As of late, I’ve been pretty obsessed with the Fort Henry Trail System on the south end of Land Between the Lakes. There’s a trail system here of about 30 miles, so you can spend a lot of time getting to know the area. Some of these trails were used by General Grant during the Civil War battle there, many of these go through some pretty interesting, out of the way areas. On my hike, I felt like I was the only person for miles, and did not encounter any other human being in the 3 hours I was there.
If you do a google image search for Devil’s Backbone, you’ll first get a bunch of clips from a horror movie with a creepy little boy that was evidently called, “The Devil’s Backbone.” After that, you’ll get a lot of pictures from nature that were very obviously not taken in Tennessee. It seems “devil’s backbone,” is a popular name for natural formations. The one I walked on looks nothing like the pictures that came up. While there were parts of it that brought a backbone to mind, there wasn’t much about the trail that seemed particularly devilish. There were some parts with rocks, but they seemed, at best, some minor demon, definitely not a devil.
Since there are no photographs online, and I did not bring my camera on the trip, my descriptions will have to serve as your visual guide for the trip. I made the loop using the Shortleaf Pine Trail and the Devil’s Backbone Trail. It was about 5 miles long with a few short steep climbs, but all in all a fairly easy hike. On the Shortleaf Pine Trail, I topped a ridge with many tall trees, many of which, of course, were pines. The wind was blowing without being blocked from this high place, and I saw several turkeys and heard crickets. The Devil’s Backbone descends below the ridge from the Shortleaf Pine Trail, sometimes as high about 75 feet from the ground below, gradually descending until it gets all the way to ground level. As you follow this ridge down, you see the genesis of a creek that gets larger and larger as you go. The ridge is sometimes only as wide as the path, but the description makes it sound much more adventurous than it really is, calling it a “knife edge trail.” I was imagining looking down a ravine where one wrong step would have my tumbling down a huge hill. In reality, I might end up awkwardly running into a ditch.
Still this trail is gorgeous, and because it descends into this valley, you really feel like you are going into a secret, isolated place. I particularly recommend going in late April early May. The leaves will be out, and there will be wildflowers of purple, red, yellow and white throughout the trail. There were many times I stopped and took a break just to look around and admire how beautiful the fauna was.
There were many downed pine trees from all the wind storms and ice storms we’ve had the past several years, and I found spots were pine sap was pouring out from the tree and put my hands on it to keep that evergreen smell with me on my hike. Breathing in those scents, hearing and feeling the wind all around me, listening to the crickets, seeing the colors of Spring, I was very happy I had chosen this loop for my afternoon. I will come back to this place, I’m sure, many times.