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60 Hikes Within 60 Miles:
Nashville, 4th edition
Author at cave on Cheeks Bend Trail
About This Book
I hope this second edition of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Nashville makes a good thing in a good place even better. Nashville is best known as the capital of country music and of Tennessee. Situated in the Cumberland River Valley and surrounded by hills of the Highland Rim, Nashville and its environs are nothing if not historic. Most trails included in this guidebook have a historic bent to them, where you can walk both in nature and back in time.
Visit Old Stone Fort State Park, near Manchester, houses a paleo-Indian site. Here, the ancients built a wall, for what reasons remains a mystery to this day. Visit the wall and try to come up with your own theories. Near Hohenwald, walk to the very spot where heralded American explorer Meriwether Lewis spent his last night on earth at Grinder’s Stand. See the establishment of early Tennessee industry at Montgomery Bell’s iron forge site in Dickson County. Johnsonville State Historic Area, to the west in Humphreys County, is the location of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s unprecedented defeat of a naval force by a cavalry during the Civil War.
Of course, some areas have been established and preserved purely for their overall scenic or natural beauty. Short Springs State Natural Area is set aside primarily for its waterfalls and wildflowers. Flat Rock Cedar Glades and Barrens harbors rare plants unique to Middle Tennessee. Beaman Park preserves the oak ridges and steep sided wildflower carpeted valleys of the Highland Rim. The Devils Backbone State Natural Area preserves an intact hickory-oak upland forest with little intrusion from non-native plants and animals.
Then there are greenways. Nashville and its surrounding communities all seem to be building greenways to enhance the environs. The Brenthaven Bikeway traces the Little Harpeth River, while preserving this riparian ribbon through Brentwood. Stones River Greenway of Murfreesboro connects the town of Murfreesboro with Stones River National Battlefield, while cruising alongside the Stones River. Ashland City Bicentennial Greenway traces an old railroad bed for miles along bluffs of the lower Cumberland River. Other greenways, such as the Stones River Greenway of Nashville are being extended.
Finding all of these trails became an exciting challenge. Walking them was a joy and a huge learning experience that I am grateful to pass on to potential readers. Finding and adding new hikes for this second edition was a challenge and a pleasure. I’ll admit it—some places were duds and, after hiking them, had to be eliminated from inclusion. But this book provides the service of doing the literal legwork of finding Nashville’s best hikes, then detailing them for the reader, including length, driving directions, scenery, facilities, related activities, and more. With this book, you can spend your precious time on the trail rather than finding a trail to get on. I sought to include destinations that had some outstanding feature, whether they were historic, offered natural beauty, or had other activities with which you could combine your walk. After hiking the trails included in this book, I hope that you will find something special about each one, too, and see what aspecial place for hiking greater Nashville can be.
Sample Hike Below:
Cheeks Bend Trail
Explore a recent addition to the Tennessee State Natural Areas holdings, Cheeks Bend. Part of the 2,135 acre Duck River State Natural Area Complex, the trail travels along a bluff overlooking the Duck River and includes a special surprise – a side trip through a cave, where you can enter on a bluff top and emerge near the Duck at the base of the bluff.
Key At-a-Glance Information
Length: 1.8 miles
Scenery: River bluff, cedar woods, cave, riverside
Exposure: Mostly shady
Traffic: Not much
Trail Surface: Rock, dirt
Hiking Time: 1 hour
Access: No fees or permits
Maps: Viewable map at trailside kiosk
Directions: From Exit 46 on I-65, take TN 99, Sylvester Chunn Pike, east to US 431. Turn right and take US 431 about 6 miles to reach Jordan Road. Turn right on Jordan Road (the left turn at this intersection is Wiles Lane). Follow Jordan Road west, crossing the Duck River (along the way, Jordan Road becomes Sowell Mill Pike. Watch for the left turn onto gravel Cheeks Bend Road .8 mile after crossing the Duck River on Sowell Mill Pike. Follow Cheeks Bend Road for .9 mile to the trailhead.
This trail leads to a cave with a hundred or so foot passage that leads from a river bluff overlooking the Duck to the base of the same bluff. If you are afeared of the dark, bring a flashlight, though one is not necessary. The Cheeks Bend Vista Trail starts on the west side of the road. Begin following a single track path into the woods to reach a trailside kiosk, showing the trail and giving information about the Duck River Complex. The Duck River Complex is an agglomeration of 6 disparate natural areas collectively within the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area. All are located in the Duck River Basin and include Columbia Glade, Sowell Mill, Rummage Cave, Howard Bridge Glades and Moore Lane in addition to Cheeks Bend. This part of the Duck River is significant, as 13 of the 30 miles of the state scenic river portion of the Duck are located here.
The blue-blazed track descends in oak-hickory-cedar woods, picking up an old roadbed. Here, the path makes an abrupt left, leaving the roadbed to cross a wet weather branch. It then continues downhill, only to re-cross the branch just above a multi-tiered waterfall, that likely won’t fall at all in late summer and autumn. The Duck River will be visible through the trees in the winter. Curve around to cross another wet weather branch and the Duck River appears on your left. It is a good 30 feet below the trail but can be accessed here. Just work your way down to reach some riverside rock outcrops that make for ideal sunning spots. Turtles know these are good sunning spots, too, as they will splash into the river as you head down. This isn’t the ideal swimming hole, as the river is strongly sweeping around the bend here.
The path now ascends among pale rock outcrops, as it works to the top of a bluff. Reach the loop portion of the trail at .6 miles. Keep forward here, still stair-stepping up the bluff, gaining obscured views of the river below. Ferns and mosses offer green contrast to the white outcrops. Cedars cling to shallow soils on the bluff. Reach the edge of the bluff and you can look downriver to the southwest toward I-65, which isn’t visible but is audible.
The bluff levels off and reaches a junction. Watch carefully here for a cedar tree banded with both blue and red stripes. To reach the cave turn right here, following the red blazes away from the river and down to a cave entrance not visible from where you stand. The cave entrance is nearly square and big enough for a man to stand. Follow the cave at a downhill angle as the passage narrows and the world darkens. In summer, the cave here could be 20-30 degrees cooler than outside. At this point, give your eyes time to adjust and you will be able to see, as light is coming from the passage that you just entered, and also from the passage through which you will emerge, if you are tough enough to continue. As you keep downward you will see other smaller water-carved passages merging into the main cave. The cave opening down here is far taller than wide. You literally went under the bluff that you walked to get here. The Duck is still a good 30 feet or so below the lower cave opening. And it is a rough and often muddy track to the river from this point. However, you can explore in either direction along the base of the bluff. Backtrack up the cave and see how the upper entrance looks much different than the emergence of the lower entrance.
Return to the main trail and keep along the bluff, where you can see where fields and woods across the river. At .8 mile, the trail turns away from the Duck, passing through a good spring wildflower area before stair stepping over more outcrops to reach a high point. From there, work downhill while passing linear sinks. Complete the loop portion of the hike at 1.2 miles, then backtrack to the trailhead. Or maybe you will make one more pass through the cave – like I did!
Nearby/Related Activities: Canoeing the Duck River lends a different perspective to this beautiful valley. River Rats canoe operation is located at the intersection of TN 99 and US 431, which you will pass on the way to Cheeks Bend (There are two intersections of US 431 and TN 99. River Rats is at the more southerly one). They offer canoe rentals and shuttles on the Duck. They can be reached at (931) 381-2278, or www.riverratcanoe.com.