Enter the Walls of Jericho for an Unforgettable Tennessee Natural Area Hike
The changing seasons present us with a distinctive sense of nature’s majesty in spectacular spots like the 750-acre State Natural Area known as the Walls of Jericho on the Tennessee-Alabama line.
Legend claims that in the late 1700s Davy Crockett explored this area when his family owned land nearby. An itinerant preacher who made his way to the Walls of Jericho in the late 1800s performed baptisms in this grand setting and gave it a biblical name. Before its current incarnation, the Walls of Jericho was owned by a Texas oil tycoon during the 1940s.
Then, as today, part of the pleasure is the effort required to get there. Those who make the strenuous trek are moved by its beauty and left with lasting impressions of its challenges.
The round trip hike is rated difficult and that’s confirmed by a couple of my outdoor enthusiast friends with decades of hiking experience in the U.S. and abroad who have made the hike to the canyon.
It’s not a cakewalk and probably not the best choice for novice hikers but the rewards are truly inspirational.
A trail from the Tennessee side joins the 3.5-mile one-way trail from the Alabama side that is closest to the gorge. It descends 900 feet into “the Walls” to a remarkable array of rock formations and waterfalls. Uneven footing, narrow trails and steep inclines present challenges but in general I find hiking downhill is tougher on my knees than the uphill climb is on my quads when elevations change nearly 1,000 feet in a mile of hiking as happens here.
There are a couple of creek crossings on narrow log bridges and another involves rock hopping/wading so you’ll appreciate waterproof hiking boots in cool weather. I suggest you take high-energy snacks/lunch, plenty of water and your camera as well as a change of socks.
In the canyon you’ll find 200-foot sheer rock walls form a large bowl-shaped natural amphitheater. After a heavy rain, water drips and spouts from holes and cracks forming distinctive water features. The downside is the challenging trail may become slippery in spots but the upside is the waterfalls are glorious after a heavy rain.
An opportunity to join a joint field trip with the Tennessee Native Plant Society (http://tnps.gov.org/) and Division of Natural Areas (http://www.state.tn.us/environment/natural-areas/natural-areas/) is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 26 starting at 10 a.m. at the Walls of Jericho’s Alabama Trailhead if the weather cooperates. Reservations are required so RSVP by October 24 to Todd Crabtree, 615-532-1378 or Todd.Crabtree@tn.gov.
For an easier trek, the going should be considerably smoother during the 2.5-mile afternoon hike at Hill Forest State Natural Area (www.state.tn.us/environment/natural-areas/natural-areas/hillforest ) on Friday Oct. 25 starting at 2 p.m. This refuge is only 10 miles west of hustle and bustle of downtown Nashville as the crow flies but about a zillion miles away in terms of peace and quiet.
The 225-acre natural area is known for oak, hickory, walnut, tulip poplar and other species with the largest among them sporting lofty crowns reaching 120 feet above the forest floor. Some specimens are known to be well over 200 years old. This time of year fall colors adorn deciduous trees and shrubs well into November so this should be perfect timing.
Brian Bowen with the Tennessee Natural Areas Program will lead the hike. Friends of Warner Parks and Warner Parks are sponsors so call Warner Park Nature Center at 615-352-6299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.