Sewane Natural Bridge Natural Area | Brochure
Sewane Natural Bridge Natural Area | Google Maps
This scenic area is tucked deep within the small town of Sewanee. One would never know it existed unless they were purposefully searching for it. Once a part of the The University of the South at Sewanee, it was generously donated to the state of Tennessee in 1967, eventually becoming a part of South Cumberland State Park.
After several twists and turns along a few backcountry highways, we found the entrance to Sewanee Natural Bridge near a long driveway past the intersection of Sherwood Rd and Natural Bridge Rd. The short 0.5 Mile trail leads from the parking area down into a small cove where the bridge is located. While this isn’t technically considered a hike, the 60 stair climb is strenuous enough to give most people a sense that they were on an outdoor adventure
We caught a glimpse of the arch through the trees as we neared the bottom of the cove. Seeing it for the first time simply takes your breath away. Covered in a timeless patina of mosses, lichens, and liverworts, this arch has a stately appearance as if it was part of a long gone ancient temple. The opening of Sewanee Natural Bridge acts as an entrance into the small box canyon created by a large sinkhole tucked between the arch and hillside behind it.
The trail to the arch naturally leads visitors to walk across the entire expanse of it. There are no guard rails here so take extra precautions. A lengthy research turned up at least one fatality from a guest falling over the arch, which subsequently forced the state to prohibit anyone from crossing it for nearly a decade. At a width of 5 feet, most people can safely traverse the top of it, but there is a tricky section near the back of the arch where you must maneuver through a few high points that might give most people pause. If you’ve ever visited Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky, this will remind you of crossing over Sky Bridge.
Alternatively, a short woodland trail near the bottom of the steps, meanders along the cliff overlooking the arch and sinkhole for those not wishing to cross the bridge. Looking down from the top of the arch into the tiny canyon, one gets a perfect birds eye view of the two rock shelters within. To get down into this alcove, follow along to the very back of the arch where a series of short ledges curve their way down to the ground floor. This does require a little bit of scrambling and climbing, but with a fair bit of patience and care its easily manageable.
Every little pore and exposed bit of cliff in this alcove is covered in a wide array of plants creating a living wall. From sedges to baby ferns and wildflowers like the Tennessee native foam flower, the hanging garden here is simply magical. All around us, cliff nesting swallows and swifts fly all around us, leaving their nesting burrows in the shallow holes along the cliff walls to search for food. At the very center of all of this is a small fresh water spring tucked into the back of the rockhouse directly in front of the massive arch opening.
If you take a second to walk past this rockhouse, you’ll find a hidden smaller arch on the ridge beside the bridge. It’s quite common to find these smaller versions of arches, or windows as some call them, next to much larger arches. Visitors several thousand years from now visiting this natural area might come to call it this a double arch, assuming the larger Sewanee Bridge is still standing.
Geologists believe that runoff from this tiny spring emanating deep within the hillside is responsible for creating this entire rock formation. As the freezing and thawing of water slowly chipped away at the foundation of the hillside, it caused the ground to cave into a sinkhole. This stream eventually carved a hole in the face of the remaining cliff, creating the arch as we see it today. Some of that rubble is still visible today, while most of it has been washed down into the Lost Cove directly opposite the arch.
Once down the hillside, the stream created by this small spring disappears underground and merges with Lost Creek, finally resurfacing near the entrance to Buggytop Cave in Carter Natural Area. Buggy top Cave is considered to have one of the largest natural cave openings in the region. Its underground rooms and passages where used as seasonal shelters by Woodland Period Native Americans. Archeologists have been uncovering artifacts from the Indian Room within Buggytop Cave since the early 19th century.
A small unofficial trail system exists along the bluffs on either side of Sewanee Natural Bridge that meander through the forest for a mile in each direction. Towering cliffs hovering over expansive rock shelters line the route heading north. The well worn paths are easy to follow and cross through some very unique plant ecosystems that are worth checking out.
Just make sure not to wander too far as the surrounding land is privately owned. If you’re interested in heading deeper into the Lost Cove, check out Carter State Natural Area where you’ll find Buggytop Cave. If arches are your thing, head a few miles south of here to Sherwood Forest and hike the day loop to the Sherwood Natural Bridge. Thats another one visitors can walk across. As for me, ill be heading back to Indiana next to revisit Yellow Birch Ravine Nature Preserve and hike to the Horseshoe Double Falls. Stay tuned for that article and until next time, see y’all on the trails!