Big Hill Pond State Park

In January 2019 I went for a hike in Big Hill Pond State Park, located in southwestern Tennessee just north of the Mississippi border. The park has nearly 30 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of which are also open to horses and mountain bikes, as well as a reservoir (Travis McNatt Lake), campground, backcountry campsites, observation tower, and historic sites. (park map)

Boat launch at Travis McNatt Lake

My hike totaled 8.4 miles over nearly 3 hours with a total of 682 feet of elevation gain and began at the boat launch on Travis McNatt Lake. I began by hiking counterclockwise around the lake on the Dry Ridge Trail, which passes around the northern and western side of the lake. From the boat launch the trail closely follows the lakeshore for 0.65 mi before crossing the stream and wetlands at the north side of the lake.


From there the Dry Ridge Trail makes a short climb above the lake and goes up and down three small hills and valleys over 1.35 mi. Over this section of the trail there were some muddy sections in the valleys while crossing side streams, but the trail was otherwise fairly nice. I then reached a split in the trail and followed a trail along a ridge to the northwest for 0.4 mi to connect with the horse trail, which I continued on for another 0.4 mi and then another trail for 0.25 mi to the park's lookout tower.

Lookout tower

The 70-foot tall lookout tower provides views around the park including to Travis McNatt Lake, across the swamp, hills, and surrounding forest. From the lookout tower, I followed the Turkey Call Trial through a somewhat rocky landscape (for the region) as it descended to the dismal swamp. A 0.5-mi boardwalk crosses the swamp, which is downstream of the dam. The boardwalk, lookout tower, and trail across the dam seem to be the most used area of the park, at least for hiking.

Boardwalk through the swamp

At the southwest end of the boardwalk I turned right (and southeast) on the less-used Azaela Spring Loop Trail. This trail followed the edge of the swamp for about a half mile before turning slightly uphill and following the Norfolk Southern Railway and reaching and intersection with a dirt road (all totaling 0.8 mi). This section of the railway was formerly the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and excavation during the construction of the railroad created the park's namesake Big Hill Pond, which is on the southern side of the park (though a trail does go to it).

Norfolk Southern Railway in the park. The Azaela Spring Loop follows the railroad on the right side of the photo.

A 12-acre section of the park on the northeast corner of the intersection where the Azaela Spring Loop, railroad, and an unpaved road meet is part of the Big Hill Pond Fortification. This area is on the National Register of Historic Places as it was the location of fortifications built by the Union Army in the fall of 1862 to defend the railroad following the Battle of Davis Bridge. Today the most noticeable thing that remains are some earthworks on top of the hill along the railroad.

Big Hill Pond Fortification. The defenses were located on this hill

From the fortification site, I continued east along the railroad for a quarter mile before turning northward and uphill on the Azaela Spring Loop. This trail continued winding through the upland forest for just over a mile before reaching the park road, where it connects with the Big Hill Pond Trail. From this point it is about a mile hike south on the Big Hill Pond Trail to reach Big Hill Pond, but I did not go in that direction. Rather, I continued north for 1.2 miles on the Big Hill Pond Trail (it's a loop).

Big Hill Pond Trail in the upland forest

This section of the Big Hill Pond Trail, like so many other trails in the park, traverses upland forest and connects with other trails. At the northern end of the Big Hill Pond Trail I turned northeast onto a trail that took me down to Travis McNatt Lake, across a footbridge, and back to the boat launch.

Footbridge across Travis McNatt Lake

There were only a few other people on the trails that day, but this park is definitely one of the best places to hike in the Mid South.

Travis McNatt Lake from the footbridge

View my recording on AllTrails here.
See more of my photos from this park here on Google Photos.

© Copyright 2007–2019 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.





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