Last weekend I went camping in East Tennessee near the Obed Wild & Scenic River area. This area is both designated as a Wild & Scenic River and a designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It was pretty warm out so we opted for some shorter hiking so we still had plenty time for swimming. We went on the short but scenic Boulder Trail which leads to an area known as Boulder Field. This is a favorite area for rock climbers due to the unique sandstone rock formed from ancient seas. As the sun was coming in harshly through our hike, I opted to fully edit our photos in black and white for a better look at the detail and unique foliage of the area.
You could easily spend the whole day hiking and swimming at Bell Smith Springs. The trails all center from the bottom of steep stone staircase that descends into the canyon. We took the shorter trails on this warm day, opting for the Natural Bridge Trail loop to the left and then to the white trail to the right. This is the main trail but it didn’t seem to have a name. At one point the trail splits and to the right is a short section that leads to the Devil’s Backbone. To the left, the trail leads to the spring area with a rocky party beach of sorts.
We saw some cliff diving in the beach area but it didn’t look advisable as the water didn’t look nearly deep enough for the cliff height. We were happy to see some dogs sunbathing and likely getting in their first swims of the year though. Since we had just hiked a bit, we took a dip in the cold water to cool off but didn’t stay long. I would caution that we each pulled a tick off after this swim which isn’t surprising this time of year but definitely something to triple check after spending time in Shawnee.
I loved checking out the natural rock bridge which the USDA page tells me is 125 feet with an arch of 30 feet. To the right of the trail just after the bridge is a shortcut down the side using a metal rung ladder. I’m great at climbing up things but am more cat like when it comes to going back down. I skipped this part but it seemed like it would let you get a little closer to the underside of the bridge. Maybe next time I’ll check it. I was happy to skip the ladder though as the trail opened up to a beautiful sandstone area with sparse trees after before heading back into the forest trail.
I can’t speak for the other trails but I wouldn’t consider the yellow trail moderate or difficult as some of the guides suggest. The steepest part is really at the end of the day when you have to make your way back up the stone staircase. If I came back in the fall, I would definitely check out the longer trails.
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