Dry Branch Creek Natural Area

Don’t Miss These Summer Hikes at Tennessee’s State Natural Areas

Tennessee’s 82 State Natural Areas (SNAs) preserve prime examples of the Volunteer State’s ecologically significant natural landscapes and provide long term protection for rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal life. SNAs include remnants of old growth forest and bald cypress swamps in West Tennessee’s Mississippi River valley to the rich woodlands on the Cumberland Plateau and Southern Appalachian Mountain coves in East Tennessee.

The largest concentration of SNAs are found stretching from mid state’s Western Highland Rim, Central Basin, Eastern Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau.

Throughout the year the Division of Natural Areas leads guided hikes and tours of chosen SNAs including several that do not have developed public access, like Dry Branch, a 2,169-acre property in Lewis County on the Western Highland Rim purchased by the State of Tennessee in 2007.

Dry Branch Creek Natural Area

With its numerous wildflowers and globally rare sedge/rush communities, Dry Branch has the highest biodiversity rank under the Natural Heritage ranking system. (Photo: Tennessee Division of Natural Areas)

If the weather cooperates on Aug. 24, David Lincicome, Natural Heritage Program Manager for Tennessee’s SNAs, will be leading a group 25 hikers along seeps and shallow stream crossings for approximately 2.5 miles out-and-back along Dry Branch Creek.

I’d suggest wearing comfortable waterproof boots, bringing your camera, a sturdy walking stick and some insect repellent along with water and lunch on your quest to see Tennessee yellow-eyed grass (Xyris tennesseensis), which is a federally endangered species and one of the rarest plants in Tennessee. To join the group for this 9 a.m. hike, RSVP to David Lincicome by Aug. 22 at 615-532-0439 or email him at David.Lincicome@tn.gov.

Tennessee yellow-eyed grass

The federally endangered Tennessee yellow-eyed grass (Xyris tennesseensis) is rarely found anywhere in the state but may be seen at seven locations along a 1.5-mile stretch of Dry Branch Creek and its tributaries. (Photo: Tennessee Division of Natural Areas)

May Prairie Hiking

My wife, Cathy, and I were intrigued to learn of a prairie near Manchester and drove there recently for an un-guided hike to check out May Prairie, one of Tennessee’s 13 National Natural Landmarks. As we passed the neighboring Hickory Flats Wildlife Management Area and saw wetland signs we were grateful for the DEET-containing insect repellent we’d sprayed on like suit of armors.

May Prairie

Recent rains brought a voracious mosquito population that was ready for us as we passed oak, hickory, maple and sweet gum trees and skirted wide shallow puddles of standing water on our half-mile walk to May Prairie.

Once we made the half-mile trek to the edge of the forest and saw a panorama of amazing native grasses and wildflowers, we were absolutely captivated. Cathy had Carman’s Wildflowers of Tennessee in hand, but couldn’t stop exclaiming “ooh look!” long enough to identify all the species we were seeing. This included the snowy orchid, usually seen along the coastal plains but found only in this single spot in Tennessee. Every time we’d start to call it a day we’d marvel at yet another variety of wildflower or native grass and start snapping more pictures. I shot 129 images and I think Cathy clicked an equal number.

May Prairie's Snowy Orchid

May Prairie supports more than 300 plant species including flowering plants rarely seen in Tennessee such as the snowy orchid growing alongside the predominant little bluestem and tall grass communities.

To hear the talk and walk the walk at May Prairie join an easy three-hour guided hike scheduled for Aug. 24 at 10 a.m., RSVP at 615-532-0436 or email Brian.Bowen@tn.gov.to secure your spot. You’ll love it!

May Prairie Swamp Rose Mallow

The deep red center of the swamp rose mallow attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees.

Before you leave Manchester, consider a visit the 2,000 year-old American Indian ceremonial site and museum at Old Stone Fort State Park. It’s an impressive location where two rivers drop off the plateau of the Eastern Highland Rim into the Central Basin with camping available.

Where’s your favorite spot to hike in Tennessee? Let me know in the comments! 

Looking for more great summer trip ideas? Visit our Summer in Tennessee site and enter our #MakeSummerLast sweepstakes for a chance to win a Tennessee vacation for 4 to Chattanooga!

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on



    martha partain

    Are there any trails that are wheelchair friendly?


    martha partain

    Where are the waterfalls that can be reached in a wheelchair?

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