Nate and I took advantage of one of our few free weekends this summer and headed out to break in my new sleeping bag (that’s been in the box since we got it months ago) for a camping excursion to Pickett State Park near the Big South Fork Rec Area. Before retreating to the campsite for the night, we took a chance to check out the Hidden Passage Loop that we’d both read great things about… but, to be honest, was a bit of a disappointment.
- Scenery: 3.5
- Difficulty: 2.0
- Length: 8 – 10 miles (we only did 6′ish, though)
- Dog Friendliness: 3.0
- Convenience: 1.0
- Bonus Funtimes: 4.0
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): The Hidden Passage trail starts off in a lush, dense Tennessee Forest with plenty of tall trees, shade and an abundance of rhododendron. The trail is most distinctly dotted with huge rockhouses. The rockhouses provided a great cooling spot to stop and rest in during this humid, humid July day.
In 2008, a forest fire rolled through the area, destroying large swathes of the park. These areas along the trail are in full re-growth mode, but still very distinctive and become more prominent the further you continue on the loop (or at least to the half-way point… that’s as far as we got).
This loop is also well known for a couple of nice waterfall spots. The first, Crystal Falls is an enchanting spot in the first 1/4 of the hike and well worth the mini-trek down to check it out. The second, Double Falls, is supposed to be pretty impressive (and a fairly strenuous spur trail), but we didn’t make it down to these falls. We could, however, hear them roaring from atop Thompson Overlook.
Difficulty (2.0 out of 5.0): Based on topography alone, this trail is not terribly difficult. There are some steady climbs, but nothing out of the ordinary for the area. While we chose an unseasonably not hot (I wouldn’t call it a “cool day”) it turned out to be incredibly humid with the bugs were in full effect. I swallowed at least one. The rockhouses provided a great respite from both the bugs and the heat, thankfully.
Unfortunately, since much of the trail was affected by the fires a few years ago, good chunks of the trail are now in the regrowth stage which lends itself to lots and lots and LOTS of thorny bushes. Between the heat, the bugs and seemingly nonstop thorn scratches, my patience wore thin pretty quickly. Once we made it to the Thompson Overlook, we were both getting a little frustrated with the trail. That’s when Nate won the Hiking Award of the Day by suggesting we cut our losses and follow the jeep trail to see if it could offer us a shortcut. We still wound up doing about 6 miles total, but we were both very happy to discover the jeep trail was relatively thorn free and led us back to the group camp ground and eventually the trailhead.
Dog Friendliness (2.5 out of 5.0): Ezra stayed home on this trek, which with the humidity was the right call for my heat-adverse pooch. Aside from the beginning, there weren’t many watering spots for the pups. Also, it would be difficult for the dogs to avoid the thorns (I failed at it miserably) which may make it not the most ideal trail for dogs that aren’t terribly hardy.
Convenience (1.0 out of 5.0): At 2-3 hours from Nashville, this trip will take up your entire day, but you do have a chance to scope out some beautiful, winding east Tennessee roads & scenery. Or just grab a spot at the campground to enjoy a night’s stay.
Bonus Funtimes (4.0 out of 5.0): While the trail drained some of our enthusiasm, the campground did help to restore our spirits. This is a great spot for families. With camping options from tents to camper hookups to cabins w/AC, there’s something for all levels of outdoorsiness. There’s at least one playground area, a tennis court and an official (albeit narrow and shallow) swimming hole. While the water never got deeper than 3′, Nate and I took a dip that helped to relax our weary muscles.