Mountain biking, camping, canoeing, oh my!

Haywood County’s expansive natural adventures

In a place where there is a slice of nature around every corner— tree lines carving the land, the wide Hatchie River meandering through the county, or green spaces intentionally built and protected around town—there is always an outdoor adventure awaiting. Haywood County’s slow pace and green stretches are perfectly situated for all sorts of excursions, the possibilities as varied as your curiosity.

For those visitors and locals looking for an escape from home for the night, local venue and resort Serendipity offers options galore. It has tent sites, RV hook-ups, yurts, and cabins for rent along the expansive lakefront. When visitors aren’t camping, they can experience outdoor recreation in a variety of ways: almost 15 miles of hiking trails, a 100-foot lookout tower, kayaking, paddle boarding, catch and release fishing, and more!

A local favorite is Serendipity’s 2.5-acre water park, a place to splash and play no matter your age. The park is filled with obstacles for kids and kids at heart, while the beach offers space for those more interested in sitting back, relaxing and watching the water park challengers. Owner Daphne Landwer thinks that of all the spaces available at Serendipity, the beach might be her favorite. She doesn’t really have the time to utilize many of Serendipity’s amenities, she says laughingly, but if she did, “to sit at the water in a beach chair would probably be my favorite thing to do. It’s so relaxing. It feels like you’re not in Brownsville, like you’re way, way away somewhere.”

For those adventurous visitors looking for something more adrenaline-filled than a day at the beach, Brownsville’s Rockin’ Roll Hatchie Trails offer the excitement you may crave. These single-track trails through the woods are perfect for walking, running, or…if you’re really seeking a thrill…mountain biking. Mark Yoder is an avid mountain biker in Brownsville who saw the opportunity to build a local trail system and decided he couldn’t pass it up. Yoder says he “found some amazing trails in Florida, which is a very flat state of course, and that’s when a lightbulb went off in my head. If Florida can have a mountain bike trail, I can go back to Brownsville and build a really good mountain bike trail.”

And build a really good mountain bike trail he did! The trail system is a little over four and a half miles long with about 400 feet of elevation gain, encompassing a wide range of difficulties and thrills. On some of the harder trails, bikers can expect 30 inch drops off wooden features, traveling across small logs called “skinnies,” traversing bridges, or tackling steep elevation gain. For those not comfortable with such quick gains, drops, and jumps, there are more moderate, beginner-friendly trails.

“I really enjoyed building the trail,” Yoder says. “I’m always looking for places where I can maybe build another feature….To me, it’s kind of like a natural playground.”

More than just a playground, the Rockin’ Roll Hatchie Trails are a classroom where curious walkers and bikers can learn about Haywood County’s rich music culture. The “Hammie’s Harmonica” trail references Brownsville Blues icon Hammie Nixon’s legendary harmonica playing; “Yank’s Mandolin” honors Yank Rachell with a wooden feature designed to look like a mandolin. “Sleepy’s Twist” is not just a reference to the great Sleepy John Estes’s popular song, it takes on a life of its own as a trail with curves, bends, and switchbacks.

“I’d love to see people out there using it, getting better,” Yoder says, an ambiguous goal that he says can mean anything from enjoying the fresh air and getting stronger physically to bird watching and scoping out edible mushrooms along the trail.

For those visitors more interested in seeing wildlife than catching air, Haywood County’s Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect spot to spend an afternoon. The Hatchie Refuge is 11,556 acres of protected land spanning the county, with the express objective of protecting migratory birds. This land is filled with oxbow lakes, perfect for exploring the water from the vantage point of a canoe or kayak. Many locals enjoy taking their boats on the meandering Hatchie River and finding the perfect fishing hole to spend the afternoon. For those more interested in staying on land, the Hatchie Refuge has gravel paths open for walking and exploring and hunting, in accordance with state seasons.

Refuge Manager Brian Roberts makes the point that the federally protected refuge operates with a “wildlife first” mindset. The primary goal is to “protect and enhance” the bottomland hardwood ecosystem and the species it supports. And protect it does: during winter months, the refuge tallies as many as 100,000 migratory waterfowl passing through.

One of the most interesting things in recent years, Roberts says, is “the change in the amount of people who use the refuge. Hatchie in the past has been more of a wildlife refuge.” But, thanks to intentional environmental education programming and increased community awareness, the refuge has seen an uptick in two-legged visitors. Visitors come from all over to see resident geese, migratory songbirds, and the occasional rare bird.

The refuge features prominently in Brownsville’s annual Hatchie BirdFest, a Springtime weekend festival including speakers, guided hikes, plant workshops, and musical performances. Perfect for beginner birders and experienced bird watchers alike, the Hatchie BirdFest offers everyone the opportunity to come together, celebrate community, and enjoy the wonders of nature.

Between thrill-seeking mountain bike trails, peaceful nature walks, outdoor festivals, and camping fun for the family, Haywood County offers an outdoor adventure for everyone. The hardest part is choosing where to start!