Horseshoe Bend National Military Park | NATURE TRAIL

Trail Map (click to enlarge)

Trail Map (click to enlarge)

Length: 2.4-mile loop
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

The Nature Trail is the only hiking trail at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. While it does traverse the battlefield—and it does pass two stops on the Battlefield Tour route—it is not a “battlefield tour” trail, but a trail designed for park visitors to get some exercise. If you drove the Battlefield Tour road, you won’t pass any additional points of interest, monuments, or even information panels by hiking the Nature Trail.

The Nature Trail is a loop trail, and there are two trailheads, both located at the Overlook parking lot. One is up a fairly steep hill that leads to the Overlook shelter, and the other is located at the right side of the parking lot behind a set of information panels. Being a loop, it makes no difference which way you start the hike, but for the record, I began at the overlook and proceeded in a clockwise manner and will describe the hike from this direction. A map is included in the park brochure that is available at the Visitor Center just down the road.

At the top of the hill is where General Andrew Jackson first arrived at the battlefield on March 27, 1814. The white stakes in the distance mark the location of the Red Stick Creek Indians’ barricade that they built to protect themselves from a frontal attack by American forces.

Visitors can view the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield from a covered pavilion

Visitors can view the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield from a covered pavilion

To begin the hike, look to the left of the Overlook shelter for the trail entrance into the forest. The trail starts off along level terrain, but then quickly descends down a ravine before once again leveling out at a small creek, which may well be dry during the summer. The Nature Trail snakes across the creek a few times using wooden footbridges.

Start of the Nature Trail near the Overlook shelter

Start of the Nature Trail near the Overlook shelter

The Nature Trail crosses a small creak using wooden footbridges

The Nature Trail crosses a small creak using wooden footbridges

At .4 mile into the hike, the trail curves to the south and begins to follow right along the Tallapoosa River, though during the summer months the brush is so thick that you rarely catch a glimpse of it. In fact, if you aren’t paying attention, you might not even notice that you are walking along the river.

A glimpse of the Tallapossa River from the Nature Trail

A glimpse of the Tallapossa River from the Nature Trail

The Nature Trail follows the river for about a third of a mile, then cuts inland, but continues south. Shortly after this shift is an unmarked intersection (about .9 mile into the hike). The Nature Trail continues straight, but slightly to the right. You will see a brown trail marker, so follow that. I have no idea where the intersecting trail leads, and it is not on the trail map.

The Nature Trail continues straight, snaking slightly to the right

The Nature Trail continues straight, snaking slightly to the right

The trail map makes it appear as if the Nature Trail comes to Tour Stop 5 on the Battlefield Tour, but this is not the case. The map simply has drawn the #5 icon over the dotted line that indicates the trail, but the actual stop is farther to the west. You will, however, pass through Tour Stop 4 at 1.3 miles into the hike. Follow the paved path—which is also part of the Nature Trail—from the parking lot and in a minute you will be at the Tohopeka Village Overlook.

The Red Sticks built a temporary village for the winter in this location, with plans to move out as soon as possible. The village was located in the nadir, or “bottom,” of the horseshoe, and the Red Sticks counted on the river to be a natural defense. However, some of Jackson’s men, led by General John Coffee, managed to cross the river and mount a rear attack, something that was not even in Jackson’s plans for the battle. The hill you now stand on was the Red Sticks’ second line of defense from a frontal attack, the first being the wooden barricade that you saw outlined at the Battlefield Overlook. Jackson’s men would have had to storm up from the bottom to overtake the Red Sticks at this position. Unfortunately, when General Coffee’s men overran the Red Stick village from the rear, the warriors on the hill were trapped between the two rapidly approaching forces. The clearing you see is where the village of Tohopeka once stood. Jackson’s army would have come from the other direction.

Hill overlooking the Tohopeka Village

Hill overlooking the Tohopeka Village

Tour Stop 4 marks the transition from fairly level to very hilly terrain as you hike towards the west side of the park. If you recall the hill you had to climb from the parking lot to the Overlook shelter, that gives you a good idea of what to expect over the next mile or so as you make your way back to your car. Because of this terrain, I rate the Nature Trail moderate in difficulty.

Typical hilly terrain on the west side of the Nature Trail

Typical hilly terrain on the west side of the Nature Trail

There is one more point of interest that you will pass before finishing the hike, and that is Tour Stop 2 (1.9 miles into the hike). While the position of the Red Stick barricade could be seen from the Overlook at the start of the hike, you can get a much closer look here at Stop 2. The barricade was built of logs and stretched all the way across the mouth of the peninsula from the east to the west banks of the Tallapoosa River. It was as high as eight feet in places and was lined with port holes through which the Indians with rifles could fire upon the charging American soldiers. There was no way to approach the wall without being exposed to bullets. In an attempt to lessen the effectiveness of the wall, Jackson fired a 3- and 6-pounder cannon at the barricade for two hours, but with little effect (pounder refers to the size of the cannon ball fired). At 12:30 PM, Jackson ordered his men to charge the barricade, and although it was well built and strategically placed, the superior number of Americans, a 2-1 ratio, allowed the soldiers to quickly overrun it.

White posts mark the location of the Red Stick barricade

White posts mark the location of the Red Stick barricade

There are a number of exhibits at Stop 2. A small, granite memorial called the Jackson Trace marks the general location of where Jackson set up his command post and began bombardment of the barricade prior to a full attack.

Stone marks the furthest point on the battlefield that Andrew Jackson personally occupied

Stone marks the furthest point on the battlefield that Andrew Jackson personally occupied

To the right of the Jackson Trace marker is the grave of Major Lemuel Montgomery, one of the first men killed when attempting to storm the barricade. This was his first battle. Montgomery County is named after him.

Grave of Lemuel Montgomery

Grave of Lemuel Montgomery

From near the memorial markers, a rather steep, paved trail leads up a hill to a spot known as Gun Hill. The Nature Trail actually follows this path and continues into the woods at the top of the hill. This is where Jackson placed his two cannon and began to shell the Red Stick barricade below with hopes of blowing a hole in it before sending in his men. A cannon exhibit marks the general location.

Paved path to the top of Gun Hill

Paved path to the top of Gun Hill

Cannon exhibit marks the location where Jackson fixed two cannon on the Red Stick barricade below

Cannon exhibit marks the location where Jackson fixed two cannon on the Red Stick barricade below

Next to the cannon is a large memorial to Jackson’s victory that was placed here by the United States Congress. Leave it to the government to get the date of the battle wrong on the memorial. The battle took place on March 27th.

Memorial to Andrew Jackson has the wrong battle date on it

Memorial to Andrew Jackson has the wrong battle date on it

As mentioned, the Nature Trail continues into the forest at the top of Gun Hill. From here it is only about ten minutes back to the parking lot along short but steep hills. In fact, the toughest terrain on the hike is that between Gun Hill and the parking lot.

Nature Trail continues into the forest at Gun Hill

Nature Trail continues into the forest at Gun Hill

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Last updated on February 20, 2020
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