In April, we made our second visit to Mousetail Landing State Park to check out their newly renovated main campground. This piece was originally published on the Tennessee State Parks blog: “Mousetail Landing State Park: A Historic Haven for Family Fun and Outdoor Adventure.” Tennessee State Parks generously provided the campsite accommodations for this press trip.
Our annual spring camping trip was happening for the third year in a row – and our family of four was excited to be joined this time by two additional families! It’s a beautiful time of the year to live and sleep outdoors. The nights are usually cool and crisp; the insects that are omnipresent in warmer months haven’t fully repopulated into their summer swarms. The forests have the glow of a yellow green haze that sparkles in the warming sun or glistens in the mist of a springtime drizzle.
We were a group of six adults and six kids aged five and under. This year’s trip took us to Mousetail Landing State Park, a 1,200 acre park located on the shores of the Tennessee River, fifty miles east of Jackson. Mousetail Landing State Park has a rich history, as it was built to preserve a historic site in addition to a natural area.
In the early 1800s, a tannery sat on the northern end of what is now park property. According to local history (and perhaps legend!), a mass exodus of rats was seen fleeing when one of the buildings on site caught on fire, and the area became known as Rat Tail Landing. South of this original landing, a smaller one was built and aptly named Mousetail Landing. After the Civil War, it was the lifeline of the surrounding Perry County. Local farmers took their goods to ship, and residents could get everything they needed from this booming river port. The landing’s traffic declined when a bridge was built over the river and the local post office that had been a hub of communication moved inland. Today, the park land protects many pieces of archaeological evidence from this historic era.
It was our second time camping at Mousetail. Two summers ago, we stayed at the primitive campground, Spring Creek, which hosts 21 sites right on the river shore. We lucked out during a weekday stay, securing the coveted campsite number one, which offers its own private peninsula where you can tuck your tent among the trees and fall asleep to the sound of water lapping the shore.
Since that visit, the park’s main campground has been upgraded with new paving, tent pads, water and electric hookups, and bathhouse renovations. The sites are well-spaced and sit atop a ridge; each side of the road is surrounded by dense, sloping forests, which provide separation and privacy between the campground’s three loops. Our party settled into campsites 11, 12, and 13, which have water and electric hookups for RVs while also accommodating tent campers; each has enough parking for two cars, a fire ring, a picnic table, and a separate newly-graveled tent pad. (Note: Sites 1-5 are intended for tent campers only; they have large tent pads but no water or electric hookup.)
The kids played catch, chased bugs, and stomped through the leaves while the adults set up camp. Once the cars were unpacked and the tents were in order, our families convened in the middle at campsite 12 to grill hot dogs and sausages for campfire dining al fresco. With Daylight Saving Time in effect, the sunlight was lasting longer so after dinner, despite the cloudy skies, we headed ten minutes down the road to Sunset Point at the end of the Spring Creek Campground’s access road. It’s a gorgeous spot to take in a sunset over the water. A bench swing sits on the flat, grassy area atop the river’s boulder-leaden shores. The kids skipped rocks; a barge floated downriver; a fisherman checked his lines. A sliver of the cloudy sky turned bright red before we headed back to camp, called home by the setting sun and promise of S’mores.
Our Saturday promised to be full, because Mousetail Landing is a park that packs a lot of activity into its acres. There are currently about 11.5 miles of hiking trails easily accessible to visitors–the 8-mile difficult Eagle Point Trail; the 3-mile moderate Scenic Trail; and the .5-mile easy Spring Creek Trail. (The Historic Landing Trail is accessible via offshoot from the Eagle Point Trail.) Ranger Gunnar Siebenaler, based at the park since 2021, aims to improve the park’s trail system in the coming years, adding shorter hikes that are more friendly to day visitors. The Scenic Trail is a worthwhile hike with little elevation change. It would’ve been possible, but our party chose to follow a different recommendation of the ranger.
Near the park’s ball fields and recreation area, the road crosses the unimposing, babbling Spring Creek. Here, below this small bridge, is the perfect spot for a creek stomp. Despite all the spring rain, the water level was low enough for easy wading by even a toddler’s short legs. The cold water induced squeals and screams from our young adventurers, but the temperature wasn’t a deterrent; with nets in hand, the kids searched for minnows and turned over rocks to find crawdads. Their success must have been worth it, because they were reluctant to leave.
One of the main perks of the park is its many easy access points to the water. There’s a swimming beach and fishing pier, complete with picnic tables and plenty of space to settle for an afternoon respite. But if you have a paddle craft, you can explore the Spring Creek and Lick Creek Water Trails, and the boat ramp near the Spring Creek Campground provides motorized access to the Tennessee River.
Beginning May 2023, the park is adding eight new kayaks to its arsenal of amenities; these will be available for individual day rental as well as monthly Ranger-led kayak adventures. We test drove two of the kayaks from the small boat launch just east of the swimming beach. A little drizzle didn’t diminish the view as we paddled around Spring Creek. The kids clamored for a turn and even tried out a little fishing as they patiently waited.
For our last adventure before departing, we headed back to the Visitor Center for a program led by Ranger Siebenaler on Mousetail Landing’s animal ambassadors. The park houses and cares for at least five different wild animals that, for various reasons, are unable to be re-released into nature. We met Lefty, a small Eastern Screech Owl that was hit by a car and left unable to fly; a Barred Owl and Red-Tailed Hawk that have a home in the outdoor aviary just outside the Visitor Center; and the newest addition: a baby rat snake. These animals are part of the park’s educational offerings, both in-house and out in the community. This monthly Ambassador introduction aims to raise money for their care and gives the audience an up-close and personal look at wildlife.
The park offers approximately four programs a month, and the count increases to eight to twelve during the summer when seasonal staff is available. You’ll find programs on the park’s history, on nature and wildlife, on the “best-kept secret” areas, and that send participants into an active exploration of the park and its resources. Guided creek stomps are some of the most popular offerings, and, at the time of our visit, the park’s very first guided kayak tours had already sold out over a month in advance.
Ranger Siebenaler shares the mindset that keeps the park evolving towards a premier guest experience: “We want to keep the history but make it better.” Expanding and diversifying the programs and activities enhances the appeal for out-of-county guests who are looking for a disconnect into nature and increases the opportunities for local and day-use guests that want or need a momentary escape. “We change up a program for the group that shows up,” says Siebenaler. This attention to the needs and interests of park visitors ensures Mousetail Landing is well-equipped to provide guests a meaningful and memorable state park experience.
Plan Your Trip
Are you ready to experience the natural beauty of Mousetail Landing State Park for yourself? If so, start planning your trip today! You can conveniently explore and book campsites online at https://reserve.tnstateparks.com.