Fall Creek Falls State Park is a secluded, peaceful, and beautiful place. It’s a perfect place for a weekend away. The Tennessee state park has over 56 miles of hiking, some of the best waterfalls in the southeast, and breathtaking views. It is an outdoor adventurers paradise.
Jack and I spent two full days in the park and loved every minute of it. In this article, I will share with you what we got up to during our weekend in the park. At the end of the post, you will find a list of other activities the park offers.
Top Hikes And Sights In Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
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A Few Words About The Park And Its History
Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s largest park. It is also the state’s most popular state park containing spectacular outdoor recreation areas for hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, camping, and rock climbing.
The park saw its beginnings in the 1930s when the National Park Service bought the land around Fall Creek Falls and began using both the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to begin reforestation and park construction. In the 1940s, the ownership of the area was transferred over to the state of Tennessee.
It is located roughly an hour from Chattanooga and two hours from Nashville and Knoxville. It is within Bledsoe and Van Buren counties, sitting approximately 11 miles east of Spencer and 18 miles west of Pikeville. The park can be entered from either highway 111 or highway 30.
With over 29,000 acres to explore in the park, we suggest you start your visit with a stop at the visitors center where you can pick up a map and get help with planning your exploration from a park ranger. This building also includes the park office and a small gift shop.
In the wintertime, this is also where you check in if you are camping in the park.
Just down the road from the campground is the beautiful George Hole. In the summertime this is a popular swimming hole. The depth of the water varies from 3 feet to 7 feet.
Cane Creek Falls
Behind the nature center, you will find overlooks for Cane Creek Falls, Rockhouse Falls, and Cane Creek Cascade. The nature center area contains a huge parking lot since it contains access to many of the day-use trails in the park. This area also has a sizable restroom facility, picnic shelter, and a playground.
Cane Creek Falls is the largest waterfall in the park by volume but not by height. Rockhouse Falls beside it is narrow, but high.
Both of these waterfalls were roaring with water when we visited the park in early December.
Cane Creek Cascades
You can get incredibly close to the base of Cane Creek Cascades. The overlook for this cascade is also behind the nature center. You can take the suspension bridge above it to get what I have heard is a better view of Cane Creek Falls, but the bridge was under construction when we were there.
If you go on a rainy day, be extremely careful walking out onto the rocks that lead to the bottom of the cascade as they are incredibly slippery when wet.
Fall Creek Falls Overlook
Fall Creek Falls is the star of the park, which you might have already guessed since it is what the park is named after. Fall Creek Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi at a whopping 256 feet.
Beside it is Coon Creek Falls, which is a seasonal waterfall. It was flowing pretty well when we were there in late fall.
You can drive to the viewpoint via the Scenic Loop Road. You can also hike to it via a trail that starts behind the Betty Dunn Nature center.
From this viewpoint, you can watch Fall Creek Falls plunge into a shaded pool of water in the gorge below.
Base Of Fall Creek Falls Trail
The Base Of the Fall Creek Falls trail is short, but steep. If it has been raining, it is also muddy and has rocks that will be slippery. However, it is worth the hike as you can get extremely close to the falls.
Scenic Loop Drive
The Scenic Loop drive in the park is open from sunrise to sunset. It is a paved road that will take you to the lookout point for both Fall Creek Falls and Piney Creek Falls. Several hiking trails intersect with this driving loop. Make sure to go slow and take in the various overlooks of the gorge along the way.
One overlook along the drive gives you a good look at Buzzard’s Roost. When we were there in December 2020, the iconic Virginia pine tree estimated to be 145 years old was still standing. Sadly in February 2021, the tree was destroyed during a storm. It is said to be one of Tennessee’s most photographed trees during its lifetime.
You can only view Piney Falls from its top as it sits in a narrow gorge with no safe way to get to the base of the waterfall. There are plenty of trees around it framing its view. However, despite its wooded surroundings and limited accessibility, stopping to view these falls is worth the time.
Suspension Bridge On The Lower Loop Trail
Above Piney Creek Falls is a suspension bridge found along the lower loop trail. Although you won’t get a better view of the falls, you should check it out as it does give you a good view of the creek–and suspension bridges are always fun to cross.
The Cable Trail
The Cable Trail to the base of Cane Creek and Rockhouse Falls is a fun yet challenging hike. The effort is worth it for the views–they are spectacular. You feel like you have entered paradise here on earth.
Paw Paw Trail
You are in the woods for most of the Paw Paw Trail. There are two lookout points for the waterfalls, but the views are from far away. The lookout point that we enjoyed the most was the Cane Creek Gorge Overlook. It had incredible views of the lush stands of virgin hardwood timber that cover the land in this area.
The forest in this area is made up of tulip poplar, basswood, buckeye, northern red oak, white oak, hickories, eastern hemlock, American beech, and other species.
Gilbert Gaul Trail
The park’s main attraction is the waterfalls, but there is plenty more to see in what is Tennessee’s largest state park, including Fall Creek Lake.
We decided to enjoy the views of the lake from the shore along the Gilbert Gaul Trail. This four mile hike starts in a wooded area, works its way into a field, and then allows hikers to spend some time soaking up the views of the lake’s shoreline until working its way back into the woods again.
From the Gilbert Gaul trail we had views of the lakefront cabins in the area. Wow! I can imagine enjoying a hot cup of coffee on the patio while watching the morning mist upon the lake.
You can rent these cabins via the website for the park. If you rent one between October and May, they come stocked with firewood by the fireplace, making them cozy retreats after a day of exploring the park.
Taft Village And Snack Bar
Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee resort parks, meaning it has a few more amenities than your average state park. Some of those amenities are found in the parks Taft Village, including the largest gift store I have ever seen in a state park, and there are two more gift shops in the park.
There is also a camp store containing any groceries campers may have forgotten and laundry facilities for those who need to do some laundry during their stay.
This area of the park also contains an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an amphitheater that holds 300 people, a snack bar, and a recreation hall. Plus if you have kids, there is a playground here that you can use to burn off some of their energy.
We spent two nights in the campground. It was clean, quiet, and huge. There was plenty of room in the campground during our December stay, but considering this is Tennessee’s most popular park, if you plan to visit during the height of camping season, I would reserve your campsite well in advance.
There are campsites for all types of campers in the park, from primitive campsites with no amenities to sites with full hookups.
If camping isn’t your thing, and you don’t want to splurge on a cabin, there is also the newly renovated lodge. The lodge also contains a restaurant that serves a complimentary breakfast to its guests and is open to the public for lunch and dinner.
More To Do In The Park
Hike–We didn’t hike all of the 56 miles of trails.
Golf the 18-hole golf course–A three-time selection in Golf Digests Top 100 public places to play in America.
Spend some time out on the water–Kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes are available to rent at the boat dock area. You can bring your own, but you will need to get a lake permit before entering the lake.
Go fishing–Home to state record catches for Channel Catfish and Blue Gill. No privately owned boats are allowed on Fall Creek Lake, but you can rent an aluminum Jon boat and bring your trolling motor and battery.
Swim–You can swim in a few freshwater spots in the park. But if you prefer swimming in treated water, there is a swimming pool open to the public in the village area and one for the Lodge of Fall Creek Falls guests located outside with views of the lake.
Stay the night at a backcountry campsite–If you are an adventurous camper there are 16 backcountry campsites off the Upper and Lower loop trails.
Go rock climbing or learn how–To rock climb within the park, you need to obtain a permit online or at the park headquarters in the Taft Village area. Climbing is allowed at Copperhead Rock and Buzzard’s Roost. There is a climbing workshop held once in spring and once in the fall if you are interested in taking up the sport.
Complete the canopy challenge course—This course takes an average of two and a half hours to complete and contains over seventy aerial obstacles, including zip lines.
Go Mountain Biking–If you don’t have a bike, no problem; they are available to rent at the Canopy Challenge office. There are 24 miles of trail open to mountain bikers.
Go Birding—Here is a flyer that shares the best trails to look for birds and a list of ones you may spot in the park.
Take a hike with a park ranger–The park has many educational activities, including guided walks. Go to the website for the park and click upcoming events for a list of times and tours available.
Host an overnight event at one of the group lodges–There are two group lodges in the park that can sleep anywhere from 64 to 100 people.
Go for a picnic–There are plenty of picnic areas and picnic shelters in the park.
A Must Stop If Your Travels Take You Near Cookville, Tennessee
The route we took to get to Fall Creek Falls State Park took us by Cookeville early on a Saturday morning. Being donut lovers, we googled donut shops in the area, and Ralph’s Do-Nut Shop popped up.
Oh, my! It has been over a year since we took this trip, yet Jack and I still think about Ralph’s Do-Nut Shop every time we enter a new town and try another donut shop. So far, no other donuts have come close. The donuts were fresh, light, and flavor-filled.
So if your adventure to the park takes you near Cookeville–stop at Ralph’s Do-Nut Shop.
WHERE WE HAVE TRAVELED LATELY
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