Explore Tennessee’s Natural Wonders at Colditz Cove
If you’ve not yet visited Colditz Cove, one of Tennessee’s 82 treasured ecological reserves, you’re in for a treat. Located on the upper Cumberland Plateau, this State Natural Area packs a lot worth protecting in its 165 acres including the camera-friendly Northrup Falls.
Named for a family who settled here and operated a water-powered sawmill on Big Branch Creek above the falls during the 1800s, Northrup Falls plunges 63 feet into a lush cove lined with 200-year-old hemlocks and thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron. The dry ridges above the falls sustain a mixed hardwood forest of predominantly oaks and hickories. Shade loving spring wildflowers including pink lady’s slippers are hidden in the dappled forest floor.
The waterfall varies seasonally from a roaring cascade after heavy spring rains to a spectacular ice show during deepest winter when mist from the falls freezes on surrounding vegetation. The spray field from the falls provides welcome respite for summer hikers as well as habitat for several species of ferns, sedges and rushes.
Listed on Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Watchable Wildlife website, Colditz Cove draws migratory birds during spring and fall and provides habitat for several relatively rare animal species including woodland jumping mice. With weights of up to an ounce and bodies about four inches long with tails as long or longer, when startled they can use their long tails and elongated hind legs to perform a surprising series of leaps with each jump covering three to four feet.
A 1.5-mile loop trail that descends about 100 feet to the base of the falls begins inauspiciously along an old jeep road that starts at the small parking lot off TN Hwy 52 a couple of miles east of Allardt.
As the gravel ends, the adventure begins on a narrow dirt trail that leads toward the cove. At the top of the falls the trail splits and forms a loop along the rim of the cove, drops into the cove, goes behind Northrup Falls and returns to the top. I’m betting you’ll find the view from the base of the falls is well worth the walk.
The left fork follows the rim of the cove along the bluff and along a short series of switchbacks before taking a sharp turn to double back directly under the 40-foot cliff line. Near the base of the falls the trail enters a boulder-strewn cave-like overhang that resulted from weathering of the sandstone caprock over a long period of time. Locally known as “rock houses,” Woodland Indians used these stone shelters among the cliffs close to streams more than 3,000 years ago.
Colditz Cove takes its name from brothers and property owners Rudolph and Arnold Colditz who worked with the Tennessee Trails Association, the Nature Conservancy and the State of Tennessee to assure the future of this lovely site. Colditz Cove is open year round during daylight hours. There are no facilities or ranger station
For more information about visiting Colditz Cove and other Tennessee State Natural Areas or participating in activities including guided hikes planned during Tennessee State Natural Areas Week from April 6-14 visit the Tennessee State Natural Area website.