Monday, August 15, 2011

Hike 2011.054 -- Fort Henry Trails, Land Between the Lakes NRA, TN (Part 1)

Hiked Sunday, August 14. There's a network of trails collectively known as "Fort Henry Trails." They're all associated with the Fort Henry area, which was an important early Civil War battlefield. The Union victory there gave them control of the lower Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, which were important transit ways for western and central Kentucky and Tennessee. Of course, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley did not exist at the time. This area was instead known as "Land Between the Rivers." In fact, Fort Henry, which used to overlook the Tennessee River, was submerged by the reservoir that pooled behind Kentucky Dam.

The trailhead for the Fort Henry trails is on a spur road off of Fort Henry Road. To get there from U.S. 79, take "The Trace" north from 79 (it is signed for access to Land Between the Lakes). At the south Welcome Center, turn left (away from the Welcome Center), to the west. Take the second right (the second paved road on the right), which will be signed towards Boswell Landing. When the road makes a sharp right towards Boswell Landing, you should see a dirt/gravel road signed for Fort Henry parking, more or less straight for your direction of travel. After about 200 yards, the road will reach a little loop at the end. There will also be the remains of roads heading in several directions near this loop, but I'm pretty sure those roads are for authorized vehicles only (although they are not signed that way--they're just kind of narrow and bumpy).

I parked in this end loop. There were no other cars when I parked, but 2 or 3 other cars when I left, so I know I parked legally.

Although this was another "Land Between the Lakes" hike, I could not see any lakes on this hike. The forest cover is so thick that you can't see far in any direction. In fact, even though I could only rarely see any roads, I often heard the sound of trucks or motorcycles roaring quite nearby.

That's the main difference I've noticed in hiking here in the mid-South versus out West: Thick trees, and fewer expansive vistas.

Very pleasant day of hiking, even without the big open views. The high was in the low 80s and there was a nice breeze. The breeze wouldn't be so nice if I was trying to paddle a canoe out on one of the lakes, but it was wonderful up there in the hills.

Odd thing about these trails is that the signs are mostly coded. Trail inter-sections are numbered on the map, and numbered on the ground, so if you come to a junction with a big "2" on it, you have to look at your map to see that this is where you are. Then you often have to look at the color of the metal "blazes" hammered on to tree trunks to know which trail you're on.

On a few plastic trail markers, someone did Sharpy in a trail name. But most intersections lacked any indication of the trails. So, key factor number one if you hike this trail: Get a copy of the trail map!

Here's a link to the trail map that's available on the LBL website.

In reading the short trail descriptions, you'll see a color, followed by numbers after each trail name. That tells you which color blazes are on that trail, and which junction numbers the trail crosses.

To illustrate what you'll see, I've got a couple of pictures of forest with numbered junctions and/or colored blazes on trees for you to see.

Not much in the way of wildlife visible on these trails today. It did cross several mostly-dry creeks, where fish or tadpoles could sometimes be seen. One fuzzy shot of those fish is right here.

I also saw a few butterflies, ants, and some really weird things that I eventually learned were pods of Eastern tent caterpillars (I initially thought they were gypsy moth caterpillars). They were these large sacks, wrapped in silk. By large, I mean over a foot long. They were wrapped in a non-symetrical blob of silk, like a super-giant black widow might weave. You almost expected to see a giant spider in the trees above the sacks. Inside the sacks, you could see innumerable little caterpillars (1.5 inches long or so), occasionally wiggling or inching around in the sack.

Click on the picture above to enlarge it. Click it again to enlarge it even more.

In terms of my path today, I started out at the official trailhead, bore south and southeast (got my bearings from the sun) to get on the Telegraph Trail, heading east. Continued east to the Devil's Backbone trail, then headed south. (The picture below is from part of the Devil's Backbone--it was not nearly as amazing as the Devil's Backbone near Mt. Baldy!). Then east on the Artillery Trail, then east on the Piney Trail, then north on the Volunteer Trail, then the Telegraph Trail, west, back to my car.

Easy to follow that route if you have a map. It would be really easy to get lost without a map, however. As I said, most trails are not signed with names and directions, and with the thick tree coverage and lack of visible landmarks, one direction looks an awful lot like another.

Slightly over 7.2 miles for the day. Although that's short (and flat) by my previous standards of hiking, I've had a pretty long layoff of long, strenuous hikes. This one made me pretty tired, to the point where I got lazy and actually stumbled during a descent. Skinned my knee a little. And took a really long nap when I got home. Still, this did cap off a pretty busy period of hiking. Hoping to keep up a pace of 1-3 hikes a week for at least the summer and late fall period, when the sun sets late and I can squeeze in some hikes following afternoon classes.

Because of the large number of interconnected trails here, I anticipate probably 3-4 more visits, just to walk some of the other trails that I didn't do today.


  1. Quite an amazing change in scenery from the dry Cali mountains. Keep it up man!

  2. Yep, I just can't get over how green everything is--and how easy it is to get completely turned around among the trees!

    Did another hike today, although I won't have time to write it up tonight. It occurs to me if I can average 3 a week, I can still make 100 for the year. However, to do that, I'd have to get pretty repetitive in my LBL hikes. It's the only large chunk of public lands around. Other state and national parks are within a half-day's drive, but that's still a long way to drive regularly for hiking.

    I already knew this, but westerners are lucky because they've got so much public lands around them. I know back in the San Gabriel Valley, if I really wanted to, doing 100 unique hikes wouldn't be all that hard, especially now that the Station Fire and Curve Fire closures have been mostly lifted.

  3. I hope to make it to this trail system soon!

  4. The whole LBL is a great resource for folks in western KY and western TN. Plenty of hiking opportunities, though no real panoramic viewpoints. Kinda wish I could get back here for the spring.

  5. I'm headed there this weekend. I like this area because you can camp, hunt, ride horses, fish, and trap. If you're into primitive survival skills, it doesn't get much better than LBL backcountry.