Fall Creek Falls via the Gorge/Woodland Loop

Location: Fall Creek Falls State Park, south of Spencer, Tennessee
Access: From Spencer, TN, head south on Hwy 111 8 miles, then turn east on Hwy 284 (follow the brown signs to Fall Creek Falls), and proceed 1 mile to Old Tennessee 111. Jog north ~300 yards and continue east on Hwy 284 10.8 miles to the Nature Center, which is well-signed on the left side of the road at a sharp curve in the road. 
Maps: USGS Sampson quad; Trail maps available at the Friends of Fall Creek Falls website
Trailhead: UTM NAD83 zone 16 649377e 3947722n
Trail: A nice loop from the Nature Center to the Fall Creek Falls Overlook and back again, including the four overlooks, is 2.1 miles with 264í elevation gain
Fees: None
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Weather: National Weather Service Forecast

July 28, 2010

After work, Andra, Ada and I shuffled over to Fall Creek Falls State Park for a  quick hike through the woods. We began around 5:15 at the Nature Center, which was bustling with people who had apparently been swimming in nearby Cane Creek. I didnít test the water, but it looked pretty refreshing on this hot July afternoon. We checked out the falls overlook, but you canít really see the falls from this spot, but instead must be contended with a nice view of the plunge pool below, and the soothing sound of a waterfall somewhere vaguely off to the left. We headed upstream, and crossed the suspension bridge slowly (to avoid feeling queasy with the swaying) and then uphill a bit from the creek on the hard-packed earthen trail. Very quickly, we reached a fork in the trail and met a family of four trying to decide which was to go. I counseled that, since it was a loop trail, it didnít matter which way you went, but after hiking it, Iíd have to say heading counterclockwise is best, since you hit the four overlooks right off the bat. That is the way we, and the family, went. 

The first overlook provided a nice view of Cane Creek Falls, and in fact is probably the best place to view it from as there are no trails that I know of down to the base of the falls, though intrepid souls may find a way down on their own. The second overlook of the gorge was silly: a steep trail down to a DO NOT PASS barricade completely enclosed by trees: you can see nothing but trees from this overlook. Perhaps at one time it went further to a view worth the physical effort to get there, but not anymore. Being generally law-abiding hikers (I am ashamed to admit), we backtracked to the trail and continued on. The trail itself was easy to follow and without much elevation change. Hemlocks and oaks dominated the forest, though we passed by a dozen or more other species of trees. The third overlook on this short segment was the Rocky Point overlook of Fall Creek Falls. With a bit of scrambling, I got out to the open rocky point, and could just barely see the top of the falls, while the more impressive views lay down canyon of the dramatic limestone cliffs covered with verdant green trees. The fourth and final overlook was again pretty disappointing. Nominally an overlook of Fall Creek Falls, it is principally about seeing more trees up close and personal. I almost never advocate tree removal, but in this case, I believe a little pruning of a few limbs might be in order. 

The route continued on to another fork, where we had the option of heading back to the Nature Center, or heading over across Fall Creek to the big falls. We continued on over a nice bridge that spanned Fall Creek, which is a fantastic cool-water creek lined with large rhododendrons. We headed over to the main overlook of Fall Creek Falls for a nice view of this wonderful waterfall. Iíve described it elsewhere, so no need to repeat myself here. Suffice to say itís worth the hike from the Nature Center, and you donít even have to hike that since you can drive to within 50 yards of it, which is a real shame because a destination this nice ought to require a little bit of effort, I think. It helps to enjoy it a bit more if it doesnít come easy.  Having already hiked to bottom of the falls before, we decided to get little Ada back to the car before she melted down. It was after 6:00, afterall, that witching hour for babies everywhere. We didnít make it past Fall Creek before it was apparently dinner time, and we had to stop and administer a little food or else listen to screaming baby all the way back. Thus nourished, we resumed our walk back, and almost made it to the car before Ada melted down again because of the heat (?), sleepiness (?) boredom (???). Who knows? Ah, hiking with babies. Good times. We reached the car around 7:00 and drove on back home under a fantastic summer sunset. 

The Gorge Trail

Cane Creek Falls from the overlook on Gorge Trail

Gorge Trail

Fall Creek from Rocky Pt Overlook

Fall Creek Gorge

Fall Creek Gorge from the Fall Creek Falls Overlook (east side)

Andra & Ada

Ada along for the ride

Andra and Ada on the Gorge Trail

Sun reflecting off leaves on the Gorge Trail

Gorge Trail

Gorge Trail

Rhododendrons over Fall Creek

Andra and Ada over Fall Creek

Fall Creek Bridge

Rocky Point from an overlook next to Fall Creek Falls

Fall Creek Falls from the main overlook

Andra and Ada

The handoff: Sam takes over carrying duties

Ada and Andra at a snack break along Fall Creek

The Woodland Trail


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