Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Trail Review: Ganier Ridge to South Cove Loop - Radnor Lake State Park

Radnor Lake framed by trees and hills

Trail: Ganier Ridge to South Cove Loop, Radnor Lake State Natural Area
Location: 1160 Otter Creek Rd., Nashville, TN 37220
Trail Length: Apprx. 4.5 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Solitude: Crowded

Click map for larger image.
Radnor Lake is one of Nashville’s most popular spots for hiking, wildlife viewing, and more. On my last trip, I arrived at 6:30 AM and by the time I left at 8:30; the parking lot was backed up with cars waiting for an open spot (granted, it was Labor Day.) It’s easy to see why Radnor is so popular; it’s namesake lake framed by gently rolling hills is very pretty, and the natural trails offer a “real” hiking experience and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities from within the city’s confines. The lake was originally constructed by the L&N Railroad company in 1914 to provide a water source for their steam engines. As steam engines fell out of use, Radnor was preserved to become Tennessee’s first State Natural Area. The primary mission is to keep wildlife habitat in tact. On my visit I saw a number of deer, countless waterfowl, and even some wild turkeys on the trail. I chose a loop to incorporate the more challenging trails on natural surfaces (some trails are flat and mulched), and ended up with a good workout. I’ll lay out some quick details and my route below.

Lush, green vegetation along the Ganier Ridge Trail at Radnor Lake
The trail on top of Ganier Ridge
I started my hike from the East Parking Lot trailhead (accessed via Franklin Road). After a quick jaunt on the access trail, I hit the park’s best trail, the Ganier Ridge Trail. Ganier Ridge begins with a series of switchbacks as it climbs upward. This gets the blood flowing immediately and is the most strenuous part of the hike. Ganier Ridge is also the most rugged trial with more of a “backcountry” feel than any other accessible part of the park. From the upper elevations, one winds around the ridge for a short stretch before descending a few more switchbacks over exposed roots and limestone to merge with the mulched Lake Trail on soft, flat ground. I chose to turn right at this juncture to create a counterclockwise loop.

Within a few hundred yards of entering the Lake Trail, I ran into a very docile adolescent deer who seemed only mildly concerned by my presence. Before long, the trail winds you alongside Radnor Lake with pleasant views across a marshy floodplain. From there, the trail lands right beside the lake for even closer views (where I saw another family of deer) before crossing a tributary of the lake to hit the gravel Spillway Trail near the west parking lot and visitor center.

Radnor Lake at sunrise, as seen from Lake Trail
The view from the Lake Trail
Heading west on the Spillway Trail along the lake takes you to the paved Otter Creek Road briefly. After a quarter-mile or less heading south on Otter Creek, you’ll reach a trailhead with access to the South Cove and South Lake Trails. I chose to veer right (west) onto the South Cove Trail, as it is more of a rugged, natural trail than is the flatter South Lake.

While not as strenuous and challenging as the Ganier Ridge, the South Cove offers another good workout with pleasant scenery of hardwoods, limestone, fern, moss, and a real wooded feel. It dead ends into the South Lake trail, where I took a right before being quickly spit out back onto Otter Creek Road. From here, it was a short trek back to the parking lot with some final parting views of the lake.

A marsh along the southern tip of Radnor Lake
The marshy cove on the southern edge of Radnor Lake
This past Labor Day weekend was my first trip to Radnor, which seems almost blasphemous as a Nashvillian who loves the outdoors. Despite its many evangelists, the reason I had overlooked this urban treasure is because my main hiking partner is my dog. Due to its Class II Natural Area designation, Radnor Lake does not allow dogs on the trail (nor does it allow trail running.) You can, however, walk dogs on the paved Otter Creek Road and gravel Spillway Trail. Either way, the park is definitely worth a visit; just be forewarned of the crowds and limited parking.

For more information, including trail maps and contact info, visit the Radnor Lake website.

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