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205 Fall Creek Falls Trails 2010-03-22

Rockhouse Falls, Fall Creek Falls State Park

For our weekly hike we took a couple of days to visit Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee.

My wife was on her Spring Break, but we had spent most of the week building a new retaining wall in town. Working frantically, we finally finished the Wall on thursday afternoon. It took about two days longer than expected to complete the job, which is about par for all of our projects.

We quickly packed and left for Fall Creek Falls. It is about a two hour drive from Nashville; but out trip was longer due to the traffic and a food stop. We had not bought any groceries.

At Fall Creek Falls, we stayed with our good friend Ranger Ray. It was a fun evening, catching up on life. The next morning, Amy and I left for the trails.

a creek on the Upperloop Trail

On Friday we did the Upper Loop Overnight Trail. The trail is rated as moderate. Crossing many creeks (in the wet season) the trail winds through the upper basin of Cane Creek. The climbs are short, though a couple were steeper than expected. The creeks and rolling hills were scenic, but the trail lacked the overall grandeur of a hike into the gorge.

We were back at Ranger Ray’s in the early afternoon. It was a perfect day as we sat on his deck absorbing vitamin D.

Around 5 in the afternoon we started hiking again. Starting from the Park’s Village area, we began hiking the Turkey Pen Ridge Trail. This great connector leads to the Woodland Trail. From the Woodland Trail we toured the Gorge Overlook Trail, stopping at each overlook.

Returning to the Woodland Trail we detoured to the campground and then continued to the Nature Center. The next trail, the Paw Paw, begins at the Nature Center. After crossing Rockhouse Creek, we turned left on the Cable Trail, which leads to the base of the falls. What fun, as the trail descends steep Class 3 terrain. As the name indicates, there is a cable in place to assist with the climbing. It can still be difficult and a fall on the steep rocks would hurt. Proceed at your own risk and as always, be careful.

cable trail climb

After returning to the Paw Paw Trail, we climbed the hill leading away from Rockhouse Creek and returned to the house by 7. It was a good day of hiking.

On Saturday we started around 9 to hike the Lower Loop Overnight Trail. Ray joined us; but we left Jake, the dog, behind. About a mile and a half into the hike, I pulled up lame. I have been nursing a lower right leg injury. Cruising over easy terrain the sharp pain returned. We stopped, I wrapped the area, and tried to continue. I could still walk; but I could not walk at 3 miles per hour. As I limped home, Ray and Amy completed the hike.

crossing Cane Creek, Lower Loop

I have hiked the Lower Loop numerous times. It is a very good hike. The trail begins by covering the same type of terrain as the Upper Loop; but then the trail takes a dip into the gorge, crosses Cane Creek, and climbs steeply to the other rim. The trail is rated as hard. The climb out of the gorge is steep.

They finished the trail at about 3:45. I did meet them a couple of times along the trail, but in general, it was not much fun sitting around waiting. I would have rather been hiking.

A few trail notes...

  • The Upper Loop and Lower Loop Trails are overnight trails. Permits are required (available at the Nature Center or Park Office.) Camping is restricted to the designated sites.
  • The trails are well marked.
  • The blazes on all of the trails are white. Signs are used at junctions to differentiate the trails.
  • Curiously there was no sign at the junction where the trail splits, go right or left, on the Upper Loop. (The junction after crossing Rockhouse Creek where the Loop begins.)
  • Parts of the Lower Loop, Overnight Trail is shared by other trails, such as the Paw Paw and Woodland Trails.
  • Plenty of water was available, but it was spring of a wet winter when we hiked it. All water would need to be treated.
  • There are no restrooms or water at the trailhead. Facilities are available, elsewhere in the Park.
  • There are outhouses at the campsites. A new one was being built at the Old Maintenance Trailhead. Oh, don’t use it until it is in the field!
  • The water pumps for Campsites 1 and 2 are being repaired. (There is no pump at Campsite 3.) Creeks are relatively close to each camp. Treat all water.
  • Burning cans in a campfire, is not recycling. The blackened cans must be packed out.
  • The trails closest to the Nature Center were the most litered. The Cable Trail was the worst.
  • It was great to hike the trails while the trees were still barren.
  • There is a good deal of poison ivy on the Lower Loop Trail near Cane Creek at the bottom of the gorge. Be sure to wash off, as soon as possible.
  • Use care navigating at the bottom of the gorge. Sections of the trail crosses rocks and boulders and the correct route is not always obvious. If you do not see blazes, back up to the last known location and try again.
  • On the Cable Trail, I mentioned that it was a Class 3. A Class 3, is a climb (or descent) which for an experienced climber, requires the use of their hands. It is no longer a walk. The laws of gravity work especially well here. Any object not secured, will fall; including: rocks, water bottles, climbers, etc. Be careful. Use the cable.
  • The Upper Loop trail is a mixed use trail. Mountain bikers are allowed on the trail. It should be a great ride.
  • Thanks to those who cleared all the downed trees on the Upper Loop Trail.

Both Overnight Trails are good hikes. The Lower Loop has more diversity, but the Upper Loop is still worthy. Fall Creek Falls is also a full facility resort Park. They have camping, rooms, cabins, a store, a restaurant, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and even a golf course. There is a little bit of something for everyone, even the hiker.

Happy resort trails.


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