Located solidly off of any interstate, Laurel-Snow is a beautiful little pocket of the gorges of Walden Ridge in the eastern Cumberland Plateau. It gets it name from 2 waterfalls in the area and is also the first National Recreation Trail designated in Tennessee. Laurel-Snow also contains a section of the Cumberland Trail, although it doesn’t yet directly connect to any other part of the the CT.
The entire area has about 11 miles of trails situation in a ‘Y’ shape. About 1.5 miles in, the trail forks. The right fork takes you to Laurel Falls and Bryan Overlook and the left fork takes to you Snow Falls and Buzzard Point. You’ll find Henderson Creek campsite near the fork and a campsite near each of the waterfalls (water sources near all sites). Doing the entire trial system in an overnight is a bit of a push, but very doable.
The trails are marked relatively well, but it’s very easy to get turned around or wander off on a fake trail, especially as you wander deeper into the area. I would highly recommend having the free Gaia GPS app, which helped us stay on track.
During the first part of the trail, you’ll find remnants of Richland Mine as you meander along Richland Creek. Even with water levels low, this waterway is stunning with its enormous boulders and trickling cascades. We veered left towards Snow Falls and soon came upon the longest metal footbridge I’ve ever crossed at 150 ft. Three connected bridges zig-zagged over the boulder-filled Richland Creek gorge. The trail gets slightly overgrown in this area, basically meaning that the poison ivy is all up on your feet and legs. Take the dirt/jeep road to get to Buzzard Point; it’s definitely worth it the 180 degree views of the gorge and Chickamauga Lake in the distance.
We camped at Morgan Creek, a peaceful site near Snow Falls. You can access the base and the top of the small fall. Because the water level of Morgan Creek was low, we got to hang out in the creek bed and take it all in.
The next morning, we retraced our steps back to the trail fork and headed then headed towards Laurel Falls. You’ll climb out of a gorge, traverse some pretty amazing rock structures and climb through a little rock tunnel, which was especially fun with a loaded pack on your back! Laurel Falls was just a trickle, but the shelf-like rock that formed it was stunning regardless of the water level. We relaxed on the car-sized boulders before heading back to the trailhead.
The only bummer about these trails is that you have to do a lot of backtracking to see everything. You end up basically doing every trial twice. Oh, and poison ivy and ticks. Lots and lots of poison ivy and seed ticks. (I may have found a tick TWO days later attached near my armpit 🤢)
There were lots of people coming to swim in the creek, so that means there was trash, especially along the first 1.5 miles. Please remember to #recreateresponsibly and #leavenotrace. PICK UP TRASH Y’ALL.
Laurel-Snow is a complete winner, just make sure you have a plan, a map and plenty of water (all things you should have for any hike anyways!)
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 45 min
Trailhead: Pocket Wilderness Road off of Back Valley Rd near Dayton, TN
Trail: Laurel-Snow Trail
Length of trail: 3.3 miles (one way) to end of Laurel Falls Spur Trail, 4.8 miles (one way) to end of Snow Falls Spur Trail. My route was 15.5 miles, split over 2 days
Link to trail map: Laurel-Snow Section of CT
Camping: Henderson Creek (near split of trails), Morgan Creek (near Snow Falls – were I camped), Laurel Creek Campsite (near Laurel Falls)
Overview: Challenging, yet rewarding hike to 2 beautiful falls with a couple overlooks, neat-o rock structures, and a loooooong 150ft foot bridge.