Splish Splash: Get Ready for Waterfalls Weekend in Tennessee
A dip in a clear, cold plunge pool at the base of a waterfall is a great way to beat summer heat, but I find spring remains my favorite time to visit Tennessee’s magnificent waterfalls because spring rains means peak water flow.
I met lots of folks with the same idea during a day trip last weekend to Stillhouse Hollow Falls, the most recent addition to my personal top ten waterfall list. The small 12-car gravel parking lot in the Stillhouse Hollow State Natural Area just off US 43 northeast of Summertown was at capacity when we arrived on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon. Luckily, a parking space opened up quickly so my wife Cathy and I were soon on our way down the trail leaning on our walking sticks.
On the way down we met a young couple who were coming back from the falls. The woman was carrying a small dog. She said her dog was fine but she, on the other hand, was huffing and puffing. We figured since we do a lot of walking we’d be OK on a trail that was only 0.6 mile so we pushed on.
Along the way to the first stream crossing we saw slopes covered with lots of oak leaf hydrangeas but we were too early to see them in bloom.
We crossed a wooden bridge and followed the trail to the right rather than the uphill Elk Flats Trail that follows the ridge top to a nice view of the surrounding country side and Bib Bigby Creek valley. As we continued we were rewarded with small cascades that filled the air with the music of tumbling waters.
At the end of the next fairly steep stretch we came upon a small group of adults who looked to be about three or four decades more experienced than the young couple we’d met previously. They were laughing as they took a break at the base of one of the several sets of stairs along the trail. One of the guys was sitting on the bottom step and remarked with a wry grin, “Just leave me here. Get the women and children to safety first.”
Hmm, maybe this was a bit more rugged than we thought.
But as we made our way to the base of the 75-foot falls we passed women carrying babies, men carrying toddlers, dogs urging their people on and kids of every shape and size.
And the waterfall, like the day, was splendid. Tumbling 75 feet into a deep hollow, the falls empty into an unnamed stream that flows to Big Bigby Creek and then into the Duck River, a Tennessee treasure that is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in North America.
Here are some other Tennessee waterfalls you should be sure to visit.
The Wonderful Waterfalls of the Smokies
Thanks to high annual rainfall and elevation changes, there are 20 waterfalls in the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with smaller cascades and falls on nearly every river and stream in the park.
The paved path to the 80-foot Laurel Falls off Little River Road is one of the most popular destinations in the GSMNP. A 2.6- mile roundtrip hike leads to a wooden walkway that crosses Laurel Branch at the base of the upper falls and divides the upper and lower sections.
Henwallow Falls in the Cosby area has three sections that cascade 90 feet. It was the first waterfall I ever hiked to and remains a favorite. The rushing waters of Roaring Fork have carved out a recess behind the 25-foot cascade at Grotto Falls. Huge boulders, rosebay rhododendrons and a trail that leads into the grotto make this one of the prettiest waterfalls in the park.
The GSMNP divides the 650,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest roughly in half. It has 500 miles of coldwater streams and more than a dozen waterfalls including Bald River Falls with roadside viewing about 12 miles east of Tellico Plains on Forest Road 210.
Middle Tennessee Waterfalls
For those who love the sights and sounds of falling waters, the Cumberland Plateau is a dream become real. Tennessee State Natural Areas protect many of the most spectacular waterfalls including the fairly remote, peaceful, pristine 60-foot plunge at Northrup Falls in a 165-acre tract at Colditz Cove and the even more remote 1,157-acre natural area at Virgin Falls as well as the heavily visited 110-foot Ozone Falls about four miles off I-40 east of Crossville.
Several Tennessee State Parks highlight outstanding waterfalls including Cummins Falls and Burgess Falls near Cookeville.
Additionally, the Natchez Trace Parkway features a few must-see gems such as Jackson Falls and Fall Hollows (pictured below).
Waterfalls Weekend: March 15-16, 2014
Parks hosting guided hikes during this year’s Waterfall Weekend on March 15-16 include Rock Island State Park and Fall Creek Falls where a bike tour and a van tour of the park as well as a six-mile roundtrip hike to Hemlock Falls and a six-mile hike to cover the six major falls in the park are planned.
Where will go to enjoy the sights and sounds of falling waters this spring?