Pawpaw Trail

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, easy, but relatively monotonous 2.6-mile loop from the Nature Center with minimal elevation change. Very easy walking.
Fees: None
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Weather: National Weather Service Forecast

September 25, 2010

The pawpaw tree is a small understory tree, growing to 30', forming thick colonies from underground rhizome systems. They produce a 3-5" oblong fruit that is edible, though I've never eaten one myself, chiefly because the wildlife seem to snap them up before they are even close to ripe. 

Andra and I started on the Pawpaw trail around 11:00 on a cool, cloudy Saturday morning. Ada came along in the backpack, cooing happily. The parking lot at the Nature Center was hopping, but once on the trail, we encountered very few people on the trail. I think most folks stop at the Cane Creek Falls overlook and go no further. The Pawpaw Trail led north through a thick forest of tall hickories, oaks and tuliptrees along the dry rocky channel of Rock House Creek for a short spell, then crossed the creek right next to the granite road bridge, a quaint arch of rough rock covered with moss that spans the small creek. The Cable Trail headed off west, and we hiked over a bit to check it out. True to its name, a steel cable stretched down a very steep incline of rocks through the trees to the river grade far below. A couple of hikers were ascending as we watched, and though they used the cable some, much of the time they seemed comfortable just scrambling up the rocks. It looked challenging, and fun, but with baby on board, we decided to tackle it some other time. 

The next spur trail heading north is the Cane Creek Falls overlook, but with leaves on the trees, we found we werenít looking at much but vegetation. The falls were audible, but not visible. Perhaps in winter one could get a view. 

At the first trail junction and the start of the Pawpaw loop, we split to the left, which took us past two more overlooks, one for Cane Creek Gorge and another for Fall Creek Falls . We passed both of them right by, the first because we could hear a large crowd of hikers down the there hooting about, and the second because Ada was getting fussy and we dared not prolong the hike any longer than required. See, new things to think about when hiking with a baby.

We headed north along the gentle grade through a nice forest of tuliptree, hickory, maple and hemlock, with a nice scattering of ferns in the understory. Fall color was hinting, but the forest was still predominantly green. Several hemlocks we passed were very large, and had the same unusual horizontal swells along the base of the trunk in the dark brown furrowed bark that Iíve seen in other old hemlocks in the area. Still donít know what they are caused by. 

We passed by the Upper Cane Creek Loop trail junction, and then to a second junction where our options were to head right to the Nature Center or left to the Park Entrance. The Pawpaw trail isnít actually signed here, so if you go, youíll just need to remember or deduce that you want to turn right and go back to the nature center. The remainder of the hike was very simple and not very eventful, as the trail headed back south, paralleling the park road for much of the way. Unlike the busy trails in the park, the Pawpaw trail doesnít head to any waterfalls or creeks, but just meanders pleasantly through the woods for a bit, and returns. Luckily, Ada enjoyed the entire hike and chatted quietly to herself in all vowels the whole time. We reached the nature center again around 12:15, and drove off to explore Piney Falls.

Pawpaw Trail
The Paw Paw Trail
Pawpaw Trail
Ada at a rest stop on the trail
Pawpaw Trail
Ada acting silly
Pawpaw Trail
Baby porter duty
Pawpaw Trail
Pawpaw Trail
Pawpaw Trail
Oak alomg Rock House Creek


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