Sequatchie Valley Institute Forest Nature Trails

About the trails:  A round trip to Moonshadow and back is about 2-3 miles including side trails.  Allow 2 hours for a relaxed trip with lots of stops. The trails are moderately easy, with some rocky areas and some steep slopes, and suitable for all ages.  They traverse the typical habitats of the Southern Appalachian Bioregion with many examples of native flora and fauna, going from the Sequatchie Valley floor half-way up the escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau, just below the bluffs. 

Don’t forget!

  • Trail Guide—at Gallery or on the web.
  • Walking pole—free loaners at Gallery ($5 Donation to SVI if you want to keep yours)
  • Water, Snacks—Ask at Gallery if you need water. You may stop and picnic anywhere along the trails.  At Moonshadow at the end of each trail you may use the picnic tables, compost toilets, and get water.
  • Binoculars and Camera/Cell phone—you may access the trail info on our website.
  • Nature Guidebooks—ask to borrow one from the Gallery
  • Appropriate footwear and clothing. We suggest closed toe shoes and slacks.
  • Bugspray—You may ask for some at the Gallery

Rules and Suggestions

  • Look for the markers—numbered ceramic for the trail guides and colored flagging to mark trees. We suggest you stay close to the trail.
  • Plan to be back to your car before dark. The trail markers may not show up at night very well. 
  • Pets must be on a leash
  • Observe and enjoy wildlife and plants but leave them undisturbed. No removal of plants.
  • Leave no trace
  • Be aware and look out for some Tennessee friends including: Biting/stinging insects (ticks and wasps), venomous snakes, and poison ivy, all a part of our amazing biodiversity.

Note!  A new revised version of the Trail Guide will be available soon!  Ask for a hard copy at the Gallery.  A GIS version is upcoming!
Kodai Trail

  1. This trail is about 3/4 mile long and goes up to our main house, Moonshadow, and the SVI center. Notice the large limestone rock on your right.  Growing on top of it (R to L) is an elm tree with a tire swing hanging from it, a beech tree, and then a very large ash tree (we sure hope it doesn’t fall!).  The sandstone rock steps in front of you are from the creek.  In 1971 it was hard to climb this incline before we installed the steps.
  1. Years ago coal cars ran by cable from the mines on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau to the concrete platform above you. From here the cars ran on rails into a 3 story building (a coal tipple).  We built our workshop, which we call Tipple, on the old foundation.
  1. This little beech tree gives you a good look at its leaves. Beeches keep their dead golden leaves all winter.  In the spring the new green leaves push the dead leaves off.  To the right, you see our Wood Mizer band saw mill.  The lumber we use for building comes from this mill.  Back in 2001 (when we bought the mill) we turned many dead pines (killed by the southern pine beetle) into lumber.  In 2005 we built the house that is now Liquidambar Art Gallery from these dead pines.
  1. The limestone strata is at the surface along this ridge. In the year 2000 the southern pine beetle killed pine trees all over the southern US.  Ninety percent of the pines on this land were killed.  This area you are now looking at was mainly pine trees (you see many dead ones on the ground).  A variety of trees have taken over as the forest recovers.
  1. Cedar tree. You are near the top of the limestone strata.  Cedars like limestone so they are common here.  Cedar wood contains a natural preservative so they make great fence posts and greenhouse rafters like you will see in Moonshadow.  In the spring, lots of redbuds will be blooming.
  1. Sourwood tree. The leaves taste like a lemon.  Note how deep the bark ridges are.  You are now above the limestone.  From here on up you will be in sandstone rock.
  1. A hole in this oak 5 feet off the ground may be the home of a flying squirrel family. These gliders of the night are nocturnal and one of the cutest animals in the world.
  1. This oak tree has a group of resurrection ferns growing on the bark 5 feet above the ground. They don’t hurt the tree.  If it has rained the ferns will be green.  If it has been dry the ferns will be brown and look dead.  They’re not.
  1. To the left is a dogwood tree. Dogwoods have very hard wood–the best wood for making a wood mallet. The leaves help sweeten forest soils and the fall berries feed migrating birds. To the right is a sassafras tree.  Note the leaves; 3 lobed (ghosts), 2 lobed (mittens) and 1 lobed.  The roots of this tree were used to make root beer.  Both of these trees are understory trees, happy to live below the upper canopy.
  1. Northern red oak tree. This is one of the many species of trees that make up the upper canopy of the forest.
  1. This big tree is a blackgum. The wood doesn’t check (split as it dries).  Years ago Tennesseans used cross cut rounds of this tree for wagon wheels, wheel barrow wheels, and toys.
  1. You are in a grove of sweet shrubs (also called Bubbies) which have pretty red flowers in the spring and lead to 2 inch seed cases which are visible all year and feed the birds.
  1. Two old hickory trees fell across the trail here. Trees do get old or diseased and die.  It’s natural.  Forests consider downed trees as fertilizer for the soil.  Organisms from beetles to raccoons and foxes see the downed tree as food or as a place to call home.
  1. This sandstone rock is an example of what we used to build the walls, the fireplaces, and the floors of Moonshadow (about 5 minutes ahead).
  1. This big sandstone rock we call the Nargun. Australian aborigines say a force in the earth can give you strength and wisdom.  They find this force in certain rocks they call the Nargun.  Pat the Nargun carefully—if angered it could be dangerous. Say Hi.  Don’t you feel better?
  1. This little bridge crosses a stream coming from a periodic spring. The spring flows after a rain.  The 3 foot logs ahead of you are shiitake mushroom producing logs.  The 3 story structure across the road is Barking Beetle – our conference center and outdoor kitchen.   From there you can walk on up to Moonshadow or continue back down to the Gallery on the Hemlock Grove Trail.  This trail begins at the large clay oven just in front of Barking Beetle.

Hemlock Grove Trail

The lower strata of rock here in the Sequatchie Valley consist of limestone.  The calcium carbonate that makes up the rock was laid down 340 million years ago, when this area of North America was covered with a shallow sea.  The sandstone layer above the limestone was formed as the Appalachian Mountains began to form. Over millions of years the rocks in the rising mountains eroded and washed down in the drying seas.  Some formed the sandstone you see in the bluffs bordering the valley about 300 million years ago.  Some of the eroded sands traveled to the Gulf of Mexico, forming the beautiful beaches of north Florida at the Apalachicola and Destin areas. Fossils of ocean creatures in the limestone and plant fossils in the sandstone hint at what the earth right under your feet was like in the past.  On the hike today you will be looking at the present. 

  1. Shagbark Hickory—the best species for nuts-and the entrance to Uno, our first garden.
  1. You are crossing a raised ridge which prevents the creek at flood stage to stay out of the garden. Lots of spring flowers bloom here in April.
  1. Sweetgum—Liquidambar styracifolia. Note the genus name is also our gallery name. We named the area at the bridge “Sweetgum” when our family first walked across the creek in 1971 because of the abundance of these fast growing trees. Trees grow at different rates.  Some small trees grew slowly but are very old, like this one.  Some of the bigger (2-3 ft diameter) trees you will see on the hike may have grown much faster and may be younger.
  1. You will be walking along Hicks Creek, which usually runs from November to May, then goes underground into the limestone rock during dry spells.
  1. Ironwood. Here you see the limestone strata.
  1. Young beech tree. The big limestone rocks jutting into the creek form a nice swimming hole when the creek is running.  The limestone strata contains sinkholes and caves. 
  1. Older beech tree. Beeches are very sensitive to forest fires—large ones show that there have not been any fires in this area for decades.
  1. Oak
  1. Carolina Hemlock. This low area along the creek is dominated by the beautiful hemlocks.  These trees are now in danger of extinction due to a tiny insect brought into the US from Europe.  Climate change has also caused the hemlocks to be under stress, as they are a cool climate tree and remnants of the glacial periods over 10,000 years ago.
  1. When Hicks Creek is high it also flows in the channel below the trail. The music of the running water is so beautiful, creating a peaceful walk.  If the creek is dry, plan to come back when the water is flowing—most of the winter and after heavy summer and spring rains.  We’ll let you know on the website.
  1. Saw brier, also called green brier, depends on whether you get caught on them or not! Old timers know to avoid the tough thorny branches.  However, these are great forage for deer in the winter and the berries feed the turkeys.  You can eat the young growth in the spring—good trail nibblies.

After you pass # 11, you will see a trail (going away from the creek) with blue and white flags. Follow the flags for a side trip to the entrance to McIntyre Cave. You will cross the road from Sweetgum and for a shorter trip you may want to return to the gallery along the road.  The entrance to the cave is just across the road.  The cave temperature is around 60 degrees year-round.  Jump down into the entrance to feel the cool air in summer and “warm” air in winter.  You may see an orange cave salamander on the moist limestone inside the entrance.

The cave is closed to visitors now because of the white-nose syndrome, a fungus which is currently killing millions of bats in the eastern US.  Our little Tricolored Bats, one of the smallest bats in the East, live in the cave, and are not yet an endangered species.  They catch insects in the evening, one every 2 seconds!

To the right of the cave entrance is a very large beech tree—look closely and you may see initials of lovers carved into the bark many years ago. 

  1. Short leaf yellow pine. The many dead pines rotting slowly around you are a result of the invasion of the Southern Pine Beetle, which killed many of our pines in 2000.  Stress from drought and heat probably made the trees more susceptible to damage.
  1. Oak
  1. Red Maple.
  1. Just as these pines on the ground died around 2000, so did a large grove of pines near the trail here. These 2 acres were a potato field in the 1930’s managed by Old Man Mose, an African-American who raised his family here.  He was also an excellent mason, using the rounded creek rocks to build houses.  A few of the houses he built can still be seen in Cartwright and Daus.  The rock piles around the area are possibly graves or remnants of structures.  Be respectful and think about what life was like for this family.  When the farm was abandoned, the pines began to grow.  Some of them we used for building Moonshadow.  The rest died from the beetle, so we are developing a native grass prairie for wildlife and also for parking during events at Moonshadow—conferences, retreats, workshops, weddings, etc.  We call it The Glade.  Our grandchildren call it The Savannah and hunt lions and zebras there. 
  1. Yellow Poplar (Tulip Tree). This is the state tree of Tennessee. Some of the largest and oldest trees in Tennessee are poplars.  The early spring flowers resemble tulips and produce a kind of glue used by honeybees for constructing and sealing their hives.
  1. Oak.
  1. Sugar Maple.
  1. Hickory. Note the “knob” about 15 ft. up.  These are common on hickories and a good way to identify them.
  1. Oak.
  1. Mud Dauber. We built this during our first building workshop. It is constructed of cob, made from clay from the hillside, sand, and straw.  It is available for overnight stays.  Please be respectful if anyone is staying there, but feel free to look around.  Note the “green” roof—in the summer it may be brown!

The trail continues up the hill from here.  You may wish to take a side trip along the road to the right to see Alpenglow, a wood fired pottery kiln.  We have just completed it, and should have a first firing by fall.  Keep watching the Liquidambar website for updates. 

  1. Compost toilets. You may visit if necessary!  After use, we add sawdust, ashes, and leaves.  When the underground concrete containers are ¾ full, we move the entire structure and cover the opening for 3 years.  After that, composting has purified the organic waste and we can use it on non-food crops and the orchard. 
  1. Cob Oven. Come to one of our famous pizza parties for a special treat!  We build a fire in the oven in the morning, then let it burn out.  We shovel out the ashes then put in the pizzas, bread, pies, etc.  Yummm.

The 3 story structure in front of you is Barking Beetle – our conference center and outdoor kitchen. Climb up to the top floor to enjoy the view.  Spring water may be available in the sink, and poison ivy soap if you need it.  From there you can walk on up to Moonshadow, our main house and the center of Sequatchie Valley Institute.  Feel free to look around. There are picnic tables in the yard.  You may continue back down to the Gallery on the Kodai Trail.  Cross the road in front of Barking Beetle to find the signs. The 3 foot logs ahead of you are shiitake mushroom producing logs.  This little bridge crosses a stream coming from a periodic spring which flows most of the winter and after a rain.

Summer Learning Day Event at SVI


Event Date: June 21, 2015

Location: Sequatch
ie Valley Institute and Liquidambar Art Gallery,
1233 Cartwright Loop, Whitwell, Tennessee 37397

Description: For kids of all ages, take a self-guided nature trail through the woods up the edge of the Sequatchie Valley. Learn about nature, forest trees and ecology, native plants, wildlife, history of the area, permaculture, solar electricity, and sustainable living in the woods. Visit our art gallery with exhibits from local artists.

How you can help: Support outdoor education for all kids. Bring a crew to SVI to hike our trails, explore the forest, and discover a unique way of life between Dunlap and Whitwell, 45 minutes from Chattanooga.
Start time: 1000 AM CDT
End time: 5:00 PM CDT
Grades served: Pre-K, Grades K-5, Grades K-8, Grades 6-8, Grades 6-12, Grades 9-12
Expected attendance: 20
Sequatchie Valley Institute, 1233 Cartwright Loop, Whitwell, Tennessee 37397
Contact name: Carol Kimmons
Contact email: Carol-kimmons [at] utc [dot] edu
Contact phone: 4239495922

Summer Learning Day is an annual national advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer. For more information on this  event, see

National Trails Days Guided Hikes at SVI June 6-7

Sequatchie Valley Institute and Liquidambar Gallery are celebrating National Trails Day, Saturday and Sunday, June 6-7. Across the US there are tons of free activities such as hiking, canoeing, bicycling, trail building or clean-ups, horseback riding, kayaking, and bird watching. Lots of events will take place in Southeast Tennessee.  Let National Trails Day be the kick-off for a summer of adventure for your family. Learn a new skill, discover a new trail, or spend a few hours giving back to the outdoors before a summer spent savoring them. Remember to submit your photos afterward for a chance to win sweet gear.


See for details and places to go! WE think one of the best places is right here in the beautiful Sequatchie Valley, just 45 minutes from Chattanooga.


Discover our newly developed self-guided round-trip nature trails to learn more about the forest ecology, plants, and history of the 350 Acres of mountainside at Sequatchie Valley Institute, through land protected forever by the Land Trust of Tennessee. The easy-to-moderate well-marked trails begin at the Valley bottom, at the Liquidambar Art Gallery, which will be open both days with art for sale made by SVI staff and local artists.  An interpretive booklet provides information for the numbered stops along the trails.  Both trails end below the bluffs at Moonshadow, the Sequatchie Valley Institute center, hand-crafted and solar powered, surrounded by permaculture gardens. The round trip will take 1-2 hours allowing time for observation of nature. You may wish to bring a picnic lunch and drinks for stops along the way.

      We will also have a hike and tour of the homes built of rock, logs, clay, and sustainably harvested wood guided by Johnny starting each day at 12:30 CDT from the Gallery, taking about 2 hours.

     Children are welcome on all trips and should have no problem managing the trails. Trail runners are welcome. No pets, please. All activities are free of charge and sponsored by SVI, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization promoting education and research in sustainable green living, ecology, and art at 

     For more info on the gallery, see:; Facebook liquidambargallery.SVI.  Proceeds from the Gallery help support the programs of SVI.

Food for Life Update!

Lots of last minute prep today!  Our work traders are busy as the bees getting the food ready.  Looks like it may rain Friday, but don’t fear–we have a number of covered structures where you can put up your tent or throw your bedding for Friday night.  Saturday and Sunday will be warm and sunny!  Be sure to bring the kids–Cure Nature Deficit Disorder!  
If you still fear the camping and want more comfort, there is a very nice motel just 8 miles away in Dunlap, behind Dunlap Restaurant at the 111 exit.  
Mountain Inn and Suites
17260 RANKIN AVE DUNLAP, TN 37327-7027
Phone:(423) 949 2184
Fax:(423) 949 2182