Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park makes for a quick, easy afternoon ramble with an unusual twist.

April 20, 2018

We have so many different hiking opportunities here in the local Nashville area but…sometimes you want to get out a bit further from home and experience something… different.

Today we only had the afternoon free for hiking – but where to go when the wanderlust hits but you’re short on time?

Old Stone Fort Archaeological Park, located in Manchester, TN is a fairly quick drive from the Nashville area (about 50 minutes from our home) and makes for a quick, easy afternoon ramble with an unusual twist.

Talk about a misnamed park!

The “old stone fort” was built by prehistoric Native Americans during the Middle Woodlands Period, about 1500-2000 years ago. Long after these people had gone from the land, the first European settlers to the area had no idea what this walled area enclosing approximately 50 acres was used for, hence the label ‘fort.’ Archaeologists now think the stone fort area was used for ceremonial purposes.

This park is on the National Historic Register and a treasure for exploring the culture and history of the early Native American people.

Located just a few miles off I-24 via exit 105,  (think Bonnaroo) it’s quick and convenient to reach.

There is a campground and playground available, with ample fishing and easy hiking opportunities.

A Museum dedicated to Tennessee’s prehistoric heritage is located at the trailhead, along with a gift shop and park office. No dogs allowed inside, please, so take turns with your hiking buddy watching your pup so you can take a look around.

There are several trails available; all are rated easy (with some optional side-trails rated moderate.) We chose to hike the Enclosure Trail, a 1.4 mile loop. This trail follows the stone fort wall, with a choice of walking either inside or outside the wall.

A couple notes: when researching this park, I found a lot of discrepancies in trail/waterfall names. And they weren’t joking when they said there are many “social” trails throughout the park –meaning people have made their own paths down to the Little Duck and Duck River. It’s easy (and fun) to get side-tracked and the main trail is scantily marked. But you’ll find interpretive signage along the way and many visitors – so no worries about getting lost.

Second note worth sharing – especially if you have a water-loving dog. There was a big sign at the start of the Enclosure trail if you begin the walk clockwise, starting at the Little Duck River side. The sign advised against swimming or wading due to levels of fecal bacteria contamination. Nevertheless, we saw one family dive right in at the bottom of Step Falls. Your choice.

The trails are fairly level, with exception of the side trails leading down to the rivers. But even they were an easy scramble. Still, use caution on these high cliff areas. 

The actual ‘wall’ looks more like a little hill surrounding a huge field. You’ll find plenty of trees growing on top, so the walk is fairly shaded most of the way.

You’ll see waterfall after waterfall along both the Little Duck and Duck rivers and if you’re like us, you’ll want to stop for photographs at each one.

You’ll also pass the ruins of the Stone Fort Paper Mill.

There are a few other trails worth considering and if you have the time, you can easily make a day out of hiking the rest.

But if your time is limited and the day is getting late, walk your tired and hungry doggie back to your car and head down Highway 41 towards Manchester. Just a couple miles down the road, you’ll find a perfect little dog-friendly beer garden at Bites of Europe.

Bites of Europe is just that – a warm and inviting little restaurant and pub that prides itself on food with an authentic European flair, made fresh to order. The cuisine is a little bit of everything from several countries. And their beer selection is amazing – from drafts to imported bottled brews, you’ll find something to your taste. And the bakery? Each pastry baked fresh every morning.

We sat outside in the beer garden and had it all to ourselves on this cool spring day. Our server was friendly and attentive – and showered Chloe with loads of attention. In fact, several of the staff and the chef came out to greet her and tell us a bit about their establishment. The pride and skill they have in their craft is evident in every bite.

This restaurant alone is worth the trip down to Manchester!

Fun, easy afternoon hike followed by a scrumptious dining experience. All shared with your best friend – what could be better?

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