Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trail Review: Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail

Creech Hollow Lake, just off the Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail
Creech Hollow Lake
Trail: Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail
Location: Montgomery Bell State Park; Burns, TN
Trail Length: 10.4 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Solitude: Moderate

Less than an hour’s drive from the proudly booming town of Nashville, Montgomery Bell State Park has provided an easily accessible refuge from the constant jackhammer rattles of new condo developments, hand-infused coffee boutiques, and the ever-rumbling engines of yacht-sized pickup trucks driven by the corollary building contractors who have euphorically occupied my once humble neighborhood. My girlfriend and I have spent many a weekend car-camping, backpacking, or simply day hiking at this well-managed, popular park. Despite the frequent visits, however, I had never hiked the “official” 10-plus mile Overnight Loop Trail in succession. With beautiful weather forecast and spring blossoms popping up everywhere, I decided it was time to cross this one off the list last weekend.

Wildcat Shelter, Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail
Wildcat Shelter
The Overnight Trail offers three rustic, tin-roofed shelters built from log and mortar, each with a nice fire pit area, sitting benches, and water access nearby. I chose to stay in the Wildcat shelter, which is my favorite because it sits just above the junction of two creeks with the small and charming Lake Acorn only a few hundred yards or so behind it. The shelter is only 1.5 miles from the park office, and I chose to take this very short route for my hike in, leaving me almost nine miles to hike out the following day. Other routes are available for this and the other two shelters if one wishes to more equally split the mileage over two days.

Ebony by Lake Acorn at Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail
Ebony after a dip in Lake Acorn

The overnight loop provides consistent and very pleasant scenery throughout. The elevation changes are modest but frequent offering a nice, rolling rhythm to the trek. Creeks born of natural springs snake in and out of the hike with multiple water crossings, so be sure to wear proper footwear in colder temperatures (though modestly agile hikers could probably cross them without getting wet during most months.)  Spring wildflowers were just beginning to bloom during my visit with redbuds, dogwoods, and violets dotting the landscape throughout. Waterfowl are ever-present giving my dog many opportunities for futile chases of geese and duck. A snake slithered away from my careless tromping feet as I was wading in one of the creeks, and a small toad paid me a luxurious and patient visit as I was taking photographs by Creech Hollow Lake (though he cautiously stayed in a dark shadow by my backpack, eluding a decent camera exposure.) Speaking of this area, Creech Hollow Lake is only visible from one point of the Montgomery Bell trail, and I suggest taking a side trek down the Creech Hollow Trail (orange blaze) if time permits. The lake and bordering trail offer some of the nicest views in the park as well as the best spots for picnics or other respite. So, if you're a Nashville resident who, like me, sometimes tires of the manically unceasing, self-satisfied energy of a city on the rise, Montgomery Bell offers an easy getaway, though you might have to sacrifice the convenience of artisanal cheese shops and vintage denim clothiers for a couple of days. 

Dogs roasting by campfire at Wildcat Shelter, Montgomery Bell
Four dogs on the fire and a fifth waiting patiently.
Montgomery Bell State Park, Lake Acorn
Lake Acorn at first morning light

Montgomery Bell Overnight Trail creek with sunlight
The sun reflects into a backlit creek along the trail.
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