Hops and Skips

Tennessee State Park Tour: David Crockett

In the last 18 months, we’ve gone tent camping with our kids (a whopping) three times, but I’ll admit we feel a little like seasoned pros. When asked about how we manage, I can rattle off my (totally unqualified) expertise about the advantage of an extra-large tent, pack-n-play, and toddler sleeping gear, and the response I most often get from friends is, “Oh, that sounds manageable…” along with a newfound confidence and motivation to plan a trip of their own. I’m usually talking up the experience for selfish reasons—if joined by friends and their kids, our kids now have companions which gives us some breathing room for hang-time with other adults.

This is basically how the conversation went with some fellow-parent friends earlier this fall, and the result was a weekend booked at David Crockett State Park. Most years, the fall season you want (crunchy leaves, boots and jacket, etc.) lasts, at most, about seven sporadic days among sweltering summer heat and dreary rain. This year, though, the temperatures dropped early, and fall was agreeing with Middle Tennessee. So, with four adults and four kids five and under, we took our chances on a late October weekend.

David Crockett State Park is an eighty-mile trip south of Nashville to Lawrenceburg, TN (not to be confused with David Crockett Birthplace State Park, located way east). It’s a name I assume to be ubiquitously known by Americans, or at least Tennesseans. (Isn’t it? My quick survey of middle schoolers indicated otherwise, but they’re young; I’ll forgive their ignorance.) He was the frontiersman of American folklore, born in Tennessee, and eulogized with the infamous song that names him “King of the Wild Frontier.” Crockett served in both the Tennessee state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, often opposing President Andrew Jackson’s policies, especially when it came to the Indian Removal Act. It was after his defeat in Congress that he headed west where he joined the Texas Revolution and was killed at the Battle of the Alamo.

The approach to the park via Highway 43 S from Columbia leads past a well-established Amish community in Ethridge and into Lawrence county. Crockett called this area home for a just a short time between 1817 and 1821, but he had a significant impact on it (and vice versa). Here, he first entered public office as a commissioner to draw the county’s boundaries while also establishing a powdermill, gristmill, and distillery along Shoal Creek. A flood destroyed his businesses in 1821, after which he picked up and moved to west Tennessee, but his land is where the park sits today.

We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon when the fall colors were at their peak. There are two campgrounds in the park, each equipped with electric and water hookups. We stayed at Campground #1 which is closer to the main entrance and park office, runs along Shoal Creek, and is closed during the winter season. Our sites, 38 and 41, provided ample flat space for our two families to set up base and, as a bonus, had a playground in sight. (Sites 22-25 are the money spots, sitting right next to the water.) After a lot of manic, excited screaming, running, and playing, we settled down to an easy camp dinner of hot dogs, strawberries, and s’mores. When the kids began their sugar/excitement crash, it was time to call it a night.

I learned some things on this particular overnight tent stay. One, the pack-n-play is great for an infant, but the two-year-old would rather snuggle on the ground with the rest of the fam. After multiple wake-ups that finally led to her joining me in my sleeping bag, I made the mental note to add a dual sleeping pad for kids to their Christmas list. And two, our gigantic impulse-purchased tent is great for size but does not keep in the heat. The temperature dropped to about 50, but I was freezing like it it was sub-zero, despite having gear suitable to much colder weather. My lack of warmth made me concerned about my kids staying warm, which heavily disrupted my night’s sleep. Next time, I’ll remember to pack my sleeping bag liner, and OF COURSE the kids didn’t even notice the cold.

There was a major perk to camping at David Crockett SP, especially for first-time family campers: an all-you-can-eat, family-style breakfast (free for kids 5 and under) offered at the park restaurant on the weekends. Cold and groggy after our night in the tent, we made sure to enjoy this warm breakfast that required no effort on our part. Crockett’s Mill Restaurant is located near the cabins and boat dock, perched on a ridge above Lake Lindsey with vaulted ceilings and large picture windows. Plate after plate of eggs, bacon, potatoes, biscuits, and more… It totally made up for lack of sleep. Truly, I can’t emphasize enough how fantastic this breakfast was—the park is worth a visit for this alone!

With our bellies full, we took the morning to explore the perfect autumnal scenery on display. The lake offers boating and fishing opportunities, and there are over 10 miles of hiking trails, including a 2.5-mile portion of the Trail of Tears. We began our stroll at Crockett Falls, a landmark with its own parking lot, where we skipped rocks, inched across wet boulders, and raced fallen leaves down the cascades. [There is another waterfall marked, though unnamed, on the park map, located by the lake near the eastern start of the Crawfish Valley Trail.]

From Crockett Falls we followed the start of the Shoal Creek Trail, climbing the ridge and joining the loops of the Bike Trail. The kids sang as they marched like ants, giggled their way through hide-and-seek using the trees for cover, and dragged their feet like giants to see how loud they could make the leaves crunch. Our visit ended without a visit to the Crockett Museum, and we didn’t even hike a complete trail. But we broke routine and put our flexibility to the test. The kids survived a night in unfamiliar territory, found ways to entertain themselves, and increased their comfort and confidence in the great outdoors. Always worth it.

CHECKLIST:

Date: October 2022
Count: 22 of 57
Region: Middle Tennessee
Location: Off Highway 64, a half mile west of Lawrenceburg
Must-See: Enjoy the all-you-can-eat breakfast at the restaurant; hike the 2.7-mile Crawfish Valley Trail for a scenic view around the lake

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

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