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
Just down the road from the entrance to Foster Falls, you’ll find the Denny Cove trailhead — one of the newer additions to South Cumberland State Park. While this area is known for it’s excellent rock climbing, hikers will also enjoy the short trails to an overlook and beautiful cascading waterfall.
This roughly 3.5 mile out and back hike has a lot of what this are of Tennessee has to offer including the classic boulder-filled trail at times. (Love it or hate it, boulders abound all over this area! Time to get those ankles strong!) I’d classify this hike as solidly moderate in difficulty, accessible to most hiking levels.
At about a half mile in, the trail splits: one part take you to a nice overlook and the other takes you to the waterfall. There’s also a spur that has all of the climber access points (and doesn’t lead to the waterfall).
I truly love this waterfall and the trail immediately leading up to it. You round one corner of the trail and boom, there’s the beautiful, towering, cascading fall. The pool it spills into is pretty small so you can stand close to it and feel the gentle mist; there’s even a large rock conveniently placed so you can sit and take it all in.
If you’re checking out Foster Falls for the day, maybe head on over the Denny Cove and add a few more miles onto your hiking day.
At almost exactly 2 hours away from Nashville, the whole Virgin Falls out-and-back trail clocks in a just about 10 miles.
I honestly forgot how wonderful almost every mile of this hike is; something to see almost the entire time. Y’all know I love a good creek walk and, boy, Big Laurel Creek delivers. It’s such a peaceful walk where you pass by multiple waterfalls, beautiful, lush greenery that remind me of the PNW, and a sweeping add-on view of Scott’s Gulf at Martha’s Pretty Point.
Along the way, you’ll see a few small waterfalls including Big Laurel Falls, Big Branch Falls, and Sheep Cave Falls.
And of course, there is Virgin Falls, the namesake of the trail. The falls are formed by an underground stream that emerges just long enough for its 110 ft. drop, then disappears into another cave at the bottom of the sink it flows into. It’s some kind of geological phenomenon. There’s also a short trail to get to the top of the falls where you can see the cave where the stream comes from.
You should also check out Sheep Cave and the little waterfall that goes along with it. (Please note that all the caves are closed due to White Nose Syndrome. So, please don’t actually enter the caves.)
There are also plenty (four) of backcountry sites which make it a perfect trip for beginner backpackers. So, if you are looking to get in to backpacking and want a really great payoff, this is your trail. The sites range from being beside a waterfall to on top of a bluff, so there’s a lot of choose from. I’ve personally never camped here (all my hikes here have been day hikes), but I think the one atop Martha’s Pretty Point has the best views! Keep in mind that there is no water at this site, though. So, make sure to filter from Big Laurel Creek before you ascend up there.
The sneaky part about this trail is that the way in is a steady downhill, which you really don’t notice until you are on your way back and those miles are a steady uphill. Going in, I barely got my heart rate above a walk, which tricks you into forgetting that this trail goes steadily downhill a majority of the way in. But, you’ll get a nice workout on the way out. Commence much sweating on my part. I definitely felt my quads gain a few inches of muscle (and consequently my jeans fit a little tighter).
Be especially cautious of snakes in the spring and summer months. This area tends to have a lot of rattlesnakes. (It’s not like they are slithering all over everywhere or anything, but I always like to know what I’m walking into!)
On your way out, make the drive to Welch’s Point, just down the road. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset, if you’re so inclined!
Virgin Falls isn’t exactly a secret or anything, but it truly is a must-see on the Cumberland Plateau. Just be prepared for a long day hike or stay for a moderate overnight backpack.
Length of Trail: ~10 miles including the trail to Martha’s Pretty Point, allow 5-6 hours
Camping: 4 different backcountry sites at varying points along the trail: Cable Crossing, Martha’s Pretty Point, Caney Fork and Virgin Falls. Martha’s Pretty Point and Virgin Falls are the most popular.
Overview: Multiple waterfalls, gorgeous overlook and a cumulative climb of 1100′.
Edward’s and Signal Points serve as the southern terminus to the Cumberland Trail and are part of the Tennessee River Gorge Segment of the trail.
I originally planned to hike Signal Point to Edward’s Point. But, that trailhead was closed. So, thankfully, there was another trailhead for a similar route right down the road, Rainbow Falls Wilderness. The parking lot for the trailhead is pretty small, so if you are hiking from this point, I suggest arriving early.
I thought this was going to be an easy hike to a beautiful view. The view was amazing but I wouldn’t rate it as ‘easy’. A portion of the trail was pretty rocky and full of boulders so be prepare your ankles. I also am glad that I brought my trekking poles because there were a few sections of ascents and descents.
Before you reach the pinnacle of the trail, Edward’s Point, you’ll pass by a small “waterfall” that is actually a small dam that created Rainbow Lake. This lake was created in the early 1900s for Signal Mountain Hotel. So, this hiking trail has been around for over 100 years.
You’ll also cross a suspension bridge over Middle Creek and see a small rock arch called Lockhart Arch. So, you get a few different features on the way.
Edward’s Point boasts a beautiful, sweeping view of the Tennessee River Gorge. There are gradual bluffs on both sides of the river that level out so that you can see far into the distance.
It was rather hot when I hiked this trail, so that contributed to me sweating way more than anticipated. Because of this, I had a less-than-desirable impression of this hike. I’m sure it would be much better in the fall/winter. (I mean, what hike ISN’T better in the fall/winter?) I’m hoping to return when the weather is cooler and hike from Signal Point to Edward’s Point.
However, this hike shouldn’t be missed. You get a gorgeous view and a few bonuses on the way there. Plus, you get to hike a section of the Cumberland Trail, which is always a welcome part of any of my hikes.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 15 min
Trailhead: Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trail on Ohio Ave (at the time I hiked this, Signal Mountain was closed and gated)
Campsites: Lockhart’s Arch Campsite (Please note there is no overnight parking at either trailhead.)
Overview: Take a moderately strenuous hike to a beautiful view of the Tennessee River Gorge passing by a dam waterfall, stone arch and suspension bridge at the southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail.
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
Window Cliffs has been on “to hike” list for some time. But a combination of dogs not being allowed, the multiple creek crossings and hearing that it “wasn’t that great of a trail” gave me pause about hiking this approximately 6 mile trail near Burgess Falls.
So, perhaps my expectation were set low, but Window Cliffs completely surprised me. It was, quite simply, a delightful hike.
So, let’s start off with perhaps the most daunting thing about this hike: the NINE creek crossings of the winding Cane Creek. I went during a relatively dry period and the deepest creek crossing was about knee-high and a couple were completely dry. Just like most trails in the Cumberland Plateau area, water levels are highest in the late winter (Jan-March), so that might not be an ideal time to hike this trail. (Also, I’m sure the water is freezing, so probably not the most pleasant experience.) All that to say, don’t be deterred by the creek crossings in the summer and fall, they are totally doable. (Please note that when water levels are high, the trail may close without notice. If it’s just rained, I would call ahead to check the status of the trail.)
I’d recommend hiking in Chacos or Tevas or something comparable so you don’t even have to worry about wet socks and shoes. The terrain is not particularly rocky or root-y so hiking sandals worked perfect for me. There’s cables at every creek crossing but I’d also highly recommend trekking poles for balance and stability.
Let’s talk about the highlight of this trail. There’s a waterfall, cedar groves (low key one of my favorite nature things), spots that felt like Smoky Mountain Balds, the creek crossings, and the namesake limestone cliffs. There was always something different around the bend and kept my attention the entire time. Also, the first (downhill) and last half mile (uphill) are pretty dang steep, but the rest of the trail is relatively level. So, just be prepared for a challenging last half mile!
The view from the top of the cliffs was more stunning that I thought it was going to be. You can’t really see the ‘windows’ from the top, but there’s what I’ll call an ‘underlook’ (because you are looking up to the view) where you can see the windows in the limestone.
As another bonus, there’s two rare plants – at least in the TN area – in this area: plains muhly and northern white cedar. Plains muhly has only 2 known locations in TN and looks like spindly desert grass that grows in rocky or sandy areas. Northern white cedars are also not common in the south and prefer to grow in rocky places. Just something for everyone here at Window Cliffs, folks.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and hike an A+ trail in Tennessee that’s surprisingly close to Nashville.
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 10 min
Trailhead: Window Cliffs State Natural Area (8400 Cane Creek Rd Baxter, TN), Be aware that trail may close without notice when water levels are high.
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
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
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)