Several people had mentioned Fall Creek Falls for hiking, and I was in the mood for another overnight backcountry hike to accomplish after the Coosa “adventure”. I like waterfalls (who doesn’t?), so I thought the Lower Loop trail would be a nice hike. Problem was, finding real information about the trail was… limited at best. Reviews were inconsistent and vague (like “it was boring” to “really strenuous”). Finding a good map that broke down any water crossings, elevations, trail conditions, etc was non-existent. Ratings for the trail ranged from “moderate” to “difficult”. I was a bit apprehensive of doing an overnight backcountry w/o more information… I printed out all the info I could find and headed for the park. The drive is lovely through the Sesquatchie area…
I arrived on Tuesday, got my backcountry permit for Weds-Thurs at the Nature Center. The Park Ranger was quite helpful and provided another map – this one was a (pretty crappy quality) topo. He promised me that the trail was “really well-marked”.
Here’s a link to some of the various trail maps I found:
http://goo.gl/9c5yn (this one is more helpful day 2)
Wednesday morning, I parked at the old schoolhouse and set out for the trail. Mr. Park Ranger said when I parked, the trailhead was easy to find. Well, not so much. If you continue up a few 100 feet beyond the schoolhouse, you’ll see a few maintenance buildings and parking area. The “official” trailhead is there. (But he was rather clear about parking at the library picnic area) The trail crosses the very road I was parked on, and the section to the road is full of fallen trees. Skip it. You’ll see the trail marker on the opposite side of the road where you can easily go in. (Refer to my waypoint on my gpx file)
The trail is VERY well-marked. Seriously. If you’ve read my other reviews, I have NO sense of direction. Trail signage was abundant and blazes were almost always in view from one marker to the next.
The first day’s hike was to Campsite #2. About 5.5 miles in. The views were mostly a walk in the woods with a few nice stream crossings (bridges that looked a bit questionable but were sturdy enough).
I approached Campsite #1. There is no water pump there, but the stream is not far from it. Why anyone would want to camp there is beyond me. It felt straight out of Deliverance. I reached Campsite 1 in just about an hour. I was going at a comfortable pace, but not racing. Mostly flat.
Despite being in “backcountry”, shortly after passing Campsite 1, I passed this building a few 100 yards from the trail (ovfercast day, gray building, look to right side)
Then I began approaching one of the areas marked on the topo map as “difficult”… The views improved and I began to see some boulders, and some nominal incline changes. Until this point, the trail allowed you to glance ahead, and look around to look for wildlife, views, etc. You didn’t have to actively watch every step you took.
There hadn’t been a rain in at least 3 days… the trail in this section was a bit slick and rocky, but as long as you looked where you were stepping, it wasn’t a challenge. Someone had passed through recently before me – I’m not sure if he (big footprints) was being chased by Bigfoot or was trying to race, because the prints were constantly on edge of the trail, or stepping in obviously muddy spots. I kept expecting something challenging ahead, but never encountered it. As long as you have shoes with good traction and watch your step, no biggie. If it was rainy or was below freezing the night before, it might require a bit more care.
Then you’ll cross a ‘stream-ette’ – with large rocks to step on. Be careful because several were surprisingly wobbily. (Shot of streamette after crossing)
The you will approach the first suspension bridge. There is evidence of an (unofficial) campsite here. There’s a large flat rock by the water that is a nice spot to have lunch and enjoy for a spell. If you need water, good time to grab some.Make sure your pack is well-balanced and break out your trekking poles after lunch and crossing the bridge. The trail goes very close to the water and you have to navigate some lower branches, it’s a bit uneven,
Then you approach the most challenging section. It’s a bit of an incline – a few hundred feet require you to go uphill on large rocks. Many are wobbily. The poles are really essential to keep your balance on these rocks, especially when you’re carrying a full backpack. It took me maybe 20 minutes to cross this section. After the rocks, you’ll encounter an incline that is really muddy/slick. With good shoes and being alert about where to step, it’s not bad. This is the only section where it ‘got my blood pumping’. After this section, put the trekking poles away. You won’t need them again.
You’ll notice this HUGE downed tree… If you look closely, you’ll see a geocache box (sorry the pic is so dark). I didn’t bother it because I play fair. I hope there wasn’t a million dollars in there.
After navigating under a large downed tree (doesn’t require getting on knees even with pack), I came upon a sign indicating Campsite 2 was 400 yards ahead as well as a spur trail to waterfall. I wanted to check out the campsite, thought I’d come back to the waterfall after setting up camp and gathering wood… It looked very ‘downhill’ and didn’t see need to carry my pack with me. I did not make it back to explore the falls.
I was surprised at this section of the trail. Another ‘tricky’ spot. You’ll probably agree with me wondering “wtf were you thinking”? Didn’t take close up shots because I didn’t want to risk slipping & busting my camera.
FYI it was *considerably* more than 400yards from the sign to Campsite 2. I arrived at Campsite 2 at 1pm. It took me 4 hours. Not rushing, but I was expecting more challenging terrain and wanted to make it to campsite 2 by dark. I would have spent more time at the suspension bridge or started later in the day… This campsite is much nicer. No “Deliverance vibe”.
The water pump is not easy for one person to operate. It took a couple of tries to get my water bottles lined up with the stream. And the water is really brown. (I’d fill up at the suspension stream next time) I filtered the water with my Katadyn and it was clear. I boiled it for my dinner & coffee in the morning. No odors or odd tastes and it didn’t kill me…
I opted to set up at spot #3. It was a bit more secluded and I could set my tent up by some trees to block some of the wind. Some of the fire rings have large logs with rocks against them to ensure they don’t roll. Some ‘fire rings’ have no logs, and no rocks around it. Some dorks have tried to set fire to the large log benches.
You’ll pass a lot of downed limbs approaching the campsite. (hint) However, if you are facing the tree that has the #3 marker, look at 1 o’clock – you’ll see a path into the woods, if you walk in that direction (couple hundred feet), you’ll find a decent amount of downed wood. It was wet or dead (burns really fast). I am going to start packing an Ikea bag to use to collect wood. If I had, there was a nice amount of freshly-cut drier wood approaching the camp.
It had been very overcast all day. Around 1:30, it started getting noticeably colder, windier, and it started sleeting. I seriously considered bailing on camping there and heading on. Instead, I put on my extra layers and continued collecting LOTS of wood. I started the fire about 3pm. I was nervous about what the rest of the night was going to involve because the wind was really picking up. There was a huge log that previous hikers had begun to burn but it didn’t really take. I *did* get it to burn and I was able to keep a fire going until well after 9pm. Because so much of the wood was wet and it was windy, I was constantly getting smoke blown on me. I reeked of it.
I noticed numerous deer prints in the area:I kept hearing animal squeaking and leaves rustling after dark. Put my headlamp on and saw a bunch of “glowing green eyes”. One in particular was circling the perimeter of the camp. Assumed they were racoon. I noticed these droppings while collecting wood (guessing it was raccoon poop)It was amusing to put my spotlight on the eyes and watch them move. They never came close to my tent. (I was bored. I had to come up with something to entertain myself)
I also heard large trucks going by all night and morning in the distance. In one way, it was comforting to know if I needed to get out ASAP, that clearly there was a road nearby. I had NO cell service in the camp area. (Sprint) As a side note, I had no service at all in the park except in 2 spots (see my campground review for those details).
Some other random photos along the way of interesting trees and rocks on Day 1:
According to my GPS, I hiked 5.7 miles a little over 4 hours. If I wasn’t taking pictures and noting waypoints, take another 30 minutes off. Here’s the GPX file of day one:
Up next: Day 2…