Little Cedar Mountain Trail features cooling trailside views of varied sparkling bodies of water…from a wetlands pond to a majestic lake. Located in a Small Wild Area in Jasper, Tenn., the three-mile loop trail informally is considered one of TVA’s “Great Trails.” It offers a heart-pounding hike (rated “moderate” on our difficulty scale) as it winds along the shoreline past old rock walls, through mixed forest with cedar glades and up to wildflower and rock gardens soaring above Nickajack Lake.
The large limestone rocks dotting the landscape are home to lovely ferns, lichens and mosses. Nature photographers love the trail overlook: glance up to enjoy soaring vistas of the lake framed by mountains in the distance. Look around and down, and you may see a rare wildflower, the hoary puccoon. Other floral delights trailside can include larkspur, fire pink, stonecrop, John Beck’s leafcup, cylindrica blazing star, rock cress, twinflower, trillium and hairy gromwell.
The rustic trail’s versatility is outstanding, offering an optional one-mile pond trail within (and in addition to) the three-mile loop. That trail takes you to the top of Little Cedar Mountain, where the forest pond can be full of noisy frogs, slithering salamanders and darting dragonflies (but no fish).
However, the fish in Nickajack Lake itself are abundant, boasting 60 different fish species, including a bustling crappie fishery. The lake is part of the Tennessee River Gorge, the fourth-largest river gorge in the eastern United States.
Formed by the Tennessee River, the majestic gorge is a 26-mile canyon meandering around and cutting through the Cumberland Plateau into Alabama. In fact, a bench at the overlook is a nice place to observe river traffic and the tugboats moving barges up and down the river.
If you go: Little Cedar Mountain Trail is in Jasper, Tennessee. Take exit 158 on I-24 about 25 miles west of Chattanooga, Tenn., and turn left.
Distance: 3- or 4-mile loop
Coordinates: 35.030727 -85.581417
Amenities: Parking, hiking, camping
Located at Muscle Shoals, this easy, accessible 0.18 mile walk offers breathtaking views of Wilson Dam and a series of waterfalls (and access to their cooling spray). Different varieties of birds can always be found playing in the tailwater below the dam, and views of limestone bluffs are magnificent.
If you go: The trail is located on Reservation Rd. in Muscle Shoals, Ala., between Hwy 43 (Hatch Blvd.) and Wilson Dam.
Distance: 0.18 miles
Coordinates: 34.792201 -87.636019
Amenities: Hiking, biking, hard-surface trail, restrooms
It’s a nice easy grade either up or down depending on where you start. A nice, cool, babbling creek talks to you just about the whole length of the trail, which ends in a picnic area besides Nottely River. Ahhhhh.
If you go: This trail is on the Nottely Dam Reservation about nine miles north of Blairsville, Ga.
Distance: 1 mile
Coordinates: 34.959275 -84.023751
Amenities: Parking, hiking
This trail runs along the Clinch River, which is naturally cooled by releases from Norris Dam. Bonus: It’s also great for observing a large variety of wildflowers in a small area including several rare species. Rich pockets of wildflowers are scattered over the hillside, especially yellow trout lilies, celandine poppies, bloodroot, spring beauties and toothwort—bring a camera fitted with a macro lens.
If you go: This trail is on the Norris Dam Reservation on the west side of the dam—across the tailwaters from the Songbird Trail. Norris Dam is about 30 miles north of Knoxville, Tenn., off I-75, exit 122.
Distance: 3.2-mile loop
Coordinates: 36.220442 -84.095179
Amenities: Parking, hiking
It’s always a good time for fun on the Tennessee Valley’s lands and waters. Not sure where to start? We have you covered! Check out some of the best recreational activities on our reservoirs. While you’re enjoying the lakes, trails, picnic areas and campgrounds, share your own stories and photos on Instagram using #TVAfun.
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Whether wooded or winding by the water, TVA trails tend to take the temperature down a notch or two. Find even more trails to chill out on at our TVA Trails page. You might even be able to able find trails for mountain bikes and horses. Click here to find more TVA trails.