Trail Review: Cravens House Trail to Sunset Rock

It’s been almost a month since National Summit Day, so I am very, very, very overdue in sharing this trail! Between camping trips and writing about Virginia, I’m behind in covering some of our TN hiking adventures, and this one is a great place to start.

We did this trail shortly after getting into our new house. After a week of unpacking, painting, and unpacking some more, we knew we wanted to get out on the trail as a family. And since the buzz around Backpacker’s National Summit Day tugged at my instagrammer heart, I figured, we’re in a place where the mountains AREN’T a two hour drive now, let’s take advantage of it and find some views! So I set out to find a summit. And was quickly reminded of why I started blogging about our hikes in the first place–it is so hard to find trail recommendations for small children that aren’t just nature parks!

Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain came up in my searches repeatedly however, and after looking at several websites I decided we would hike to it from Cravens House. The internet promised ample parking and the option of a 1.5 mile out and back, which seemed more than doable for us–long enough to feel like a hike, but short enough that it wouldn’t eat up our entire day.

The trailhead is easy to find, and the trail itself starts off relatively flat, before taking a left turn after a couple tenths of a mile. From there the trail follows a gentle incline up the west side of the mountain for the remainder of the first mile. This stretch of trail is wide, well-worn, and had we not been worried about time, I would have definitely let Sebastian walk on his own. At one mile, a second trail branches off to the left to go to Point Park, and the Cravens Trail continues to the right. Here, the elevation gain increases a little, as do some hazards that would make this a little more difficult for a toddler–bridges, steps up onto rocks, and some pretty severe drop-offs on the west side of the trail. That said–there is so much to look at. The views themselves – even through trees thick with summer leaves – gave us a wonderful taste of the lowering sunlight, and on the east side of the trail water runoff created several mini-waterfalls, which both kids loved watching. We also saw several really intricate spiderwebs, which was a highlight for my arachnid-obsessed five year old.

sunset trail
We could still hear traffic which was a bummer, but what a change having an elevation hike so close to home!

The last tenth of a mile on this trail is the kicker. After passing the sandstone bluffs that make up the overlook, a set of stone steps jack-knives back towards them, and those steps are no joke. They are steep, narrow, and have a very high rise. Even with the benefit of a handrail, tiny legs will definitely need grown-up assistance, as some of them I’m pretty sure are taller than Sebastian’s legs.

sunset trail-2
While she probably could have aced this trail in the morning, by dinnertime even a 5 year old needs a lift!

The top though–the top is so, so worth it. Spectacular views over the watershed plains, the iconic Moccasin Bend, and the city itself, and a wide open view of the western sky to watch the sun sink behind the mountains in the distance. From a kid-friendly standpoint it was a little nerve-wracking, just because of the severity of the drop-off, but there is enough space at the top that both kids were able to run, climb, and even splash in a few puddles leftover from the week’s rains. We had a picnic dinner while we admired the golden light spilling over the landscape, and chatted with several other families who came in from the .1 mile hike from a parking lot at the top of the mountain.

sunset rock-4
Dinner with a view–in reusuable snack bags from LuvBug Company! 

Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to see how the trail is heading back down the mountain. As Billy was getting Sebastian into the deuter, it tipped backwards and Bastian cut his head on a rock when it fell–not knowing just how bad it was, we accepted the help of a family who offered to drive Billy back down to our car, and I hiked the short trail up with both kids to the upper parking lot. It turns out Bastian was fine–he calmed down before I had even started walking–and it afforded me a chance to see this stretch of the hike. It is obviously much shorter, and it’s downhill to the viewpoint, but I think the hike from Cravens House was definitely the way to go. Fewer people, more chance to soak in the woods, and it makes the view that much more rewarding once you’ve done the extra work to get there.

sunset rock-2

Overall Family-Friendly Rating: 4/5. The are definitely hazards on this trail, but with attentive adults and a carrier on hand, it’s a great option to combine a little adventure with breathtaking views. There is enough space at the top to be able to enjoy the overlook while keeping the kids a safe distance from the edge, while still giving them rocks and trees to play on. Honestly the biggest detractor for me was just the sheer number of people who had congregated the closer we got to sunset–but we expected that, knowing this was one of the most popular views in the city. I can see this easily becoming a place we come back to, and I look forward to seeing how different it looks as the seasons change.

Note: There is signage everywhere indicating this, but the parking lots close at dark, and I have heard this is very strictly enforced. If you are planning a sunset hike, make sure you are aware of how quickly you can make it back to your car, as if you don’t get back until after dark you may not be able to drive out. Have a carrier on hand for young walkers to make sure you can move at an adult-pace on the way out if necessary. 

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