Don’t let the chilly weather keep you off the trails. Sometimes the best views can be had when the leaves are off the trees. Here are three winter hikes you have to see to believe.
Are you a rocker? If so, you’ll love the four miles of trails at Little Cedar Mountain on Nickajack Reservoir—located about 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. The trails wind past limestone outcroppings, through boulder fields and alongside historical stone walls—farmsteads that formerly populated the region. It’s a junior geologist’s dream. As you make your way up to the overlook, you’ll be offered stunning vistas of Nickajack Reservoir through leafless trees. At the top—a cedar-laden limestone barrens similar to the one found at Lady’s Bluff Small Wild Area (see below)—you’ll be afforded a view of Shellmound Recreation Area on the next ridge over. A small pond provides water for wildlife, which in the summer include salamanders and frogs, and in the winter deer, turkeys and even elusive coyotes.
Trail rating: Moderate
Find it: Take exit 158 off I-24 in Jasper, Tenn., to TVA Rd.; coordinates 35.03111, -85.58141
Small wild areas are wilderness conservation zones in miniature—little natural gems set aside for protection from encroachment by man. Which is not to say you can’t pay a visit. The 2.7-mile round-trip trail through Lady’s Bluff Small Wild Area allows you to do so; it's an upland hike through an a forest that features limestone outcroppings, fresh-water springs and natural sink holes. This time of year, the trail offers spectacular views of the Tennessee River as you wend your way to the top of the bluff, where you can observe a glade community with 100-year-old gnarled cedars and easily view the Busseltown Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge across the river on the opposite shore. Winter waterfowl is a main attraction at the refuge at this time of year, and species to watch for include mallards, gadwalls American wigeons, ring-neck ducks, American black ducks and Canadian geese. Bald eagles have also been spotted.
Trail rating: Easy-to-moderate
Find it: Located at 274 Lady’s Bluff Rd. on the Kentucky Reservoir near Hopewell, Tenn.; coordinates 35.688271N, -88.013062
Looking for a lovely, hand-holding stroll for two? You’ll find it at TVA’s newly opened Marbut Bend Trail in Limestone, Ala. (It's pictured at the top of the page.) This easy, flat and A.D.A.-accessible 1.1-mile walk will take you across boardwalks through a wetland and a pond created by a beaver dam, along the shoreline of two embayments (or coves) of the Elk River and through an open field filled with hay bales. The combination of wetland and field draws a lively mix of wildlife; expect to see migratory shore birds, wood ducks, blue-winged teals, great blue herons, egrets, deer, raccoons—and, of course, beavers. Throw out a blanket on the farmland and snuggle in for a cool-weather picnic, as many lovers do this time of year.
Trail rating: Easy
Find it: Located in Limestone, Ala., on Hwy. 99, 1.5 miles past the Elk River Bridge (heading West); coordinates 34.911671, -87.106389