Off the Beaten Path
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The trail starts wide, as you would expect from an old mining trail. Remnants of the Coal and iron ore facilities remain from beautiful moss-covered rock walls, a deep hole in the mountain, leftover bridge supports, and other evidence. Wear good shoes and bring hiking poles as the hike can be strenuous in places. Solid, wooden bridges are available to cross streams. It is a popular hiking area with streams, blue holes, and waterfalls. Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is tucked into a gorge inside Walden’s Ridge. Several creeks meander, including Richland, Polebridge, Morgan, Henderson, and Laurel.
If you are just going a mile or under, children and dogs will be very comfortable. Without storms, the water levels are low, with many opportunities to splash. A few deep spots allow swimming, and a couple of blue holes were noted after a couple of miles of hiking. Be sure to be back to exit the parking lot before 7:00 PM or be prepared to sleep in your car until the next day.
After a mile or so, the trail narrows to about a third of the original size. Poison Ivy is close on either side so eyes were kept firmly on the path. The elevation started to climb significantly, and we scrambled over rocks on the trail at about two miles in. There appeared to be switchback opportunities, but loose rocks and steep inclines kept us on the main trail. We did not follow water run-off gullies, although other hikers did go that way.
The lush greenery sported fern dells, wild hydrangea, and several cultivated greenhouse plants that must have escaped from a nearby farm and rooted on the mountainside. Rhododendrons were starting to bloom in mid-June. We saw little wildlife beyond snails and a few squirrels. Water trickled down the mountainside in several places. Towering boulders stood on either side of the trail with crevices that would be amazing shelters for critters. We were able to climb up on the top of a few of the 2 and 3-story boulders for a better view of the water.
We did not make it to Laurel Falls. Other hikers told us it was just a trickle and we only had 2 hours to make it another 5 miles round trip and then 2.5 miles back to the car. We opted to come back another day, unwilling to risk getting locked in the parking l
A local hiker told us the water is often high enough to kayak. On our visit in mid-June, it was barely visible, trickling around the rocks in most places and pooling deep water in places. The water was cool but not as cold as some mountain streams at higher elevations.
An interactive map of the area shows elevations and hiking trails. https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Embed/index.html?webmap=762f5151ba8045b2b076c0455f37179a&extent=-85.9116,35.1279,-83.0194,36.502&zoom=true&scale=true&search=true&searchextent=false&details=true&legend=true&active_panel=details&basemap_gallery=true&disable_scroll=true&theme=light
The area opens daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Time. If you do not return to your car, the parking lot is locked, and you are stuck there until the morning. There are signs with this warning all around the entrance and parking lot. Overnight camping is permitted, and details are on the Friends of the Cumberland Trail Website. https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.friendsofthecumberlandtrail.org/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1694138385989216&usg=AOvVaw0Y6Akbt25zuL7nocs8QKBo
Laurel-Snow State Natural Area is a gorgeous hike. The hike is considered one of the top 25 in Tennessee, according to Trip Advisor. I am going back to catch Laurel Falls but early in the morning to allow enough time for a leisurely round trip.