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Natchez Trace State Park

 

Cub Creek Lake Trail

 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 

 

I decided to stop at this park on my way to visit some relatives in Tennessee.  There’s a sign for it off of Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis just east of Jackson, and it’s a nice break from the craziness of the road.  It's not far off the freeway either.  I actually counted 16 state park signs on this stretch of I40, most of them between the Land Between the Lakes area and the area west of Jackson, but don't be fooled - these parks can be up to 100 miles away even though the sign is there.

 

The  Natchez Trace State Park (http://www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/NatchezTrace/) has more than 13 miles of trails plus a 40 mile backpacking trail which I didn’t know about until later!  The Natchez Trace was an old wilderness road in the 17 and 1800’s which led from Natchez, Mississippi (one of that states’ oldest cities) to Nashville.

 

I stopped at the park office on my way in and, finding a very nice lady and a ranger there, I asked them what they would recommend as far as hiking trails given the amount of time I had.  They suggested this one around Cub Creek Lake and they also provided me with a map upon which the ranger made some notations to direct me at certain ambiguous points. 

 

What I basically did to get to get to the trail was to drive back to the swimming beach at Cub Creek Lake 5 miles distant from the park office, making every left turn.  There are plenty of signs to direct you to this area as well.  Arriving, I changed into some more appropriate hiking clothes in the beach bathroom facility and pulled out the map…

 

As per the rangers’ indications I passed by the boat dock and took a right to span the first of 2 wooden bridges which took me over a couple lake coves.  The first bridge briefly deposited me in a little camping area and then I quickly spanned another which led to what appeared to be a little neighborhood of partially brick houses.  Compared to other park accommodations I’ve seen it actually appeared to be pretty luxurious out here as each of these “cabins” also appeared to have a grill, a deck, and all the amenities.  The only problem I could envision would be the dogs barking on the other side of the lake because they were at it the whole time I was there, but if this doesn’t bother you then the place would seem to be ideal for a family weekend.

 

I got a little bit confused in this cabin area, but I eventually kind of bumbled and stumbled my way onto the right path.  You’ll head down a short little road which ends at a lone cabin, and the trail will start off to the right of this leading you down to an exploration of a marsh-like area of one of the lake tributaries.  This is actually the starting point of what, on the map, is the 3.5 mile Cub Creek Lake Trail, but I made the mistake today of believing that the entire loop was 3.5.  This would prove to be somewhat problematic later on...

 

 

At any rate, I enjoyed this first part of the hike even though it was apparent that I was going to be clearing the trail of quite a few spider webs today.  The tributary meandered pretty wildly in places back here, and its’ water actually appeared to be really clear despite the muddy stream bottom.

 

 

Soon crossing this little stream and reaching the back of the lake, proper, I began to catch glimpses of the bridges across the water, and it was at about the ½ way point around the lake that I came to a levee.  I took a right to cross over it on a dirt/gravel road, and from there the trail left the road and led back down to the lakeshore.  Here was where I got what I thought were the best pictures of the lake in the midst of a great looking camping spot, a fine fishing location, and a patch of flowering trees.

 

 

 

The next section of the trail was a bit odd because I started to notice an area of forest which appeared to have been bulldozed or otherwise cut down.  I wondered why…  Apparently they’re doing something here, but I’m not sure what.  Logging maybe…  I walked back into this area a little way, following along a path which looked like an ATV trail, but I didn’t reach the end of it.

 

Back at the main trail I soon crossed over a little stream and then came to another marshy area which looked like a fern nursery.  It’s likely to be quite lush in here come summertime…

 

 

There were some interesting mosses too…

 

 

However…  Remember I mentioned that while making this hike I was under the false assumption that the entire trail around the lake was 3.5 miles?  Well, it was at about this point that I first began to believe I had done something wrong.  In my naivety I was thinking:  “It sure seems like I’ve traveled all of 3.5 miles.  I should be about done, yet in looking at the contours of the lake on the map, it only looks like I’ve traveled about ¾ of the trail.”

 

The next series of signs made things even more confusing.  Cub Creek Lake was the direction I’d come, Pin Oak Lake was the direction I was headed in, and the park office was yet another way on the Red Leaves Trail.   There were no mileages.  Scary…  Since I was supposed to be on a path which led me all the way around Cub Creek Lake, and pretty much nothing more, why was I now apparently headed to Pin Oak Lake which looked 8-10 miles distant on the map?!?  I couldn’t possibly have missed any turnoffs for Cub Creek – I would have been in the lake swimming the trail!

 

Frustrated, I knew I had 3 options, all of which would probably have me back after dark unless I was able to come up with some further clarification: 

 

#1 - Head back the way I came (somewhat defeatist).

#2 - Go to the park office and ask for help (too defeatist and embarrassing), or

#3 - Continue following the sign toward Pin Oak Lake.

 

My instincts told me to go with #3, because even though the sign indicated that I was heading to Pin Oak, it sure seemed as if I was still skirting around the coves and tributaries of Cub Creek Lake and this assumption - if correct – held the only possibly of getting back before dark.  Besides, worse come to worse and I was on my way to Pin Oak, it looked like I’d come to the park store in another 4 miles.  This was on the main park road, and I could walk back to my car directly on this road instead of the trail – the best and least ambiguous after dark option.

 

At any rate, I wandered and wondered for a little while until I presently saw another set of signs which confirmed my assumption - they mentioned the Cub Creek Lake Trail specifically.  Further validation came when I also started hearing the dogs again because I knew that they were right above the hill from my car.  This left me with another problem though…  Knowing that I was going to have or come close to having an encounter with them, I reached for my dog chaser (an ultrasonic device which supposedly repels dogs) to make sure I was prepared...  It was gone!  I’d checked for it earlier when I was walking through the cabins, so I must have lost it during this hike.  I was pretty much incensed!  It was the second one in a year.  A can of Halt would just have to do at closer range.  I continued on a little demoralized… 

 

Wait...  I’ve had things like this happen before and I’ve always regretted that was I either too nervous or too much in a hurry to really appreciate the experience enough.  Well complications or no, I feel privileged to see what I do, and I was determined not to let this happen today.  I tried to make the most of it.  To wit – this photo of incriminating beaver evidence!

 

 

Sure enough, within a mile of the signs which had so confused me I found a path which led me up to a road, and when I reached this I knew exactly where I was.  The park recreation lodge was immediately down and to my left.  I walked down to it and thought about walking to the right to reach the boat dock and swimming beach, but when I didn’t immediately see a formal-looking path I headed back up the road.  There was one direction which would lead me to the dogs, however, and I wanted to avoid this, but I was destined to pick the wrong one. 

 

There was a house at the top of the road and there were the dogs!  They’d actually been quiet for some time, but they now became very audible!  I didn’t take a long enough look to see if they were tethered, I just calmly and quickly turned around and headed in the opposite direction – back down toward the water.  Luckily they didn’t follow, but I was disappointed as I wondered how many hikers they’d discouraged from exploring these trails.

 

Well, it turned out I could have cut through at the lodge, but I found my way out pretty easily just the same by simply following along the edge of the lake.  This may not technically be a trail, but it is pretty well trodden and it soon led me past the boat dock, the swimming hole and back to my car.

 

 

Next time I’d sure like to check out some of that backpacking trail on an out-and-back hike…

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

Check out the above website.  They’ve done a good job of this – better than I could – but it’s pretty easy off I40.  I’d definitely stop and get a map at the park office, but remember that this trail I’ve just described is closer to 4.5 miles all the way around than 3.5.