One of the namesake features of Window Cliffs State Natural Area. (Photo: Chuck Sutherland)

Window Cliffs State Natural Area officially opened to the public April 7. 

Located on Cane Creek about 18 miles southwest of Cookeville, the 275-acre area is named for a narrow limestone ridge that contains a couple of natural bridges, or "windows." As part of Tennessee State Natural Areas Spring Celebration Week, approximately 100 people gathered at the site for a dedication ceremony and several guided hikes.

The Land Trust for Tennessee was instrumental in preserving this unique area, having purchased three tracts since 2013, which have now been transferred to the state to be managed by the adjacent Burgess Falls State Park as Tennessee’s 85th state natural area. The site was designated as a state natural area in 2014.

Another view of the Window Cliffs. (Photo: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation)

This unique geological feature of the Eastern Highland Rim rises 200 feet above a sharp oxbow bend of Cane Creek. With a base approximately 150 feet wide at its narrowest point, the top narrows to just a few feet in width. French naturalist Charles Leseur visited the site in the early 19th century and named it Cane Creek Bluff.

The area supports unique plant communities, as well. The cliffs are one of only two known Tennessee locations of a shortgrass prairie species, the plains muhly (Muhlenbergia cuspidata), usually found in the western plains. Also growing along the base of the cliffs is the northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), generally rare in Tennessee. Oak, hickory, American beech and eastern hemlock grow elsewhere in the natural area.

Cane Creek, with a 20-foot waterfall and a number of smaller cascades, flows for 2.4 miles through the natural area on its way to join the Falling Water River, a tributary of the Caney Fork River and Center Hill Lake. A 2.7-mile trail provides access to the Window Cliffs from the parking area, making a 5.4-mile round-trip hike. (Note: This is the official length given on the state’s website, but other sources indicate a longer distance.) This is a challenging hike, with 10 stream crossings each way. The crossings have cables to hold on to, but the water can be knee-deep or higher. It’s highly recommended to bring water shoes or some form of footwear suitable for such.

The first three-quarters of a mile of trail is a steep descent, potentially with loose rocks and slippery mud. There’s a climb at the end to get to the top of the cliffs. Hiking through or climbing on the windows is not allowed because of their fragility. And because of the potential hazards with all the creek crossings and the narrow cliff tops, pets are not permitted in the Window Cliffs State Natural Area.

One of the many creek crossings at Window Cliffs. (Photo: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation)

Like neighboring Burgess Falls State Park, Window Cliffs is a day-use-only area, open daily year-round from 8 a.m. Central time to one hour before sunset. The area may occasionally be closed during periods of high water. Camping can be found not far away at Edgar Evins and Rock Island state parks, as well as other campgrounds around Center Hill Lake.

"We’re honored to work with our friends at Tennessee State Parks and the Division of Natural Areas to enhance the experience at Burgess Falls State Park, one of Tennessee’s most magnificent places for public recreation," Land Trust for Tennessee President and CEO Liz McLaurin said. "In all, we’ve partnered with the state of Tennessee to conserve over 20,000 acres of public land over the years, and the pace of this work is increasing. It is a privilege to work so closely with such dedicated public servants to protect land for the benefit of Tennessee citizens and visitors now and into the future."

A map of Window Cliffs State Natural Area. (Map: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation)

Click here for another trail map.

Get directions to the trailhead here or search for 8400 Old Cane Creek Road in Baxter on Google Maps.

Watch a short video about Window Cliffs State Natural Area here.

Learn more about the Tennessee Division of Natural Areas here.

Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.