Hops and Skips

Tennessee State Park Tour: Henry Horton

Our infant has never been a passive companion. Whereas our older daughter would drop asleep nearly the second I latched her in the baby carrier, our youngest doesn’t want to miss a second of anything. Girl already lives with a serious case of FOMO. 

Because of this, once she aged past the newborn sleepy stage, it’s been a bit more daunting to plan outings. There are no guarantees of naps in the car seat or carrier; the girl is unpredictable. Our first visit to Henry Horton State Park was sort of a test. Located about 50 miles south of Nashville, it takes an hour-long car ride to get there so, once there, we’ve got to make the trip worth it.

The park was built in the 1960s on the estate of former Tennessee Governor Henry Horton (1927-1933). It’s located on the Duck River and was once the home to the working Wilhoite Mill, built in 1846 and active for over a century, grinding grain into flour. As a result, there spawned a thriving agricultural community; at one time the Duck River had more mills than any other river in the state. 


Our first visit was in late winter when, in Nashville, the weather could swing anywhere from ice storm to an unseasonable 70-degrees. Fortunately, we had a mild-weather day and were able to enjoy my favorite kind of serene winter hike. The 1.7-mile Spring Creek Trail is an out and back that begins at the Wilhoite Mill Trailhead but veers off and follows the ridge alongside its eponymous creek.

Winter is the perfect time for this hike, when the trees are bare and foliage doesn’t block the view of the water below. At the start, the trail guides you across a man-made bridge and to the shores of the creek. Luscious green moss coats the rocks on the shore, providing just a hint of color in an otherwise drab winter landscape. You’ll climb and descend a couple more times as you hug the creek, and, at my favorite point in the train, you’ll walk on top of huge, flat rock faces that spread to the edge of this small cliff, the creek dropping 20 feet below.

I packed as a true Warrior Mom for this hike – prepared with granola bars and water, backup diapers and extra clothes. At one point, my still fed-on-demand 3.5-month-old required a boob on the trail, and I earned the nursing-on-a-moss-covered-tree-stump badge of motherhood. I felt immense pride alongside the sheer anxiety that comes with the difficulty of peeling back winter layers to expose myself while young trail-running men glide past. 

The trail veers away from the creek’s shores with a short loop through the forest, but, with one unsatisfied, hungry baby and a whining 3-year-old, we turned around early. This hike was lovely, any I wonder if the scenery is as satisfying in the warmer months when foliage is abundant.


Our newborn is now almost eight months, and it feels like we’ve been stuck at home since our last visit to Henry Horton. Desperate for an outing, we headed back for another short hike, this time seeking the 1.25-mile Hickory Ridge Loop Trail. This one’s located near the park’s campground section; near the Campstore, there’s a turn-off and parking lot for the trailhead.

The weather this time couldn’t have been more different than our last visit – an early-June Sunday afternoon with temperatures in the low-80s with a persistent threat of light rain (our never-ending curse, it seems, this summer). With a now-7.5-month-old and 3.5-year-old in tow, I was worried about the drizzle, but from the very beginning of the trail, we discovered we were pretty shielded by the forest canopy. The trail’s name hints at a ridge climb, but we instead found little elevation change through a ton of greenery. And the constant, quiet pitter-patter of rainfall made it magical.

“Be still,” I would quietly direct my daughter. “Listen to the raindrops hitting the leaves.” 

My senses were overwhelmed. It was summer when I was twelve at sleepaway camp, a week during which we were inundated with rain and, instead of swimming in a frigid pool, my bunkmates and I opted for endless card games in our cabin. I wanted to stop and enjoy the silence, listen to the trickle of falling water, breathe in the summer air that wasn’t yet heavy with humidity. And more than anything else, I wanted my child to see this, hear this, feel this – experience this kind of assault on the senses that lodges itself in your memory. 

The Hickory Ridge Trail Loop connects to the Hickory Ridge Outer Loop for an additional 1.25 miles, but our mileage is more limited these days. For maybe only the second time in its four-year life, we were able to use the Ergobaby’s rain hood, and the baby successfully napped (dry!) for at least a mile of our hike; but the other’s new summer hiking shoes began to rub and, near the end, she was begging to be held as well. I can’t speak to the scenery of the Outer Loop, but this route has lush forest that is consistent; it’s a ridge, but there’s no big scenic payoff at the high point. Still, it’s a manageable distance with kids that will be enjoyable in any season.


Date: February and June 2021
Count: 12 of 56


The closest interstate to Henry Horton is I-65. From Nashville, follow I-65 S past Spring Hill to exit 46. Take a left onto Hwy 99 E and follow for about 4 miles until it ends. Take a right onto Hwy 431 S and then a left again, back onto Hwy 99 E. Again, follow until it ends, and take a right onto US-31 S. You’re immediately in the park’s boundaries; follow signs for the area you want to reach.

Click here to read more of our adventures in Tennessee State Parks!

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