One of the Park Rangers said his favorite trail was one most people didn’t explore. It’s newer and isn’t focused on waterfalls and creeks, but around Fall Creek Lake with a plethora of animals. The trail is toward the lower western side of the park. The Friends of Fall Creek Falls has a couple of maps- the 3rd one down is probably the best for this trail: http://www.fallcreekfalls.org/maps.html
I wanted to start the trail shortly after sunrise, so I slept in my car so I wouldn’t be delayed with breaking down my tent, etc.
To find the trailhead, turn onto the road marked “Youth Camp 2”.
You’ll drive down a short road, water tower to your left and come to a closed gate. There is parking for approximately 4 cars there.
The Gilbert Gaul trail head on the opposite side of the road from the parking sign. A bike trailhead is adjacent to the parking area.
Pay attention to the arrows at this sign – they recommend going counter-clockwise. (I did not see the sign, and I went clockwise. I blame not having any coffee yet.)
The trail is a loop. It is not blazed, but there are numerous signs to direct you around the trail. I don’t know how you could get lost – you walk down an obvious road, walk along the lake until you see a sign pointing back to trailhead. No big deal which way you go from my perspective.
Going the ‘wrong way’, I still walked down a long sort of wide-path road. I was enjoying the sunrise.Approaching the lake, I could see the cabins and the trail crosses a small streamette
and continues quite close to the edge of the lake. Only section of the trail that one needed to be cautious for a few steps.
The view of the lake was absolutely gorgeous, I was walking slowly and extra-quietly in hopes of encountering some ‘critters’.
Then I started to encounter the stumps. LOTS of them. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear they were teeth-marks – ie beavers.
Evidence of their work over the years was all around the lake. Pay attention to the height of the stumps. They stand on their hind legs, so the top of the stump is generally their height. You’ll see some rather high stumps… They actually strip off the bark to eat. (Talk about high fiber!)
Later on, I discovered one of the beaver’s very large lodge: it was impressive to see the structure. (Leave it alone… I was using a zoom lens)This appeared to be another lodge in the works:
Enough of beavers… I saw a lot of different paw prints: it was amusing to see that the animals used our bridges too. The final print (per one of the Park Rangers, is a River Otter)
And a bunch of different poop:Enough of poop! The trail conditions: it was varied but not challenging at all. There were a few spots that were rocky/rooty but the majority of the trail around the lake was even and wide. On occasion, there were some muddy areas at ‘inlets’, but it was quite easy to walk around or cross the ‘streamettes’.
Some other random views along the trail. There were not a lot of rock outcroppings but numerous large trees that were showing damage by beetles and woodpeckers. The Rain Shelter (trail map says “Ran Shelter” – the Park Ranger laughed when I referenced it) was created for local fishermen to stay dry and practice their graffitti talents.Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of litter around the trail – often in the water. Please take your trash with you and pick up what you can.I came upon broken glass on the trail! I picked up as much as I could find – both large pieces and tiny shards. (I don’t care if humans get glass, but imagine a critter eating it or getting hurt by OUR laziness!) I marked it on my gps, so take a moment and see if you find more. I definitely didn’t pick up enough for the glass bottle.
I found a nice quiet spot, copped a squat, enjoyed my coffee and a banana. I could hear the Falls in the background. Some Canada Geese flew in for a landing (rather noisy). I didn’t see anything else but the aforementioned Park Ranger drove down the road in a noisy truck to put up another trail sign. (I reassured him that if anyone can get lost, it’s me, and I didn’t find the trail confusing and wasn’t aware I had gone the wrong way.)
Then the trail leaves the lake and heads up a jeep road to a field. It has a few muddy spots, but it was not a problem to walk around. *there had not been a significant rain in more than a week, so if there has been a recent hard rain, this might get a bit muddy. I found the muddy sections allowed opportunity to scout for more animal tracks. The deer tracks were numerous. But there were some others that I didn’t recognize.
The trail map I got at the Nature Center describes the trail in more detail – including more about Gilbert Gaul. He was a well-known Civil War painter (and allegedly had a scandalous past with financial dealings). His homestead was along the jeep road, but I didn’t locate it.
I made it back to the parking lot. Trail is approximately 4.5 miles. I went really slow and took a coffee break. Took me 3 hours. My GPS went wonky and didn’t track the beginning of my hike but I noted various waypoints. The Coordinates for Gilbert Gaul Trailhead are: N35 39.358 W85 21.107 Majority of hike is below. Remember, I went backwards.