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Hiking along the Devil’s Backbone on the Natchez Trace Parkway
By Tom Adkinson
January 14, 2021

devils backbone trail
White blazes on hardwood trees mark the 3.5-mile-long lollipop-shaped Devil’s Backbone Trail. Image by Tom Adkinson


HOHENWALD, Tenn. – A hike of reasonable length on a brisk winter day can be invigorating, especially if the trail has an intriguing name and is part of a larger travel experience.

That’s the case for hiking the Devil’s Backbone Trail, a stop southwest of Nashville along the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway.

The trail is short, only 3.5 miles long, and it takes its name from an old nickname for the Natchez Trace itself, according to the Hohenwald-Lewis County Chamber of Commerce.


devils backbone trail footbridge
A simple plank is the footbridge across the small creek at the bottom of the Devil’s Backbone Trail hollow. Image by Tom Adkinson


In the early 1800s, the trace was an arduous trek from Natchez, Mississippi, to Middle Tennessee, a route frontier travelers used to return to the interior after floating goods down the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.

Your stroll on the Devil’s Backbone Trail, however, is a breeze.

devils backbone natural area tennessee
Tennessee’s Devil’s Backbone Natural Area is a 950-acre parcel adjacent to the Natchez Trace Parkway. Image by Tom Adkinson


You’ll find the trailhead at Mile Marker 394. Leave your vehicle behind to walk on what looks on a map to be in the shape of a lollipop.

You begin with a half-mile that is mostly flat and straight before you intersect a 2.5-mile-long loop. Go clockwise or counterclockwise, and you come back to the same spot. Just follow the white blazes on the trees.

It’s short enough that it’s unlikely to wear you out, and it’s definitely family friendly. You go deep into the woods, but you never meet the devil.

Some of the loop is along a ridge top, but soon enough, it drops into a hollow, where a small stream cuts a serpentine route along the forest floor. While hiking downhill, you know you’ll have to pay the price on the other side of the hollow, but it’s not overly taxing. Elevation change is 200 feet.

devils backbone trail creek
A meandering creek cuts through part of the Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area. Image by Tom Adkinson


The trail is appealing in all seasons. In winter, a blue sky contrasts nicely with the forest floor of grays and browns. The overhead canopy fills in as spring turns to summer, and autumn, of course, delivers a colorful experience.

Your walk is through sycamores, tulip poplars, chestnut oaks, shortleaf pines, white oaks and red oaks. It’s an environment Native Americans would have seen before the European and American hunters and settlers arrived.

The 950-acre area is protected by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation because it is a relatively rare example of western Highland Rim forest.

If you are driving north, there’s a culinary treat 50 miles away where the parkway ends. It’s the Loveless Motel, a place famous for biscuits, fried chicken and other comfort food.

devils backbone trail cascade
An easily accessible cascade on Swan Creek is just a few miles south of the Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area. Image by Tom Adkinson


If you’re headed south, you’ll soon see markers for Swan Creek and Fall Hollow. Stop there to see a splashing waterfall and enjoy another short walk. After that, you can drop off the parkway to Hohenwald, where you find restaurants and other services. Hohenwald is one of a dozen small towns in the region that promote themselves as Nashville’s Big Back Yard.

A tip to first-timers on the Natchez Trace Parkway: Don’t exceed the posted 55 mile-per-hour speed limit. There’s no reason to blast past the parkway’s beautiful scenery in the first place, and you definitely don’t want to meet a deer or a National Park Service ranger.


Trip Planning Resources: NPS.gov/natr, HohenwaldLewisChamber.com, NashvillesBigBackYard.org and TNvacation.com

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on Amazon.com.













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