With only enough time left to visit a handful of parks this year, I wanted to visit areas that were unlike the parks I have been to up until now. While researching parks that would be interesting to visit I stumbled across the Trail of Tears State Park. It is a 3,415 acre preserve with some of the most rugged land along the Mississippi River, featuring steep ravines and towering bluffs. As it’s name indicates, The park is a memorial site along the Trail of Tears.
The route, on which more than 16,000 Cherokee people traveled as they were forced from their homes, crossed the Mississippi River within the parks borders. On the march they were subjected to rain, snow, freezing cold, hunger and disease. Over 4000 Cherokee where estimated to have died during the procession. This park, along with others along their path, was created to commemorate this great tragedy and to teach visitors about the events. The visitors center at Trail of Tears State Park features a number of exhibits that interpret the relocation, and also ones that describe the parks natural features.
When I first arrived at the park I stopped by the visitor center, but it was already closed for the season. It would have been nice to look around inside, but they do provide some basic information on the park map and go into more detail on the parks website.
After grabbing a map I made my way to one of the scenic overlooks. Driving through the park reminded me a lot of driving in the Smoky Mountains. The road followed the ridges and valleys as it snaked it’s way through the park.
The overlook offered a great view of the Mississippi, requiring only a short jaunt down a wooden walkway. It was fascinating seeing how the river shaped the bluffs in the surrounding area, and the changes humans have made through our use of the river.
The park offers a number of hiking trails, ranging from less than a mile up to nine. The Peewah Trail, which is the longest, is divided into two loops: east and west. Both are accessible through separate trailheads for shorter hikes. This is a nice change from many parks that have trails with two loops, but the only way to hike the second loop is by doing the full distance of them both.
I hiked the east loop, which follows along the river. Near the beginning of the trail is a spur that heads to another overlook. The view was pretty similar to the first, but this one leads right up to a bluff offering a more natural view.
In the parking lot I saw signs warning to stay out of a quarry, so of course that made me curious to find it. At an unusual unmarked fork in the trail (signage at this park is very good!) I choose to diverge from the main path. This led to the top of a cliff overlooking the quarry. It was beautiful! Taking the warnings to heart, I opted to photograph from this location and not try to find a way down.
As the trail continued along the river it crossed many ridges and valleys. It was an enjoyable hike, and the colors and light were outstanding!
The trail eventually headed downwards into a flood plain, providing a different environment. The area was dry this time of year, which is good because I would not have been able to continue if there had been high water. It was fun photographing the lowlands, and seeing how the yearly rise of the river changes the land.
The path steeply rose out of the valley, and just like that I was almost done with the loop. I am typically a fast hiker, but with all my stops to set up photographs this 4.8 mike hike took me over three hours. Including the time it took me to drive to the park, the whole trip was just shy of eight hours. With all the time I spend photographing, let alone editing and writing, this could be a full time job! Regardless, I’m happy to have the opportunity to explore.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience. If you did, feel free to let me know on Facebook or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking for a better platform that will allow for more interaction, so hopefully I’ll be able to get that set up early next year. In the mean time, be sure to check out my store, and follow me on Instagram for more from Trail of Tears SP!