We’re spilling the beans on two locations where the crowds are minimal and you and your dog can have an enjoyable afternoon on these under-rated hiking trails.
I know I say it all the time, but can I say it again? We are blessed with so many breathtaking waterfalls and hiking trails here in Middle Tennessee.
Along with that blessing comes a bit of a curse: and that’s the sheer number of visitors that some of these natural wonders see every year. Fall Creek Falls State Park alone can see over 1 million visitors per year. That’s A LOT of people out on the trails!
So what do you do if you’re looking for a hike closer to home without a big commitment in time or distance? Or a waterfall where you won’t feel like you’re at a public swimming pool?
Cheeks Bend Bluff View Trail
Located in Duck River State Natural Area in Columbia, this under-rated trail is a gem. You get bluff views AND caves to explore with a fairly easy 2 mile out and back with a short loop. You may even have the trail (blazed blue) all to yourselves. I was fascinated by the history of the area. Check out this link for some little-known facts.
Keep your eyes peeled for the turn-off on Sowell Mill Pike and expect a long gravel drive back to the trailhead. There is ample parking.
Once on the trail, you’re going to be headed downhill to the bluffs.
Yes, you read that right.
It’s seems counter-intuitive, but the trail is slightly downhill on the way in. This also means if it has recently rained, that trail can seem like a small stream and be very slick. Watch your footing.
Story Time: On our very first visit in winter, we had not counted on recent rain being an issue. Couple that with the fact that I forgot my hiking shoes…and instead had on my oldest pair of tread-bare sneakers…Let’s just say the footing was so treacherous on a trail-turned-waterslide that we turned around a half mile in and vowed to return another day…
As you approach the Duck River, the trail will take an uphill climb and you’ll be on top of the bluffs, with some pretty views of the river to your left.
Yes, you can go off-trail and follow some of the social paths down the bluffs closer to the river. Be aware the cliffs are steep and the Duck River is swift in this section. Danger ahead. (Secret tip: there are some small caves along the bluffs above the river, but you’ll have to scramble down to search for them. Use CAUTION. Would I try it with Chloe along? Nope.)
If you bring a lunch, you could picnic on the rocks and have a gorgeous setting. We sat on a a high point and snacked on some trail bars to enjoy the view. And the breeze.
The main attraction, however, is Rummage Cave. I have seen a few different names for this cave, but Rummage seems to be the one most used. The entrance is unseen from the trail. Once your path levels out on top of the bluff, look carefully for a tree marked with both blue and red blazes. Follow the red blazes to the right away from the river and you’ll come across the entrance to the cave.
Rummage Cave is a short horizontal cave with several rooms that leads underneath the bluffs to an opening above the river. You’re basically walking underneath the trail you just walked! Bring a flashlight to explore. There are openings at both ends, so good ventilation. Your eyes will adjust to the darkness.
Chloe was not about exploring the cave (and neither was my hiking partner!) so we have no photos to share of the inside.
One thing I want to mention : this is a wildlife area and as such, hunting is allowed nearby. If you have a dog who is spooked by the sound of gunfire, be aware.
Once you’ve finished your spelunking, head back to the blue blazes to pick up the trail. You’ll now turn away from the river for the loop portion. The rest of the hike takes you through some beautiful hardwood forests on your way back to connect to the main trail and the trailhead.
All in all, this is an easy afternoon hike that you could lengthen by exploring Rummage Cave.
What we like about this hike…
- Not a big time commitment.
- Can we talk about the unique and varied flora and fauna?
- Added adventure factor with the caves.
- Mostly quiet, especially on week days.
Stillhouse Hollow Falls Trail
We’re all about those smaller, approachable waterfalls that have sweet little swimming holes to splash in. Stillhouse Hollow Falls has just that, along with a very pretty 1.2 mile out and back hike. Short and sweet.
Located about 20 miles southwest of Columbia, it is out-of-the way, under-rated trail. From what I could tell, popular with local families, too. But there is no big-crowd draw, which makes for a very peaceful afternoon activity.
The entrance to the trailhead is directly off US-412/43 – watch carefully or you’ll miss it! The parking lot is small and gravel and rutted.
A kioski will start you off and give you info on the area.
The trail is well-marked – but I’ll admit, there are so many social paths created that you could easily find yourself off-track! There are a few fencings to show you where the trail is. But even if you do find yourself off-trail, you’re heading downhill to the little tributary that creates the falls, so listen for the water and you’ll quickly see the main path and a footbridge across the stream.
The water level was very low while we visited and you could easily just step across the stream.
Follow the trail along the tributary. You’ll see some smaller cascades as you approach the final descent to the hollow.
When you reach the top of the hollow above the falls, the path will divide. The right path takes you to the falls overlook and the left continues down the slope, following the tributary downstream away from the falls. It’s steep but there are a couple stairs to help you along the way.
At the bottom of the hollow, you’ll cross the stream once again (yes, you can wade for fun, but there is a bridge if you want to keep your tootsies dry) Turn to the right and follow the trail back upstream to the falls.
Along the way, you’ll see this.
There is a convenient little bench near the base of the falls – perfect for setting down your pack.
Stillhouse Hollow Falls drops about 75 feet from the bluff above. The little swimming pool at the base is divine. On our visit, we timed it perfectly so one group of people was departing just as we arrived at the falls. I knew another family was about 10 minutes behind us on the trail, so we used those priceless minutes to enjoy on our own!
It’s uphill all the way back, so save some energy for the hike to the trailhead.
Again, what a great way to spend an afternoon and if you’re lucky, have the opportunity to enjoy a waterfall all to yourselves!
What we like about this hike…
- Very small time commitment before you reach the main attraction.
- Family and dog-friendly.
- Peaceful, quiet….ahhh.
If you want to explore these under-rated trails without too many other visitors, make a point of hiking during the week or very early in the day.