Imagine a beautiful quiet lake surrounded by tall cypress woodlands with great trails and camping grounds. That’s Big Hill Pond State Park.
The 4,138 acres of timberland and hardwood bottomland are located in the southwestern part of McNair County. A floodplain adjacent to the river and creek contains small oxbows and swampy areas. It’s a desirable habitat for fish, waterfowl, and wildlife.
There’s history in this Tennessee state park starting with its name. The park derives its name from the Big Hill Pond which was formed in 1853. The pond was created by excavation from a borrow pit to build a levee across the Tuscumbia and Cypress Creek bottoms for the Memphis to Charleston railroad.
As the years went by, Cypress trees grew in and around the pond towering majestically to make the stunning park that it is today. Big Hill Pond territory was designated as a State Park in 1977 by the Department of Conservation.
Dubbed “a hidden gem” by its visitors, Big Hill Pond State Park boasts the best hiking in West Tennessee. Here you will see every critter in creation as you traverse the fantastic trails and occasionally enjoy the breathtaking views. The staff is also known to be some of the best you will encounter in your State Park Visits.
One of the main highlights of this incredible Park is the boardwalk winding through the Dismal Swamp. The 30-minute walk through the swamp is perfect as both a hiking trail and just a relaxing walk to scenic nature.
Aside from breathing the finest oxygen in the US, the 70-foot observation tower offers spectacular panoramic views of Travis Mcnatt Lake. The observation tower also has sweeping views of the entire park to feast your eyes on.
Spend your time here hiking, birding, camping, fishing, and mountain biking. You can also enjoy paddling in the summer. For visitors with a passion for horses, Big Hill Pond State Park allows you to bring your own horse. The park has about 14 miles of horse trails which can be shared by mountain bikers.
For birding enthusiasts, the park has plenty of woodland birds for viewing. The large expanse of the timberland and hardwood bottomland provides a perfect habitat for a variety of birds. At the border of the park, there is Cypress Creek and Tuscumbia River which are known to host nesting bald eagles.
Here are some trails to follow for the best birding experience:
Turkey Call Trail – Dismal Swamp Boardwalk:
This is a moderate trail of about 2.45 miles. The loop is a natural surface trail perfect for visits in the winter, spring, and fall. This trail gives an elevated boardwalk through the Dismal Swamp. It then dips into the Tuscumbia River floodplain before climbing up the ridge into the hardwood forest.
Featured birds: Carolina chickadee, northern rough-winged swallow, rusty blackbird, Acadian flycatcher, prothonotary warbler, and Louisiana waterthrush.
Tuscumbia Trail – Lookout Tower:
Moderate trail of about 2.3 miles made mainly of natural surface. It’s best in winter and fall. Scale the 70-foot tall lookout tower and enjoy 360˚ views of Travis McNatt Lake and Dismal Swamp.
Featured Birds: black vulture, turkey vulture, osprey, red-tailed hawk, common grackle, and occasional bald eagle.
Fox Hollow Trail:
This is an easy trail that is good in the winter, summer, and fall. It’s about 0.65 miles and is mainly a natural surface. The trail begins at the visitor center and runs along the shore of Travis McNatt Lake.
Featured Birds: Northern pintail, gadwall, Canada goose, lesser scaup, bufflehead, blue-winged teal, egrets, herons, double-crested cormorant, killdeer, pied-billed grebe, and chimney swift.
Rocky Knob Trail:
It’s a moderate trail good for all year round. The trail is a natural surface trail of about 2.4 miles. It starts at the campground and heads upland through the mixed pine forest and crosses the Dismal Branch twice.
Featured Birds: Wild turkey, wood thrush, pine siskin, American redstart, Carolina chickadee, red-eyed vireo, and eastern whip-poor-will.
The large expanse of Travis McNatt lake is perfect for paddling. The lake is serene and lined by beautiful greenery on both sides. Kayaks and Canoes are available for rent by the hour strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. The park doesn’t allow reservations.
Rental hours are mainly 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Weekends and are also open on Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The rates for paddling are:
- KAYAK: $8 – $11 hourly
- CANOE: $10 hourly
Some may require deposits.
Big Hill Pond State Park has rave reviews from hikers who have visited the park. It has the reputation of having the best trails in West Tennessee. There are several trails available ranging from easy to difficult and stunning views of Lake McNatt are on the way. The highlights of the hiking are the boardwalk through the Dismal Swamp and the lookout tower.
Here are some of the best trails to check out:
- Azalea Spring Day Loop Trail: This is a moderate trail of about 2.95 miles. It overlays multiple trails. The Azalea Spring Day Loop Trail starts at the Dismal Swamp Boardwalk. The trail goes south towards the railroad tracks and parallels the railroad tracks before crossing John Howell Road. It continues running alongside the railroad then crosses back over and goes north. The trail then parallels John Howell Road all the way to the junction of Big Hill Pond Trail and the Dry Ridge Trail. At this junction, you will find three colors; yellow and green to the left and only yellow to the right.
- Big Hill Pond Trail: This is a moderate trail of 4.75 miles. It overlays the Dry Ridge Trail which is a black trail on the west side of John Howell Road. The trail has two intersections with the Azalea Spring Day Loop and crosses the gravel road in two places and has two trail intersections with the Azalea Spring Day Loop and the Dry Ridge Trail.
- Dogwood Point Trail: This is an intermediate trail of about 3.1 miles. The trail is in a hunting area south of the railroad tracks. It has two overnight trail shelters in case night finds you when hiking. This trail is made of grasslands and forest vegetation that should immerse you completely in nature.
- Big Hill Pond Access Trail: This is an easy trail of about half a mile. It has a small parking spot down the gravel road at the Big Hill Pond Trailhead. You can also find parking at the park office and walk down the gravel road to the footbridge at Travis McNatt Lake. Enjoy Travis McNatt Lake on this trail and dense forest for a lovely nature walk.
- Fox Hollow Trail: It’s a 0.65 miles easy trail that starts at the entrance of the campground. It then splits to either the park office or to the Travis McNatt Lake footbridge and boat house. This trail will give you some incredible views of the lake. It’s also perfect for a short evening walk to watch the sunset reflect beautifully on the lake.
- Dry Ridge Trail: It’s an intermediate trail of 2.85 miles. It’s composed of many trails going around Travis McNatt Lake. The trailhead is at the Travis McNatt Lake boathouse. Some of the trails will take you to the observation tower and the boardwalk. This trail will give you scenic views of the lake from several vantage points.
- Rocky Knob Trail: It’s a moderate trail of 2.4 miles at the north end of the park by Highway 57. The trail follows the horse trail for a short while on the west side of the park entrance road. There is grassland and forest on this trail and some great views of the lake.
- Turkey Call Trail: The 2.45 miles moderate trail has stunning views of the lake and surrounding landscape at the 70-foot lookout tower. The trail will also lead you through the beautiful Dismal swamp on the one-half-mile-long boardwalk.
- Tuscumbia Trail: This is a 2.3 miles intermediate trail. It can be accessed from the Dry Ridge Trail or the observation tower. The trail gives you sweeping views of Travis McNatt Lake and the entire park at the observation tower. You can also experience the lake up close by following the Dry Ridge Trail that runs around it. The trail has the Tuscumbia Trail Shelter on it.
- Horse Trail (and Mountain Bike): Big Hill Pond State Park has a trail for horse lovers and bikers. The Horse trail is 6 miles and starts at the horse trailer parking lot. It then goes across John Howell Road and travels northwest sharing a portion with Rocky Knob Trail before turning west and running along Highway 57.
- Field trips to the park
- Ranger classroom or school yard visits
- Custom programs
- Animal Adaptations & Keystone Species
- Aquatic Ecology
- Regional History
- Park Career Options
There are 14 miles of trail available for biking ranked intermediate. The Horse Trail also known as the Mountain Biking trail is great for bikers. The trail takes you through amazing greenery and runs along the highway at some point. You will also experience spectacular views of the lake.
The 35-acre Big Hill Pond is teeming with fish. Fishing at the pong is only through boat access due to the swampy marsh that surrounds the pond. You can access the pond by following the gravel road passing in front of the park office. The boats allowed for fishing are only electric motors or paddles.
Fishing is good all year round and the lake is great for bream, catfish, and bass. You will need a valid State of Tennessee fishing license.
There are 14 miles of equestrian trails at the Big Hill Pond on old logging roads and park gravel roads. Horseback riding is allowed on the red-blazed trails and fire roads. The fire roads are shared with mountain bikers. Horse riding in the park is for day use only as there are no overnight accommodations for horses. The park doesn’t rent horses so be sure to bring your own.
One unique activity at Big Hill Pond State Park is educational programs. This is for students who are interested in learning with a Park Ranger. If you are an educator looking for a fun and exciting activity in nature for your students, this is the program for you.
You can choose one of the programs in the park or work with a Ranger to develop your own that meets the Tennessee academic standards. The programs have been made to engage and educate students through experiential methods.
The Educational Programs Include:
Big Hill Pond offers programs that cover topics such as:
Big Hill Pond State Park
1435 John Howell Road
Pocahontas, TN 38061
Here is a short video with some aerial footage of Big Hill Pond State Park: