Location: Window Cliffs State Natural Area
From Nashville: take I-40 east to Putnam County to exit 280 (approx. 71 miles). Left on Ditty Road, right on Moss Road, right on Cookeville Boat Dock Road, left on Old Mill Road, and left on Old Cane Creek Rd to parking area. It is 7.3 miles from the I-40 exit. From Knoxville: I-40 west to TN 135 S/S Willow Ave Cookeville Exit 286 (approx. 102 miles). From TN-135 to Cookeville Boat Dock Road left on Old Mill Road, and left on Old Cane Creek Rd to parking area. It is 9.7 miles from the I-40 exit.
The Window Cliffs Trail is a unique showcase of rare geological features and plant populations placed throughout a challenging but rewarding out and back hiking trail. It was first open to the public as a State Natural Area in April of 2017 but has been popular with local residents for decades. It was first described in the early 19th century by French Naturalist Charles Leseur who named it “Cane Creek Bluff”. His sketch of the geologic features referred to as the “windows” is currently displayed in the La Havre Natural History Museum in France. Currently the trail is a 2.7 mile long out and back hike that is open to the public for free 365 days a year, so long as weather is permitting.
The addition of Window Cliffs State Natural Area was made for two reasons: The incredible geologic features found in the Cane Creek gorge, and for the rare plants found on those geologic features. At the tightest bend of Cane Creek on the property there is a knife ridge that separates the two sides of the creek. This knife ridge extends 100 feet above the creek banks and forms a thin ridgeline that at the top is less than 10 feet wide. The final vertical 25 feet of this ridgeline is bare limestone with patches of vegetation growing here and there out of cracks and fissures. This limestone ridge is where the Window Cliffs are found. These large “windows” are cut all the way through the ridge, presumably eroded away by past wind and water. The windows can be seen from below at the creeks edge. However, their truly unique beauty does not dawn on a hiker until they reach the culmination of the trail where they are allowed to summit the windows and enjoy the 360 degree view from the top.
The plants found at the cliffs are not just unique to the area, but rare to the State of Tennessee. It is home to one of two known locations in the state of the plains muhly grass (Mulenbergia cuspidate), which is a shortgrass prairie species found commonly in the western plains. This species may be a surviving species from times past, though it now only survives on the tops and sides of the windows it can help give a snapshot of the area’s vegetative history. In addition to this grass, it is also home to the norther white-cedar tree (Thuja occidentalis). This site is its most western occurrence in the state, and one of the last locations that you can find it in the southeast, as it is usually not found outside of sparse populations following the Appalachian Mountains. This tree is found at the base of the cliffs closer to banks of Cane Creek which bends back on itself sharply at the base of the cliffs.
The trail that ventures out to the window cliffs and back is just over 2.5 miles long and has varied terrain in between its start and end. It begins in an old farm field where there is ample trailhead parking and a visitor information kiosk. From the parking area the trail meanders through a brushy grassland until it meets the woodline, where it begins to move down into the Cane Creek Gorge. The trail moves through a few short switch backs as it descends into the valley. As the trail meets the bottom of the gorge, hikers encounter Cane Creek for the first time at one of its deepest crossings. Hikers continue on down the trail that winds through the valley as it crosses Cane Creek 8 more times. These crossings can vary between ankle and knee deep during normal weather, but at times can be complete try and at others may be impassable due to seasonal rains. When crossing the final water crossing hikers will notice a waterfall that is over 30 feet tall with a deep pool that is large enough for swimming for a few people. Past the waterfall the ascent begins up to the window cliffs formation. The trail works its way up the ridge side until rock shelves are met. At this point visitors may enjoy the view from the rocks edge, or for the ultimate experience they can pull themselves up onto the top of the windows for incredible views of the surrounding gorge. The top of the cliffs makes for a great place for a meal or a snack before returning to the trail and beginning the hike back to the trail head.
Through property planning and community engagement we have been able to build a trail that attracts visitors from far and wide to see the incredible things that Window Cliffs State Natural Area has to offer. Our adherence to safety through trail design, signage, and ranger patrols has helped to make this not only a great adventure for guests, but one where they can be confident they can get help if it is needed. With Emergency plans and access routes in place our staff is able to respond to any situations should they arise, this includes early and appropriate closures due to weather to prevent any dangerous high water situations when visitors are present. Through our continued management of the site we hope to preserve it in perpetuity for generations to come.
Width: 24 inches.
Primary Surface: Soil
Secondary Surface: Grass or Vegetation
Average Grade: 6%
Maximum Grade: 20%
Elevation Low Point: 660
Elevation High Point: 990
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available
Year Designated: 2020
Supporting Webpages and DocumentsWebsite: Window Cliffs State Natural Area
For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.
Trail and Vista Administrator
Tennessee State Parks
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue
Nashville, TN 37243
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