I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
February 4, 2016
Nashville’s Warner Park and Radnor Lake are certainly the most popular (and heavily trafficked) spots in the city to get your hike on– but one of my new favorite spots for a walk in the woods is the Hidden Lake Trail at Harpeth River State Park. Located right off Exit 192 on I-40 (the McCrory Lane exit just past Bellevue), this trail is perfect for anyone who loves history, adventure, or discovery– It’s a little under two miles long and far less populated than hiking trails closer to town.
When you get off of the interstate, head north for about 3/4 of a mile and you’ll see the parking area for the park just past the Harpeth River on your left. From there, follow the signs to the Hidden Lake trail- They’re easy to spot.
The Hidden Lake trail is lovely at any season, but I especially recommend it for families in the winter and early spring when the leaves have fallen from the trees and underbrush is at a minimum. There are lots of signs of civilization from the 1920s and ’30s that children will love discovering, and much of it is covered up in the summer and fall.
At the traihead, a sign will point you in the correct direction for the Hidden Lake trail. After that, signage is sparse, so it’s a good idea to print a map before you go, just in case you get confused. At the first fork in the Hidden Lake trail, go right to get to the Ridge Loop Trail (left goes straight to the lake).
If you have smaller kids (five and under), I highly recommend that you skip the Ridge Loop Trail and take the left fork to the lake. This was one of the first real hikes my kids could do without having to be carried part of the way, and they loved reaching the end of the trail and finding a beautiful lake.
As you walk, you’ll notice an embankment to your right and if you’re looking closely, you should see a scraggly-looking pathway over the embankment. My son can’t resist investigating anything even vaguely resembling a trail offshoot when we’re on a hike, and in this case, I’m glad he did– Just over the embankment was our first glimpse of the smaller of two hidden lakes, complete with a bench by the shore. This spot is by far the best view of the smaller lake.
Please note the Backyard Safari vest he wore for the occasion- This kid was ready for anything.
The next fork in the trail is the start of the Ridge Loop. We recommend forking left for the best experience (This is my 11-year-old’s idea and it’s a good one.) Once you fork left, you’ll begin a steep climb up to the top of the ridge. This is where the ‘adventure’ part of the trail comes into play.
As you climb, the trail narrows substantially until you are walking along a ridge, with a steep drop-off on either side. Older children will love the thrill of this experience, but if you have a kid who tends to dart, you might want to save this trail until he/she is older. If you bring a dog, make sure its on a leash.
Along the ridge, several large, flat rocks offer spectacular views of the lake. Stop for a rest and tell your fellow hikers the history behind Hidden Lake. It’s not easy to find online, but fortunately, I was able to find a few comments from Friends of Hidden Lake member Art Asbury to help fill in the blanks.
This state natural area was a quarry from 1914 until 1918. In 1931, the site was bought and turned into a resort. The quarry bottom was sealed, the water was filtered, and a water slide and water wheel were built beside the lake. A large building was constructed on the north rim of the lake at the stone steps, where people could shower, change, eat meals, and relax. According to Asbury, “One of the Life Guards, Mr Tharp, said the Lake, Club and a camp [built by H.G. Hill next to this property] were closed in 1941 when WWII broke out and all the boys were called to serve or work.”
Today, it’s hard to imagine that this place was once a bustling swimming area– but observant hikers will see signs of what once was, from the old stone steps to a marble dance floor at the top of the overlook, which is all that’s left of the original resort.
Once you’ve reached the top of the ridge, the trail widens again and you’ll have lots of different views of the lake, as well as the veterans cemetery to the south. Particularly if you’re a kid, though, the fun is just beginning.
As you head back down the other side of the loop (and don’t worry- the way down is much less steep than the way up- Another reason to fork left on the loop if you’re with kids), you’ll spy some very interesting signs of civilization.
First, there’s a tumbledown shed. It looks like it could fall over any second so I didn’t let the kids go inside, but we took a good long look from the entrance.
Feed boxes are still tacked to the walls of the shed. It’s a small structure, so we tried to guess what kinds of animals used to live here.
Farther along the trail, my son discovered this old fuel tanker, which is camouflaged during the summer months and much harder to find.
You can look through the hole at the top and see the bones of what looks like a pirate inside the tank! Just kidding. You’ll see a lot of soda cans. It is interesting, though.
I’m pretty sure this is code for “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”
Continue on and you, like my son, might stumble across a gigantic millipede on the path, or a cluster of mushrooms…
Or, in my case, you just might find the best Tennessee fossil you’ve ever laid eyes on:
Millions of years ago, Middle Tennessee was covered by a warm, shallow sea and millions of sea creatures. I’m assuming this fossil formed in a spot where marine life washed up regularly, because the rock is absolutely loaded with all kinds of fossils.
Of course, I, uh, just looked at the rock and put it back. Because it’s a state park. And taking a fossil would be bad.
The grand finale was still to come– Suddenly, near the end of the trail, we came upon what was left of a farmhouse.
This is another excellent reason to go during the cold-weather months– All of the underbrush inside was dead, so we could walk around inside the house and explore.
Needless to say, the kids were thrilled.
At this point, you’ve come to the end of the Ridge loop. From there, it’s a short walk back to the field where you parked. Once we got back to the field, we took a short branch to a kayak put-in along the river, where one last surprise awaited us…
This deer was completely unconcerned about the fact that a boy was standing just a few feet away, ready to charge the deer as soon as we gave the okay. (Don’t worry. We most emphatically did not give the okay.)
I can’t believe it took me 15 years to hike this trail, but now that I’ve done it, I can’t wait to go back!
The Hidden Lake Trail is just one of several fascinating natural wonders at Harpeth River State Park, including Mound Bottom (accessible only by guided tour), the ruins of an iron forge operation built by slaves in the mid-1800s, and another ridge trail that includes a Native American petroglyph. I’ve read that the best way to hike the Hidden Lake Trail is on one of the guided hikes led by a park ranger several times a year – Keep an eye out for one of those on the website or call the park for more information.
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