Friday, July 18, 2014

Trail Review: Volunteer Trail, Long Hunter State Park

Lake view at sunrise in Tennessee

Trail Map, Volunteer Trail Long Hunter State Park
Click for larger image.
Trail: Volunteer Trail 
Location: Long Hunter State Park; Hermitage, TN
Trail Length: Apprx. 12 miles (including the 4 mi. Day Loop)
Difficulty: Easy
Solitude: Moderate to crowded (often busy on weekends)

My first solo backpacking trip was on this trail, and for good reason. The Volunteer Trail is especially well-suited to beginners or those looking for an easy, pleasant overnight wilderness trek. Well, “wilderness” hardly applies. Long Hunter is a very pretty, well-managed and well-maintained park, but given it is only a thirty-minute drive from downtown Nashville and sits on the very popular and populated Percy Priest Lake, this park is not secluded. As far as I’m concerned, that should be viewed as the charm of this trail. Given I only live a mile east of downtown Nashville, I’m grateful for the opportunity to hop in my car late in the afternoon, enjoy a 12 mile hike, sleep under the stars, and still make it home for lunch the next day. Let’s get into the specifics and features of the trail.

Limestone field at Longhunter State Park

This hike is a bit of a lollipop trail, but most of it is an out and back (so this lollipop has a long stem.) The lollipop involves the day loop, which only accounts for 4 miles of the 12 miles round trip. The vast majority of the Volunteer trail traces the shoreline of Percy Priest Lake. The dominant features of the trail, both by the shore and the few spots a bit deeper in the woods, are mossy limestone rock jumbles and a surprisingly mature forest heavy with oak, cedar, and hickory. Despite the rocky terrain, the trail is pretty easy to traverse and the elevation changes are very modest. A few very small bluffs do provide a bit of an overlook view of Percy Priest, though most of the hike allows for easy access to the lake for swimming in warm weather. The hike to the campsite is 5.5 miles and sits right on the edge of the lake. I saw several heron on the lake and almost ran into a pair of deer quietly foraging by the trail on my hike in. Once I reached Campsite 1, which sits right on the bank of the lake, I was pleased for the opportunity to take a swim and filter some water. This particular site (two are available) had a large fire ring with three big half-log benches surrounding it.

Sunset on lake at Long Hunter State Park

On my return hike, I chose to take in the western edge of the Day Loop trail so that my walk would hug the shoreline at almost every step. This section of the trail had some nice rock formations, a few sinkholes exposing the Earth’s topmost layers, and several wildflowers to complement the rocky lakeside views. Again, having access to an area of subtle beauty within a short car ride from Nashville makes this park and this trail a bit more special than it might otherwise seem.

Park Information
A permit is required for backcountry camping and must be obtained at the park office.
Office Phone: (615) 885-2422
Park Website

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