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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are a few tricky spots, so if you have smaller children definitely keep them close.
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.
Some of the most beautiful scenery of the hike is on this stretch of the trail.
As we turn along the trail to head south and toward the Little Duck River, the actual wall goes in and out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
732 Stone Fort Drive
Located just off Interstate 24 an hour’s drive from Nashville or Chattanooga.