Yes, it’s September. No, it’s not fall – yet. And in Tennessee, early September still means temperatures into the 90s some days. It can be hard to motivate yourself to hike when stepping outside for more than 30 seconds leaves you drenched in sweat. Fortunately for those of us in the Nashville area, we’ve got the Percy Warner Park trail system.
A few weeks ago, on one sweltering Saturday, Moka, Minnie, and I ventured into the morning heat to walk the west loop of the Shelby Bottoms Greenway trail. If the weather had been cooler, the pups and I would have gone the entire stretch of both loop trails and back again, but pavement is hot, paws are more sensitive than you think, and dogs can’t sweat as efficiently as humans. Luckily, they are short-haired, but I still had to put their health and safety first.
I’ll admit – I wasn’t impressed for the first few steps of this trail. It felt kind of vanilla – just another wooded trail in middle Tennessee. By the end, it was one of my absolute favorite trails in a while.
Last month, Donner, ThrillBilly, a new friend named Steve, and I went on a quick overnighter at Frozen Head State Park. Even though it was pretty warm around mid-day (especially on that dang Spicewood Trail), the weather was almost perfect. It was a low-mileage trip; roughly 6.5 miles the first day and 5.5 the second day. Don’t let the short miles fool you – there were definitely some difficult routes and elevation gain.
We started off from the Visitor Center – staffed by two very nice rangers – and walked the Old Mac Trail (rated: easy) a little less than half a mile. We then turned onto the Spicewood Trail (difficult). Hoo boy, it was a climb/scramble up 2.5 miles, with stops to catch our breaths and wipe the sweat from our eyes. I was told the trail is best hiked in the earlier spring, when all the flowers along the way are in bloom. It was still lovely, and a fun, technically challenging trek – as challenging as you can be outside the big mountains.
(Plants top to bottom: two pictures of ferns; spiderwort; autumn hawkbit; Indian pink. We also saw a lot of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.)
From there, we headed north on the Chimney Top Trail (difficult) for a mile, then the Lookout Tower Trail (moderate) for about 2.5 miles to the Squire Knob campsite.
It was fairly hot mid-day, but there was a PERFECT spring just a little before camp. Someone has built a little grotto for it, and it was clear and cool and so, so good.
The campsite was really nice – lots of places to setup tents, great trees for hammocking, tables (!), and an established fire pit with rock chairs. There was even a bear box, which I love because I am lazy.
We set out the next morning for about half a mile until we turned west on the Cumberland Trail (difficult) and hiked about 2.5 miles. We then turned on the Bird Mountain Trail (difficult) for another 2 miles and ended up at the big campground. One of the cool things about this campground is the gate at the end, also known as the starting point of the annual Barkley Marathons.
Even though this park isn’t as majestic as the Smokies or out West, and there aren’t any views, there was plenty of water, a nice breeze, relatively clear and well-blazed trails, and a good group of hikers to join on a walk in the woods.
(Me being my normal goofy self; Donner telling some story; L:R – Steve, Donner, ThrillBilly)
This evening’s stroll along the trail that winds through the meadows of Bells Bend Park was exactly what I needed after a busy, stressful day in the office. This trail is the PERFECT easy trail to hike during a Tennessee spring. The scent of honeysuckle and clover permeated the air the entire time, and Moka and I had the trail all to ourselves. This hidden gem is my new favorite spot.
This trail is ideal if you like:
easy, meandering, level, grassy trails
close enough to Nashville to go after work, but far enough to feel a world away
SO MUCH HONEYSUCKLE and wildflowers
a great path for your favorite pupper
wildlife (ducks and rabbits and songbirds, oh my!)
lots of parking in a clearly marked and tidy trail head
a beautiful drive to get there
Some challenges you may encounter:
It’s springtime in Tennessee, so check trail conditions. It hasn’t rained in a few days, so the trail was dry and lovely. If there’s been recent rain, some spots will be fairly muddy.
Mosquitoes and ticks. This is a mowed path through a huge meadow with a few copses. It’s tick Disneyland. I hiked the entire A.T. with no ticks. I picked more than 15 off of me this evening – including one on my face! And Moka got the full tick checking treatment when we got home – 20+ off of that pretty girl. In the future, I’ll be sure to wear bug spray and treat my shoes and gaiters with permethrin.
The trail may be confusing for some to follow. Signs are situated at junctions, but are faded and sometimes not very clear. Trails intersect each other frequently, so make sure you carry a picture of the PDF map the park provides.
The loop that Moka and I hiked was only 2.6 miles long, so we made a second, smaller loop to explore the middle of the meadow. The small trail was just as lovely, and may be a good option for folks starting their fitness journey who may not want to tackle the entire 2.6 mile loop.
I’ll let the pictures in this post speak for themselves, but I really encourage you to take a nice, quiet walk through this lovely pastoral acreage. It’s the perfect ending to a busy day.