Floating The Narrows of the Harpeth
My first canoe trip down The Narrows of the Harpeth River, some 30 years ago, was well before it became a popular destination for paddlers. Today, this section of the scenic river gives numerous paddlers access to a five-mile float around the Narrows at Bell’s Bend.
The Narrows is the downstream portion of the Harpeth River State Park. The park offers canoe access at the 1862 Newsom’s Mill ruins, the McCrory Lane Bridge at Hidden Lake and the U.S. Highway 100 Bridge. This class II river is just right for young or first time paddlers.
For many, a float-trip requires two vehicles – one left at the take-out and another to drive back to the put-in. The Narrows gets its name from the geological happenstance. There is only a narrow stretch of land where the river bends back on itself.
When I first fished there, I parked below the Harris Street Bridge at the downstream access after dropping off my canoe. I walked back to put-in to negotiate launching my canoe down a steep bank. That bank is still steep but now it has a canoe slide and steps. No more sliding a canoe down the slope and undergrowth, poison ivy included. There is a parking area at the launch site and a larger parking area across the road, below the bridge at the take-out site.
In the early 1800s, industrialist Montgomery Bell had a tunnel carved through the limestone hill to provide water for his ironworks. Wooden steps lead down to the entrance of the tunnel. When I was there a couple of weeks ago, the river was running high, covering the base of the steps. When you paddle downstream, you can beach your canoe and walk to the small waterfall where water exits the tunnel.
I first floated The Narrows as a fishing trip to catch smallmouth bass. I hooked one that weighed about three pounds and it pulled my canoe around. I had an audience of paddlers who came around a bend to stop to watch me play the lunker.
Since then, my children have joined me on many floats. My last fishing trip was for a video that never got aired because the cameraman dropped the camera while taping. Oops!
If you prefer dry land, there are three hiking trails here. All begin at a trailhead near the park entrance. A half-mile trail runs from the canoe launch area to the canoe take-out parking area at the Harris Street Bridge. Another trail (of the same distance) takes you on the backside of the bluff to the site of Montgomery Bell’s Pattison (his mother’s maiden name) Forge and the waterfall of Bell’s iron forge operation. And a two-mile trail requires a steep climb to a narrow bluff offering a broad vista of the picturesque Harpeth River valley.
Although I didn’t take a canoe on my last visit, the return visit made me recall many hours of paddling, swimming and fishing. I did take my camera and brought home reminders of days passed.