Date: Friday - Sunday, 15 - 17 May 2013
Location: Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
Trails: Campground, Woodland, Paw Paw, Gorge Overlook, Base of Fall Creek Falls, Turkey Pen Ridge, Piney Falls Overlook, Piney Falls Bridge
Members: Bomber, Gary, Larry, Mimi
In one of these "Where do we want to go in some-month?" discussions, Charlie suggested Savage Gulf State Park in eastern Tennessee. The camping options were backpacking only and first-come-first-served, and for a rather limited number of spots at that. So this wasn't going to work particularly well for us.
The compromise was to shift the camping to Fall Creek Falls State Park, some 20 miles away where RV and tent camping and even hotel lodgings were available and reservable for a small fee. It turned out that the hiking options at this state park were sufficient for the weekend. So Savage Gulf waits for another day.
Using the Tennessee State Parks' excellent online reservation application, Mimi and I had booked what was close enough to be accurately described as a "level" site (C150). Gary and Bomber just showed up and procured the site (C151) immediately across the road from us (and saved a three buck reservation fee). The campground C loop was only about a third full anyway. Each campsite cost $16 per night plus tax (plus reservation fee in our case).
The weather probably contributed to the low density in the campground. When we had decided to book the trip, the forecast called for a slight chance of rain on Friday and none the next two days. By the time they took our money, we were looking at 50% to 60% probability of rain and scattered thunderstorms all the way.
We came out all right. Occasional rain hit us on the way up, most annoyingly just as we turned on the quite well-constructed 7.5 mile entrance parkway into the park. But we all managed to get set up, explore a bit, and get through most of dinner before anything too serious began falling out of the sky.
Gary and Bomber due to various medical issues chose to hang out around the campsite rather than hike. One could certainly do worse, this being a rather pretty campground with trees overhead and all-day bird song.
On Friday, Mimi and I walked the 0.2 mile Campground Trail over to the Nature Center, crossing Cane Creek on a swaying suspension bridge that could only accommodate six people at a time due to weight considerations. We viewed the Cane Creek Cascades and the Overlook - both spectacular (though we did better the next day).
Upon returning to the campground, we decided to drive to the Fall Creek Falls Overlook since we didn't trust the weather for the next day and it seemed ridiculous to visit Fall Creek Falls State Park and not see the eponymous waterfall! The view was impressive though we noted that while the trail from the campground to the overlook is about a mile, we had driven over four. It is challenging to keep track of the direction in which you are traveling on the roads in this park.
After or during dinner, the rain started, not heavy, but never let up. So we gave up on the idea of sitting around a campfire slowly getting soggy and instead took the time to hang fire rope lighting around the top of our First-Up shelter. Much more atmospheric than these too-bright lanterns.
Saturday started with a few clouds but no threat for the early morning. After breakfast, Mimi and I hiked the Paw Paw Trail, a loop with length variously described as between 2.6 and 4 miles plus a couple of short side excursions to soak in the scenery. We viewed Cane Creek Falls from a different angle than yesterday's and later stood on the very edge of the Cane Creek Gorge. A bit further though less impressively we saw Fall Creek Falls from another side though from too far away to have any advantage.
All the trails we hiked are rocky with exposed roots but the soil is sandy enough to provide decent traction. The rain made them slicker than usual but nothing that could not be managed by just slowing down and paying attention.
As promised, the loop took us back to the Nature Center. All the trails had signs posted at least as often as you might require them indicating the distance to various points. It certainly did help to have a trail map which was freely available at the Village office or online. In fact as these things go, the park's Trail Guide brochure is commendable. But it's not like we would have been in any danger of getting lost even without one.
We arrived back at the Nature Center about 11 AM and spent a half hour enjoying the exhibits (and making yet another try to understand the marvelous geology of this part of the world). It rained outside while we were ogling stuffed bobcats and CCC photos.
After lunch at the campsite, we set out on the hiking trails on our side of Cane Creek. We started on the Woodland Trail but soon opted for the Gorge Trail with three overlooks. The Cane Creek Gorge Overlook (from the opposite side today) was the best we saw all weekend. The other overlooks were okay but perhaps would be better were the trees to had shed, you know, like all of their leaves.
We continued back to where we had driven yesterday and decided to try the steep Trail to the Base of Falls. Plenty of people obviously had made it down there and we had hiking poles and good boots, so go for it. The trail certainly did not lack for humans. We must have passed (or let pass) 75 people. This slower pace really helped us, both physically as well as giving us an opportunity to admire the five billion (or whatever) years of geology right in your face. We did not encounter anyone older than us on this trail though it is not all that bad.
We meandered back to camp, checking out the General Store at the Village area en route. The store provided everything one could need (though the top-selling sales item appeared to be ice cream).
I think we were actually pretty tired when we got back. We had hiked only about eight or nine miles but the humidity had been higher than we would have liked, especially in the morning.
We loved the great water pressure and bountiful hot water in the comfort station. Gary noted that the plumbing would not pass inspection. Maybe that's why it was so good.
Dinner and after dinner campfire were all going splendidly until about 9 PM when the rain started up with a vengeance. We had just piled two or three large logs onto what was already a really hot fire. The rain didn't phase this blaze. It was still going strong at 1:30 AM and re-ignited a log in the morning.
Light rain continued overnight. With thunder in the background, we ate breakfast and rather hurriedly packed up our stuff in the morning. We had a wet tent to take home - so what's new? The leftover firewood remained behind as a gift for the next camper.
Mimi and I had a quick tour of the other areas of the park we had not visited including short walks to see Piney Falls and a nearby suspension bridge. There was really too much fog and sometimes misty rain to pursue this tack much further.
We returned home the way we came, mostly due to the lousy weather conditions. We had picked up a map at the park which indicated some scenic routes but without the kind of specific directions you need. (We don't do GPS.) We tried for one of these alternative roads but retreated, concluding that to retrace our steps wasn't all that bad an idea.
Cheap gas at Whitwell. Exited TN 28 for US 72 through what we will charitably assume was the least exciting section of Jasper. Continued on home via one of the several routes passing by Lake Guntersville.
For these and other photos, please see our Picasa Web Album Fall Creek Falls 2013.
Submitted 27 May 2013