 7 miles of relatively flat trail, so it’s great to build up to a longer hike!

Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45 min

Trailhead: Stone Door Ranger Station (Savage Gulf North Trailhead)

Trail: Loop formed by Stone Door, Big Creek Rim, Laurel (route in red)

Link to trail map: Savage Gulf State Natural Area Trail Map (left side of map)

Length of Trail: easy 7 miles, allow 3-4 hours

Campsites: Stone Door (close to parking, walk-in) and Alum Gap (about three miles from trailhead, backcountry)

Overview: Great overlooks and geological wonders plus a little waterfall and some woods walkin’. (For a shorter hike, just do the Stone Door Trail as an out-and-back.)

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Narrows of the Harpeth :: Harpeth River State Park

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

Link to trail map: Harpeth River State Park Trail Map

Length of hike: ~2 miles after all is said and done, allow about 30-45 minutes

Brief overview: River bluffs overlooks, tunnels through those bluffs and the Harpeth River. Short and close to home.

Woodland Trail + More :: Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls is the largest state park in Tennessee but it isn’t necessarily known for it’s extensive hiking. I would actually spend time driving around this huge park to see all it has to offer.

There’s a few short trails and an “overnight trail” (Upper and Lower loops) that you need an overnight permit to hike. It has an extensive front country campground and actual Fall Creek waterfall is stunning, but this is more of a place for short, easy day hikes. It’s a bit of a drive from Nashville to just hike, so I would recommend front country camping and hiking around from there.


I hiked around the Woodland Loop and saw the falls from an overlook. There’s a few overlooks around the Woodland loop as well and connections to other short trails.


Fall Creek Falls


Woodland Trail

Distance from Nashville: 2 hours

Trailhead: Fall Creek Falls parking

Trail: Woodland Trail

Length of trail: 1-4 miles, depending on trails hiked (see my route below in red)

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Link to trail map: Fall Creek Falls Map

Overview: Short, easy trails with overlooks, waterfalls and bridges in the largest recreation area in Tennessee.

Montgomery Bell Trail :: Montgomery Bell State Park

Montgomery Bell State Park isn’t necessarily known for its hiking, but for some reason there’s a 10.5 mile “overnight trail”. So, I decided I would try to hike it as fast as possible, of course.

You can also do half of the loop and there are a few other hikes in the park if you aren’t feeling quite up to the 10+ miles. There are shelters if you want to stay overnight (free overnight permit required).



The trail is almost completely flat, which makes doing the entire trail all at once not nearly as bad as it sounds. You will follow a little river, walk through hickory forests and see a replica of a really old church and cabin. You may even see some deer!


Distance from Nashville: 45 min

Getting to the trailhead: Start near the Montgomery Bell Park Office/Visitor Center

Trail: Montgomery Bell Trail (route in orange below)

Link to trail map: Montgomery Bell State Park Trail Map

Length of trail: 10.5 miles, allow anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on pace

Brief Overview: Long, flat, and easy loop trail with streams, forests and shelters for overnight trips.

South Old Mac and Chimney Top Trails :: Frozen Head State Park

Frozen Head is one of the “coolest” (pun intended) state parks in Tennessee, maybe because it feels so much like a national park. It has lots of trails to explore and plenty of backcountry sites for backpacking.

It’s located right in the foothills of the Appalachians and is named after it’s tallest ‘mountain’, Frozen Head (elev. 3324), because in the winter it’s ‘head’ is often covered in snow.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 4.50.22 PMview from the top of Frozen Head

I backpacked the South Old Mac trail in to the Tub Spring Campground, which is one of the only backcountry sites with water. The next day, I climbed the lookout tower on top of Frozen Head just a short walk from the campground then hiked the Chimney Top Trail out back to the car. There’s plenty of diverse terrain and elevation changes to keep you interested (and sweaty.)

(Fun side note: when we were hiking the trail, the ‘Barkley Fall Classic’ was going on which is basically where people do this really intense marathon on the trails of Frozen Head. It’s like a million miles with lots of elevation change and the people that do it are crazy.)

It’s a pretty serious hike especially with backpacks on, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. If you are going to make the drive out to this park, I would suggest camping, even if you don’t backpack so you can have enough time to enjoy the trails. It’s fun for a weekend away and a little closer to home, for me, than the Smoky Mountains.


Distance from Nashville: 2hr 30min

Trailhead: Old Mac Trailhead off of Flat Fork Road

Trail: Old Mac, South Old Mac, part of Lookout Tower Trail, Chimney Top trials (see my route in orange below, camp at Tub Springs)

Link to trail map: Frozen Head State Park Trail Map

Length of hike: about 10 miles total with lots of elevation change

Brief overview: A great overnight backpack trip with challenging trails and pretty views.