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Fall Creek Falls highlight hike

Johnny Molloy • Oct 12, 2012 at 12:30 PM

I think the best way to soak in God’s most evident canvas — the outdoors — is by foot. A walking pace allows you to see wonders great and small, and not only to see but hear the birds singing, and smell the drying leaves of autumn. And after this mostly easy 3-mile walk you will see why the state of Tennessee wisely created a state park at Fall Creek Falls.

Start at the park nature center, then view Cane Creek Falls — a vertical aquatic drop. Dip behind the nature center to view Cane Creek Cascades, another watery fall. Span Cane Creek on a swinging bridge, which is fun in its own right. Join the rim of the Cane Creek Gulf and pass a series of overlooks, including the staggering Rocky Point Overlook, where you can view down the Cane Creek Gulf where Fall Creek Gulf and Cane Creek Gulf converge. Now, bridge Fall Creek and Coon Creek, then you seriously enjoy Fall Creek Falls.

First, see Fall Creek Falls from on high at a developed ADA accessible overlook. And then comes the challenging .4-mile trek to the base of Fall Creek Falls, a tough downgrade that reaps huge rewards. Here, you can capture the falls in all its glory as it pours over rock lip into a stone amphitheater. Backtrack to the rim of the gulf, then enjoy a simple return journey on the Woodland Trail. Be apprised most of these trails are heavily used and you will have company throughout the hike, the exception being colder and wetter times.

If you ever bring your camera along for a hike bring it now, for the highlights start immediately and last throughout the trek. Walk the stone path just a short distance to Cane Creek Falls. You can see the falls drop into a semicircular stone amphitheater with a large plunge pool below.

Circle behind the Betty Dunn Nature Center, which has informative displays and is staffed with helpful park employees to shortly reach the wooden boardwalk to 15-foot Cane Creek Cascades. This sloped waterfall more resembles those you would find in the mountains farther east, rather than on the Plateau. Visitors will be scrambling around the cascades and rocks during the warm season.

Next you get to enjoy the swinging bridge over Cane Creek. This wooden wonder is at least 150 feet long and spans the watercourse just above Cane Creek Cascades. It also offers a different perspective of the fall. The hike climbs concrete steps to meet the Campground Trail at .2 mile. That path leaves left for the large and popular Fall Creek Falls Campground. Stay right here, ascending on a wide and heavily used Woodland Trail to meet the Gorge Trail at .3 mile. Turn right here onto a single-track path to meet the spur trail to Cane Creek Overlook. Many park visitors argue that this offers the best view of Cane Creek Falls. You do have a better head-on view of the cataract, as well as a view of Rockhouse Creek falling into the main stream. Look for the nature center through the trees.

Continue on the rim of Cane Creek Gulf in pines, holly and sourwood, curving with the curves of Cane Creek. Reach the Cane Creek Gulf Overlook at .7 mile. Observe the tan stone walls of the gulf as it snakes downstream. Rugged forests grow both above and below the walls of the Gulf.

At .9 mile, come to my personal favorite vista, Rocky Point Overlook. The spur trail leads to an ever-narrowing rock promontory and at the end you have to do a little scrambling to reach the best views.

Here, at the confluence of Fall Creek and Cane Creek, see the two gulfs melding into one, with numerous rock walls and ledges. Fall Creek Falls is just around the corner and can be partially seen. The more you explore this little area the more views you find from various stony nooks and crannies. Ahead, the shorter Fall Creek Falls Overlook offers a partial view of the falls. The park has fenced off the areas near here because too many people were crashing their way to the falls base, creating dangerous, erosive paths.

Meet the Woodland Trail at 1.2 miles. There have been so many highlights to stop and see you can’t seem to get a head of steam hiking, but that’s a good problem to have. Bridge Fall Creek then Coon Creek as you circle around the Fall Creek Gulf. Pass the Lower Overnight Loop Trail leading left. Reach the developed Fall Creek Falls Overlook at 1.5 miles. Most visitors have come from the very short ADA accessible trail from the Fall Creek Falls parking area. You are eyelevel with the falls. Also, look for Rocky Point, where you were earlier.

Now, take the Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail, which immediately drops into a rocky gorge. The path becomes very rocky and rough as it passes beside massive boulders and impressive rock walls. Come under a huge rock wall and massive rock house just before reaching the base of the falls at 1.9 miles. The park’s namesake dives from a cliff into a plunge pool.

As you climb back out, other visitors, learning how steep this trail is, will be asking you if it is worth it. Yes, it is.

Backtrack to the developed view and beyond to meet the Woodland Trail once again at 2.6 miles. Take this gentle path beyond the intersection with the Turkey Pen Ridge Trail to complete the loop portion of the hike at 2.9 miles. From here, backtrack to the nature center. Hopefully you got some good pictures.

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