As with most mountains, the terrain starts to feel different when you’re nearing the top. With LeConte, it feels cooler and a bit quieter as your feet pad along pine needle beds instead of rocks and roots. LeConte is the terminus of 6 trails, so make sure you know what trail you are trying to find once you get up there. The actual highest point of LeConte is past the lodge along the Boulevard Trail.
We stopped at the lodge, checked in and made ourselves some lunch before heading out to explore the trails of the top; there’s a couple different spots to explore.
First, we made our way past LeConte Lodge along the Boulevard Trail to the summit of High Point, which is denoted by a rock pyramid. There isn’t a view from the actual point – it’s hidden in trees – but there’s a few spots along the way that will make your jaw drop. This summit is about .4 miles from the lodge. You’ll also pass the LeConte shelter, where you can stay the night if you don’t have a reservation at the lodge (a backcountry permit and reservation is still required in advance.)
There’s also Cliff Tops, which is a great place to watch the sunset if you are staying the night, either at the lodge or in the shelter. I think it’s one of the best views in the Smokies, but I may say that about every view because it’s all just so beautiful. This trail is about .3 miles from the lodge; you’ll see signs for Cliff Tops. There’s almost nothing in this world that makes me happier than those rolling blanket-like blue views of the Appalachian Mountains.
I was so focused on getting the the Lodge as our destination, I completely forgot about what else was going to meet me at the top. If you make the trek, don’t forget to add on a few more tenths of a mile, even if you aren’t staying the night.
As night fell, and we were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of our cabin, the lights of Gatlinburg started illuminating. It was such a strange feeling to feel so remote, yet also see the light-filled town below. I don’t think it “ruined” it, but rather, was just unexpected.
LeConte Lodge itself feels like a little village where everyone seems to just ‘get it’. You do have to climb a mountain to get there, so that automatically weeds out folks who may be, well, those annoying people who don’t know how to act in wild and sacred spaces. (You know who I’m talking about: those people at some campsites who blast their music, car lights and bang on their guitar loudly until all hours of the night. Not quite the experience many people want to have outdoors…) I think LeConte may be a yearly trip for us; it was absolute bliss.
Distance from Nashville: 4 hours
Trailhead: Any trailhead for any trail that gets you up Mt. LeConte
Trail: Cliff Tops and High Point of LeConte summit
As a child, our family “accidentally” hiked to Rainbow Falls. We parked at the wrong trailhead thinking we were doing an easy hike to Grotto Falls and ended up doing a strenuous 5 mile hike – and my family was not really a ‘strenuous hike’ family. I am pretty sure it scarred my sisters’ view of hiking for the rest of their lives. But, I hadn’t been back to hike this trail since that day over 15 year ago. So, I figured, why not hike this trail on the way back down from LeConte.
Rainbow Falls is a relatively popular and, like I mentioned, difficult trial. The trail has a total elevation gain of almost 4,000 feet, meaning we lost almost 4,000 feet of elevation over about 7.5 miles.
Most people hike an out-and-back from the trailhead up to Rainbow Falls (about 2.5 miles one way and 1,500 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead), making the trail from LeConte to the falls very quiet and serene. The entire trail gains almost 4,000 feet of elevation. (Yes, the knees on the downhill were rough!) This trail was heavily affected by the fires a few year back. Not too far from the top of LeConte, you’ll see a huge area of burned trees and shrubbery, looking eerily post-apocalyptic. Around that same area, you’ll also see beautiful vistas and even Gatlinburg down below.
As the trail winds down the mountain, you’ll cross LeConte Creek a few times before you come across Rainbow Falls, which is the highest free-falling waterfall in the park. I hear that it’s much more impressive when you go after a big rain, but it wasn’t much more than a trickle when we visited. The last part of the trail is the busiest (and the dirtiest: pack out what you pack in folks!) because its a popular day hike. And while I love waterfalls, my favorite parts of the trail were closer to the top and the smaller cascades along LeConte Creek.
Many people consider this a must-do trail in the Smokies. And while I believe any time spent outdoors is great, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Rainbow Falls as one of my top hikes in the Smokies. But again, catch this fall after a good rain and it may just make all the difference!
Practice Leave No Trace. Pack out E V E R Y T H I N G. Pick up trash. Follow signs about staying on the trail. This trail was decimated. I had filled up my entire 15L dry sack full of trash and I couldn’t get everything. Also, so much toilet paper, like seriously, how was there that much TP. These Smoky Mountain trails are getting so heavily loved, so let’s love them back. Hold yourself and others accountable while on trail.
Distance from Nashville: 4 hours
Trailhead: Rainbow Falls Trailhead, 2 parking lots – A & B – along Cherokee Orchard Road
There’s five trails (Brushy Mountain is the unofficial, shall we say, ‘6th Man’) up to the summit of Mt LeConte, which is the 3rd highest peak in GSMNP at 6,593 ft. One of the most popular routes is Alum Cave both because of its beauty and its shortness relative to the other trails. You’ll still gain around 2,600-2,800 ft (depending on your GPS) in about 6 miles. But, there’s plenty to see along the way to distract you from the climb.
You’ll first follow the stunning Alum Cave Creek. This part of the trail stays relatively flat before the arduous climb begins. We began around 8:30 in the morning and there was still some morning light magic.
Then, you’ll begin a steeper climb that first leads you to Arch Rock then to Alum Cave Bluff. Both a stunning rock formations that would make a great out-and-back if you didn’t want to summit LeConte. After the bluff, it’s just a climb up the mountain. When you stop at Alum Cave Bluffs, make sure to look over the trail before you climb to the bluff overhang. Many people have spotted bears down in that valley.
Along the way, you’ll, of course, cross log footbridges, pass through rhododendron-lined trails, and see a few rolling views characteristic of the Appalachian Mountains. Once you get closer to the summit, you’ll notice more fir and cedar trees and feel a slight change in terrain. Even though this isn’t a super high altitude compared to out west, I love that near the summit, the trail did feel different.
One thing that surprised me about this trail was that it was quite a bit more rocky than some other trails in the Smokies. (It’s not South Cumberland boulder-y, but just more than I expected.)
Overall, this trail truly lived up to the hype. It has almost everything you could want from a trail (except a waterfall) It is a relatively strenuous hike because of the steepness, but not undoable. Be sure to plan ahead and prepare and know your own limits!
This trail is very popular and the trailhead parking fills up quickly. So, get there early to make sure you get a spot. (We parked our car at another trailhead for the hike down and had my parents shuttle us to the Alum Cave trailhead.) Even at 8:30, the parking was very full.
One last thing I’ll mention, we picked up a moderate amount of trash (and MY GOD we saw SO MUCH toilet paper – please, please, please pack out or bury TP) along the way. It is so easy to not throw trash on the ground, so just don’t do it. The Smokies are suffering hard from increased visitation and hiker uninterested in following any LNT principles. Be a good example out there!
Distance from Nashville: 4 hours
Trailhead: Alum Cave Bluffs Trailhead on US-441 (Newfound Gap Road)
Trail: Out and back (or up to LeConte and stay the night)
At almost exactly 2 hours away from Nashville, the whole Virgin Falls out-and-back trail clocks in a just about 10 miles.
I honestly forgot how wonderful almost every mile of this hike is; something to see almost the entire time. Y’all know I love a good creek walk and, boy, Big Laurel Creek delivers. It’s such a peaceful walk where you pass by multiple waterfalls, beautiful, lush greenery that remind me of the PNW, and a sweeping add-on view of Scott’s Gulf at Martha’s Pretty Point.
Along the way, you’ll see a few small waterfalls including Big Laurel Falls, Big Branch Falls, and Sheep Cave Falls.
And of course, there is Virgin Falls, the namesake of the trail. The falls are formed by an underground stream that emerges just long enough for its 110 ft. drop, then disappears into another cave at the bottom of the sink it flows into. It’s some kind of geological phenomenon. There’s also a short trail to get to the top of the falls where you can see the cave where the stream comes from.
You should also check out Sheep Cave and the little waterfall that goes along with it. (Please note that all the caves are closed due to White Nose Syndrome. So, please don’t actually enter the caves.)
There are also plenty (four) of backcountry sites which make it a perfect trip for beginner backpackers. So, if you are looking to get in to backpacking and want a really great payoff, this is your trail. The sites range from being beside a waterfall to on top of a bluff, so there’s a lot of choose from. I’ve personally never camped here (all my hikes here have been day hikes), but I think the one atop Martha’s Pretty Point has the best views! Keep in mind that there is no water at this site, though. So, make sure to filter from Big Laurel Creek before you ascend up there.
The sneaky part about this trail is that the way in is a steady downhill, which you really don’t notice until you are on your way back and those miles are a steady uphill. Going in, I barely got my heart rate above a walk, which tricks you into forgetting that this trail goes steadily downhill a majority of the way in. But, you’ll get a nice workout on the way out. Commence much sweating on my part. I definitely felt my quads gain a few inches of muscle (and consequently my jeans fit a little tighter).
Be especially cautious of snakes in the spring and summer months. This area tends to have a lot of rattlesnakes. (It’s not like they are slithering all over everywhere or anything, but I always like to know what I’m walking into!)
On your way out, make the drive to Welch’s Point, just down the road. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset, if you’re so inclined!
Virgin Falls isn’t exactly a secret or anything, but it truly is a must-see on the Cumberland Plateau. Just be prepared for a long day hike or stay for a moderate overnight backpack.
Length of Trail: ~10 miles including the trail to Martha’s Pretty Point, allow 5-6 hours
Camping: 4 different backcountry sites at varying points along the trail: Cable Crossing, Martha’s Pretty Point, Caney Fork and Virgin Falls. Martha’s Pretty Point and Virgin Falls are the most popular.
Overview: Multiple waterfalls, gorgeous overlook and a cumulative climb of 1100′.
One of my goals for this year was to visit new (to me) Tennessee State Parks. It’s easy for me to keep going back to parks that I love because I know what to expect and I have a much lower chance of being disappointed. 🙃 I made it to Pickett and now I ventured south (instead of east) to David Crockett State Park. (Not to be confused with the David Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park. Make sure you are looking at the right map and park!)
One of my hesitancies of going to some of the state parks I haven’t been to yet is the shorter trails. I’ve said it before, but when I make the effort to drive somewhere, I want to hike for at least 3 hours. So, I made the unofficial David Crockett State Park Loop, connecting multiple trails to traverse most of the land in the park, totaling about 7.5 miles. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see my route. I started near the playground and Campground 1 at the south end of the Shoal Creek Trail.
(Side note: Many of the trails are not on GAIA GPS or Google/Apple maps, so I had to keep checking and comparing GAIA to the park map since I was making my own loop. Plus, I also did some of my ‘hiking’ on paved roads so I could connect everything.)
WIll this state park completely take your breath away? Probably not. But, there’s still things worth seeing. There’s the two waterfalls, a peaceful stroll along Shoal Creek, a small lake, plus a portion of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. There’s nice cabins, fishing in the lake, a campground, a covered bridge and I even saw an archery range and blackpowder rifle range. (I’m not sure if these are open and active.) There’s also a handful of ‘Connector Trails” that link the Shoal Creek Trail aight the Trail of Tears, so you can create a loop of varying lengths. I could see this being a great park for a family trip.
I mentioned 2 waterfalls: Crocket Falls and another (unnamed?) cascade kind of around the back end of the lake. It’s at the end of that little spur on my route. It was really beautiful and I had no idea it was there because it’s not marked on any of the maps. (I had to turn around at this fall and not complete the Crawfish Valley Trail because I deemed completely crossing that fall with a dog was too dangerous, so I hiked along the road for a bit instead.)
The park is almost right in Lawrenceburg, so it’s definitely not secluded but may be worth a visit if you’re looking to go somewhere new. And remember, any time outside is good!
Distance from Nashville: 1 hour 30 minutes
Trailhead: Shoal Creek Trailhead off Davy Crockett Park Rd
Trails: “Loop” form by Shoal Creek Trail, Crawfish Valley Trail, Lake Road Trail, Trail of Tears and Turkey Ridge Trail (see full route below)
Hiking in the Smokies has always been special to me, whether it was the short hikes I did as a child visiting for almost every Spring Break or the backpacking trips that helped me gain confidence in the outdoors.
But, oftentimes, I’m hiking alone and, for whatever reason, this brings me so much more anxiety when I’m in the Smokies. I think there’s a lot of reasons I’m more anxious here (bears, no cell service, etc.) but I don’t let it stop me from experiencing a place that means so much to me.
This hike to Charlie’s Bunion was no different. I was straight up scared, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself. It was a combination of little sleep the night before, an early wake up call and the fact that I had to make the drive back to Nashville that same day.
I wanted to see this highlight of the park, but, of course, I didn’t want to do the typical route. It just wasn’t a “long” enough hike and I wanted to challenge. So, I took an alternate route via Kephart Prong, Grassy Branch, Dry Sluice Gap, the AT, then back down the Sweat Heifer Trail connecting back to Kephart Prong. It was a bit ambitious for a day hike (about 15 miles), but that’s what I do! It would also make a fantastic overnight backpack. There’s 2 shelters along the way – Kephart (2 miles from trailhead) and Icewater Spring (7 miles from trailhead) – that are great places to camp. Just make sure you get a permit!
I drove to the Kephart Prong trailhead in the dark, the sun rising just as I stepped out of my car on the trailhead and the rushing creek greeted me, providing some solace. The first part of the trail follows the Kephart Prong and it’s the perfect picture of a Smoky Mountain stream complete with log footbridges crossing the creek as the trail gently zig-zagged over it. It was a beautiful walk in the early morning as I made sure to keep my eyes up around every corner, to be sure that I didn’t startle any wildlife. My initial anxiety calmed a bit and I decided to have a snack just before the Kephart shelter.
Let’s just say that snack was not the best idea. A few minutes later, my anxious belly was churning as I began a steady climb on the Grassy Branch Trail. Soon, I began to feel nauseous and light headed. I stopped, put my hands on my knees and tried to take deep breaths. But, that only partially helped and that snack came right back up. I plopped down right in the middle of the trail and had to evaluate if I was going to continue on. After a few cautious sips of water and sitting with my head between my legs for a few minutes, I decided to truck along. I kept evaluating each step I took to make sure that I felt ok.
I don’t remember a small portion of the Grassy Branch trail because all I was focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. I climbed steadily and passed rhododendron groves and colorful trees and parts of the trail that look like deep ruts through the trees. I always find it interesting that many of the trails in the Smokies are not blazed at all. But, they are so well worn that you don’t worry if you aren’t on the trail.
Over the course of Grassy Branch and Dry Sluice Gap, you gain about 3,000 feet of elevation. I’m sure my legs notices it but I was so focused on not feeling sick, that the elevation gains flew right by.
I didn’t see a single soul until I turned onto the AT. It’s always equally thrilling and scary to not see someone when you feel so remote. Most of the portion on this section of the AT is flat. So, it’s a nice break from the climb you just conquered.
Now, the actual Charlie’s Bunion is not the classic “tourist” Charlie’s Bunion. I’ll leave it to you to find the “real” one. There’s a little narrow path that branches off the AT and takes you to the geographic Bunion. (Plus, I was the only one there. I was most definitely NOT the only on at the other one!) While it is a cliche place in the Smokies, it is definitely a beautiful view. I went almost at the peak of fall color, so I was rewarded with a rainbow of fall colors.
After departing from the Bunion, I headed southbound on the AT headed for the Sweat Heifer turn-off. Not long after, a nice gentleman asked if I could take a picture of him next to a wayfinding sign to send his wife. He was hiking a long section of the AT and we got to hike together for a few miles. While I’ve never seriously considered thru-hiking, it felt like I got a little ‘trail magic’ in getting to have a hiking partner. It also greatly calmed my nerves even more. I was ready to attack the back half of the hike. (Plus, I managed to get a few calories in my body, so I was feeling a bit stronger.)
The Sweat Heifer Trail was a diamond in the rough. I really enjoyed this hike back down the mountains. There were great views peeking through the tree, little stream cascades and everything just felt like a Smoky Mountain Trail. I really haven’t heard much about the trail, but I do highly recommend it if you’re ever in this part of the park.
As I met up with the Kephart Prong Trail again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for these mountains, this hike, and my body for carrying me 15+ miles in under 7 hours while feeling ill, not to mention the total 3,600+ feet of elevation gain. While this was an ambitious route, even feeling at my best, I do feel like it’s doable as a day hike. Just be prepared to be real sore the next day!
I can’t recommend this alternate route to Charlie’s Bunion enough. You get to explore lesser known Smoky Mountain trails and feel very proud of yourself for hiking up a mountain to get there.
Distance from Nashville: 4.25 hours
Trailhead: Kephart Prong Trailhead on US-441 (Newfound Gap Rd)
Trails: Balloon loop formed by Kephart Prong, Grassy Branch, Dry Sluice Branch, Appalachian Trail and Sweat Heifer Trails
Link to trail map:GSMNP Map (Note that this is the map of the whole park. I suggest using GAIA GPS on this, and any, hike!)
Length of hike: about 15 miles
Type of hike: Balloon loop
Camping: Kephart Shelter (2 miles from Kephart trailhead) and Icewater Spring Shelter (7.5 miles from Kephart Trailhead). Either is a great place to stay if you are doing an overnight of this route.
Overview: Climb to the stunning views from Charlie’s Bunion on a lesser known route following Smoky Mountain streams, log footbridges and lush, magical flora.
The Great Stone Door trail is a pretty well known and easy trail with a great payoff. But, driving almost 2 hours for a mile of hiking doesn’t quite make sense to me, so I made a 7 mile loop connecting the Stone Door Trail to the Big Creek Rim and Laurel Trails for a nice longer, but relatively easy hike.
The entirety of the hike is on the plateau/rim so most of this loop is flat, but not without some views of the gulf along the Big Creek Rim trail. The rest of the trail meanders through a wooded area on the plateau, making for a nice walk in the woods. The total mileage is around 7 miles, so it may be a great way to try out a longer hike without a challenge from the terrain. Taking this route, you won’t descend into the gulf, so you won’t have to navigate steep or rocky terrain, if you’re looking to avoid that.
The loop I did makes a fantastic beginner backpacking loop with a camp at Alum Gap and a side trip to Greeter Falls. (Remember, there’s no overnight parking at the Greeter Falls trailhead!) Of course there’s the always stunning views from Stone Door, but Big Creek Rim has a few great overlooks and bluff-side walking as well. The Laurel trail is probably one of the least diverse and interesting in the area, but it is full of lush ferns and greenery. And when I hike from the Stone Door trailhead, I always pop by Laurel Falls because it only add on .2 miles. (The mini loop starts right behind the ranger station.) You can also walk-in camp at Stone Door but it can get crowded and out especially on the weekends.
This loop isn’t going to blow you away compared to others in the area, but it’s nice to mix things up and try a new route. Connecting Stone Door to Big Creek Rim and Laurel trials makes for a good long-ish day hike in one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee. It’s also great to build stamina for longer hikes. You’ll clock over 7 miles of relatively flat trail, so it’s great to build up to a longer hike!
Distance from Nashville: 1hr 45 min
Trailhead: Stone Door Ranger Station (Savage Gulf North Trailhead)
Trail: Loop formed by Stone Door, Big Creek Rim, Laurel (route in red)
When I first visited Beaman Park, I was so excited to find something like this so close to the city. This metro park is located in the Bells Bend area of the county, northwest of downtown.
There’s three different trailheads: Nature Center (entrance is off of Old Hickory Blvd), Creekside and Ridgetop (entrance off of Little Marrowbone Road) Trailheads. Creekside is the one nearest to the entrance and Ridgetop is up the hill. The Nature Center and Creekside have toilets and all three have parking lots.
There’s also three different trails of varying length and difficulties: Henry Hollow, Sedge Hill, and Laurel Woods. For this post, we’ll focus on the two shorter trails: Sedge Hill and Henry Hollow Loop. You can access any trail from each of the trailheads, but typically, you’ll start at the Nature Center for Sedge Hill and Creekside for Henry Hollow. (Although all the trails connects though in some fashion.)
The Henry Hollow Loop (2 miles) follows Henry Creek then ascends onto the ridge. You get a good mix of walking creekside and along the ridge. There’s a little bit of elevation change climbing out of the hollow, but nothing too strenuous. You’ll have plenty of chances to sit along the creek or take a splash in warmer months. You’ll also see a few cascades from smaller streams leading into the creek, looking like mini waterfalls. I really love this stretch of trail; it feels so peaceful.
The Sedge Hill Trail (.6 miles) connects the Nature Center to the Henry Hollow Loop. It’s short, but gets your heart pumping. It has a few ups and downs before it descends to join the Creekside trail. Plus, you’ll see one of my favorite trees in the world.
By connecting these two trails, you can make a just-over-three-mile balloon loop for a perfect little local hike. I love that you can be 20-25 minutes from downtown Nashville, but feel like you can grab a slice of wilderness.
Distance from Nashville: 20 min
Trailhead: Nature Center (Sedge Hill) or Creekside (Henry Hollow)
Edward’s and Signal Points serve as the southern terminus to the Cumberland Trail and are part of the Tennessee River Gorge Segment of the trail.
I originally planned to hike Signal Point to Edward’s Point. But, that trailhead was closed. So, thankfully, there was another trailhead for a similar route right down the road, Rainbow Falls Wilderness. The parking lot for the trailhead is pretty small, so if you are hiking from this point, I suggest arriving early.
I thought this was going to be an easy hike to a beautiful view. The view was amazing but I wouldn’t rate it as ‘easy’. A portion of the trail was pretty rocky and full of boulders so be prepare your ankles. I also am glad that I brought my trekking poles because there were a few sections of ascents and descents.
Before you reach the pinnacle of the trail, Edward’s Point, you’ll pass by a small “waterfall” that is actually a small dam that created Rainbow Lake. This lake was created in the early 1900s for Signal Mountain Hotel. So, this hiking trail has been around for over 100 years.
You’ll also cross a suspension bridge over Middle Creek and see a small rock arch called Lockhart Arch. So, you get a few different features on the way.
Edward’s Point boasts a beautiful, sweeping view of the Tennessee River Gorge. There are gradual bluffs on both sides of the river that level out so that you can see far into the distance.
It was rather hot when I hiked this trail, so that contributed to me sweating way more than anticipated. Because of this, I had a less-than-desirable impression of this hike. I’m sure it would be much better in the fall/winter. (I mean, what hike ISN’T better in the fall/winter?) I’m hoping to return when the weather is cooler and hike from Signal Point to Edward’s Point.
However, this hike shouldn’t be missed. You get a gorgeous view and a few bonuses on the way there. Plus, you get to hike a section of the Cumberland Trail, which is always a welcome part of any of my hikes.
Distance from Nashville: 2 hr 15 min
Trailhead: Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trail on Ohio Ave (at the time I hiked this, Signal Mountain was closed and gated)
Campsites: Lockhart’s Arch Campsite (Please note there is no overnight parking at either trailhead.)
Overview: Take a moderately strenuous hike to a beautiful view of the Tennessee River Gorge passing by a dam waterfall, stone arch and suspension bridge at the southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail.
I avoided Fall Creek Falls State Park for years. I went once maybe 5 years ago on my way home from another hike. I got confused by the map and all the semi-interconnected short trails and ended up just doing the Woodland Trail and seeing just Fall Creek Falls from the overlook near the parking lot.
The popularity, especially in these times, has deterred me from returning. I always opted for something “more rugged” or “less popular”. Against all of the type 4 in me, I returned to the largest state park in Tennessee yesterday. And let me just say, what took me so long to get back??
Many people drive to the different sections and do some hiking at each landmark. But, I say why drive when you can hike to them all? I decided to see how long it would take to hike to all of the iconic spots: Cane Creek Falls and Cascades, Fall Creek Falls, Piney Creek Falls, both suspension bridges and Milliken’s Overlook. And yes, it can be done! It will end up being about an 11 mile hike with both easy and difficult sections, but I HIGHLY recommend this route.
I started at the nature center and attempted the Cable Trail first. Even though Luna is quite the adventure dog, there was a spot we couldn’t get safely down together. (She did amazing maneuvering the steep slopes until we got to the problem spot halfway down though!) So, we’ll return another time with a hiking pal so I can actually get all the way down. Then, we hiked all around the nature center which has accesses to Cane Creek Falls and Cascades. Be sure to make it all the way down the steps behind the nature center for the full cascades experience.
Then, we crossed the suspension bridge that connects this area to Fall Creek Falls via the Woodland Trail and ventured down to the bottom of the falls. We got absolutely soaked in the powerful mist from the falls and it was therapeutic. After returning to the top, we headed towards the parking area at the falls and found the Overnight Trail (also called the Lower Loop Trail) which takes you to Milliken’s Overlook (via a side trail) and Piney Creek Falls. The Lower Loop Trail is completely flat and just a bit hard to see the trail. It is marked with white trail markers, but all the fallen leaves made the trail almost indistinguishable from the other land. I didn’t have trouble following it, but I also use the Gaia GPS app, which I check frequently to make sure I am on the trail.
After viewing Cane Creek Gulf, return to the Lower Loop Trail and follow it to Piney Creek Falls. After seeing the falls from the overlook, continue on just a bit farther along the white trail until you reach the other large suspension bridge. I turned around here and returned to the Nature Center via the Overnight (Lower Loop). I thought there may be a way to the bottom of Piney Creek Falls, but I’m not sure that’s the case and I had to start making my way back.
The whole adventure ended up being just a bit over 11 miles and you get to see all the highlights. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this hike.
I kept seeing the same people at all these spots. They had driven to each and I had hiked the whole way. 😂
So, don’t think that just because this is the most visited and one of the largest recreation areas in the state that it doesn’t pack a punch. I’m sure it’s crowded on weekends, but going during the week in the winter (even though it was pretty warm fro February) was perfect.
The two long trails (Lower Loop and Upper Loop) have backcountry campsites. This would be a great way to experience camping in this state park without staying at the HUGE campground. There’s just so much more to this state park than I previously thought. They have added new land and trails in the past few years, so there’s just so much to do at Fall Creek Falls State Park besides see Fall Creek Falls from the overlook (which is honestly what I thought for the longest time! 🙈)
Distance from Nashville: 2 hours
Trailhead: Nature Center near Cane Creek Falls off of Village Camp Rd.
Trails: Cable, Overlook, Woodland and Lower Loop Trails (see my route below)