Hiking Tennessee’s Old Stone Fort State Park

Old Stone Fort State Park

When we visit the small Middle Tennessee city of Manchester, it’s usually to visit family; my in-laws live in the city about an hour’s drive south of Nashville. If you’re familiar with big music festivals you’ve probably heard of Manchester’s annual Bonnaroo music and arts festival. But Manchester, Tenn., is also home to an archaeological find: Old Stone Fort State Park. But Old Stone Fort State Park isn’t just a place to discover an ancient place once important for Native Americans. It’s also a fun hiking adventure filled with beautiful waterfalls along the Duck River.

It is believed the Old Stone Fort was built during the Middle Woodland Period, around 250 AD. Native Americans used the area for about 500 years before abandoning it. What it was used for remains unclear, although it is believed that it served as a ceremonial gathering place.

Old Stone Fort State Park

The beginning of the trail

We spent a couple of hours on a beautiful early spring afternoon exploring the park, but easily could have spent more time exploring the park’s many trails.

Old Stone Fort State Park

We quickly walked through the gift shop and museum before heading out for the main Old Stone Fort Enclosure Trail, an easy 1.3-mile loop around the wall and along cliffs overlooking beautiful falls along the Duck and Little Duck rivers.

Old Stone Fort State Park

The hiking trail follows the wall of Old Stone Fort, going in a roughly circular fashion. The entrance of the wall is designed to face the spot on the horizon where the sun rises during the summer solstice.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Beyond the start of the trail and some of the falls, the wall can be seen on the right.

There really isn’t a correct or incorrect way to take the trail, but we did go counter-clockwise. There were signs along the main trail with information about what we were seeing. They start out by going clockwise, so something to keep in mind.

By starting off to the right, it took us to what is arguably the highlight of the hike first: the waterfalls along the Duck River.

Old Stone Fort State Park

The meadow in the center of Old Stone Fort State Park sits in the middle of the Duck River to the north and the Little Duck River to the south. The two rivers come together on the west side of the park.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Beyond the tree line is the wall built nearly 2,000 years ago. The Little Duck River, to the left, and the Duck River, to the right, meet in the distance beyond the trees.

As we followed the Duck River, we had fun dropping down to the river’s shore in places where Colby enjoyed throwing rocks in. There were even stairs built into the hillside to make the climb easier.

Old Stone Fort State Park

There are a few tricky spots, so if you have smaller children definitely keep them close.

Old Stone Fort State Park

As we continued walking west we came across what at one time was one of the old mills built at the site in the mid-1860s. Not much remains today, as seen below.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Some of the most beautiful scenery of the hike is on this stretch of the trail.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Old Stone Fort State Park

Old Stone Fort State Park

As we turn along the trail to head south and toward the Little Duck River, the actual wall goes in and out.

Old Stone Fort State Park

The trail roughly follows this wall around the park, although there are spots — especially along the higher bluffs along the Duck River — where the wall either has eroded away or was never built to begin with.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Climbing the wall along the southern leg of the trail.

Old Stone Fort State Park

We moved a little more quickly along the southern side of the trail, mainly because we weren’t as close to the Little Duck River where Colby would’ve wanted to stop to throw rocks. As seen in the earlier picture, there are several stairs that go up the wall and lead to trails that go down to the river’s shore below.

Old Stone Fort State Park

There are other trails, and I’d like to go back to explore some of them. In addition to the main trail, there are three other easy trails ranging in distance from 0.4 miles to 1 mile long, as well as three moderate trails measuring 0.9 miles, 1.5 miles and 2 miles in length, respectively.

Old Stone Fort State Park

An aerial view of Old Stone Fort State Park with the Duck River shown above and the Little Duck River shown below.

We didn’t spend much time in the museum; it’s hard to be able to focus on detailed exhibits with a child who is more interested in running around outside. The artifacts in the exhibits are mostly from archaeological digs in the 1960s. There also is a welcome movie, but we didn’t watch it.

Old Stone Fort State Park

The wall along the southern side of the trail.

As we were walking the south side of the Old Stone Fort Trail along the Little Duck River, we did cross paths with a couple of men carrying fishing rods. The park’s website states that fishing from the banks is good for largemouth bass, bream and catfish.

A campground with 51 campsites is also in the state park. The campsites are heavily wooded and can accommodate Recreational vehicles and tents.

Old Stone Fort State Park

Details:

Old Stone Fort State Park
732 Stone Fort Drive
Manchester, Tenn.

Located just off Interstate 24 an hour’s drive from Nashville or Chattanooga.

2 thoughts on “Hiking Tennessee’s Old Stone Fort State Park

  1. One of my favorite places! Thanks for posting pictures. It looks just like I remembered, even the directional signs. I was a bit of an Old Stone Fort history buff when I lived in Manchester. The rivers around Old Stone Fort were also big industry for the South, before floods, Union soldiers (because the powder mill provided ammunition to the Confederate army), and the economy destroyed them. Manchester was even named after Manchester, England, because it was thought these mills would make the town the industrial center of the South. It is also a place of many urban legends, including a powerful whirlpool beneath Big Falls that would suck under naïve city folk. And the big boulders you see on the right side fell during the 1812 New Madrid earthquake.

  2. I was actually wondering about those boulders. It was clear something brought them down, I just assumed erosion suddenly forced them down. Stacey was telling me about one of those urban legends of a bottomless pool. Lots of fun. This was my first time there since 1996, which was also my only time. I’m pretty sure this was my first time to walk all the way around. Next visit I want to check out some of those other trails.

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