After readying our packs, layering our clothes, and packing an after hike lunch, we were out the door and on our way with the mercury rising by noon time. It was a pleasant, uneventful drive up I-75 to our exit towards Huntsville, TN in Scott County. As we ventured further north and up the Cumberlands, the peaks showed what was left of their white winter blanket. It wasn't long before we reached the trail head, geared up, and headed down the trail.
Burnt Mill Bridge Loop is an absolutely gorgeous hike, especially in the winter time. We had hiked in the same area back when we did Honey Creek Loop in the early fall of last year. The trail is relatively flat, and the terrain isn't very difficult, featuring soft footing and sandy stretches as you follow alongside the Clear Fork River for most of the trail. There are, as always in Tennessee, some rooty and rocky parts, a few foot bridges, a couple sets of stone steps, and one ladder -- dubbed by the Kiddo as the "bestest part of the trail."
The scenery was so much like the Honey Creek trail, only much milder, that we were glad we could finally share this with Ashby. Remember, Honey Creek is the trail that's on steroids... not something Ash would be fond of. But this trail was perfect for her. Tons of opportunities for ooohs and ahhhs (Robin ended up with over 250 photos!), vistas as far as your eye would take you up and down river, rock shelters and bluffs, icicles taller than us, and lots of sweet little swimming holes if you're out in summer -- all packed into this kid-friendly hike.
If you're doing the trail clockwise, like we did, you'll find one of these swimming areas about .36 miles from the parking lot. There's a tree there with boards nailed on to fashion a ladder and a nice rope swing. There's another rope just two trees down. If it'd been summer, I would have been hard pressed to have resisted the inner child. The water looks deep enough here for jumping, and the rope looked to be in decent shape. But looks can be deceiving, so it never hurts to be cautious. This summer, a hot, sweltering day may find us picnicking here, and taking turns jumping in the river.
Overall, this was one of the prettiest trails we've been on. The website states that it's 3.6 miles, but our GPS confirmed others that have said the same - the trail really tops out at 4.3 miles. The trail is rated moderate, but I don't think it's the terrain that causes this. There were signs that the river had raged over the trail, and we met a friendly couple and their dog along the way who confirmed this. During heavy rains, part of the trail may be covered, and the current of that river looked very swift at times. You wouldn't want to be caught out there when flash flood warnings are in effect. Otherwise, the trail was very easy with a small elevation gain (about 150 feet that we could best guess) towards the halfway point.
With lots of resting spots (backcountry campsites galore!) and way too many things to look at for the time allotted, we had a hard time keeping ourselves moving. Towards the end we were losing light fast, but we really didn't mind. Although the temp was dropping and the Hamgeek (Robin's dad) would be worried, we couldn't help but watch the evening sunlight dance through the rhododendrons and sparkle off the many ice cascades near the end of the trail. The opportunity to behold the majesty of hemlock forests at sunset is worth the cost of tired feet and chilly noses. We can't wait to visit here again and again to watch the landscape change with the seasons.
Tim and Robin
PS... We've created a Flickr account so we can share more pictures with you! So, if you're interested in seeing more photos of this hike, click here.