Fall Creek Falls: Lower Loop Backcountry Day 2

The wind and the sleet stopped overnight. I woke up well before sunrise, put my new Optimus stove just outside my tent to boil water for some coffee while I bandaged my feet and packed up my sleeping bag. (I thought I’d give those Starbucks Via coffee packets a shot so I didn’t have to bring my coffee press… Let’s just say they tasted like swill and I’ll be going back to ‘real coffee’)

With the first hint of daybreak, I broke down my tent, packed up and set off about 6am. It was clear that I’d be seeing a lot of  ‘the good stuff’ today and at least 7 miles to cover.

Close to the outhouse is a directional sign indicating overnight trail & mountain bike trail. 

I noticed a lot of deer tracks on this section and I think this is deer scat. The trail is wide enough to be a road, I didn’t see any actual tire tracks. *There is also a fair amount of large downed wood along the “road” but you would need an ax if you set up camp in the more open area.

I walked about an hour through ‘more woods’, some occasional boggy/muddy spots – you know the ones where you’re never sure if you’ll end up sinking into it up to your ankle or be able to walk right across? I was walking somewhat briskly but quietly, in hopes of seeing some early morning critter activity.A lot of downed trees again. I heard a number of woodpeckers – one was QUITE loud – sounded like it was pecking on aluminum siding.

I encountered a small bridge at a creek crossing that I didn’t want to cross. The water was more than ankle deep and too wide to try to jump (even without a pack on). I pictured myself falling into the creek as I tried to cross the bridge, But I did cross it. One person at a time – and this one SERIOUSLY needs to be adjusted.

You’ll hear waterfalls but then you’ll walk away from them before finally approaching the Piney Creek Bridge. The vegetation changes and it feels much cooler as you descend

If you look to your right/down as you approach the bridge, you’ll see a path that leads to another ‘unofficial’ campsite. If I had my druthers (and I have none), I would have hiked to this spot on day 1 and camped here. Obviously there’s plenty of water, there wasn’t the strong winds of the ridge at campsite 2, and in the summer, it’s much cooler and shaded.

*As an FYI, there is road access to the Piney Creek Bridge/Falls – so it is not far for a Ranger to walk to if they enforce not camping there. If people use this spot and leave no trace, perhaps they’ll make it an approved spot one day? 

The Piney Creek suspension bridge:

Some views from the bridge: the blue-green water was rushing by nicely.

After crossing the bridge, I noticed an unoffical path to the left. I think it leads toward the top of the falls. I didn’t explore it. Use your common sense when hiking.

The trail leads up a rocky stair path to an obstructed view of Piney Falls, but you can hear it quite well. 

You’ll encounter gravel stairs and a sign pointing to the continuation of the overnight trail… Pass it for now. You’ll come to a paved circular road with picnic tables and signs pointing to the Piney Falls Overlook. Go there. 

The path to the overlook is a bit ‘tricky’ but well worth it.

This is the primary viewing spot looking out. Piney falls is at 10 o’clock. It gets noticeably chilly/windy on overlooks, so bundle up if you’re out during the cooler months. 

But, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and want to get closer. Look to your right as you head down the path to the overlook, you’ll see a pathway to lower rocks to sit. It starts near the large rock in the shot below.
I didn’t climb down to this spot because I was solo and had my full pack on. (I would love to be sitting here at sunrise with a mug of steaming coffee.) I shot this from the primary area looking down. Again, use your judgment. It’s quite a drop below. 

The views of Piney Falls from this vantage point:

 Of the surrounding gorge:

I also noticed a couple of interesting rocks. This one has a built-in waterbowl for trail dogs:

And this one looked like one of those hand-slapper applause toys:

Back onto the “Overnight Trail”, more walking in the woods with some things that caught my attention: The orange growth made me think of Mick Jagger’s lips.I thought some of the stumps and bumps on trees reminded me of a panther and a bear hugging a tree.There are numerous road crossings. Although the speed limit is 20mph, I was almost run over by an 18wheeler at one crossing.

I opted to take the Millikan’s Overlook spur trail. It is NOT blazed like the Overnight Loop Trail. It was fairly easy to follow, if there is any question, head ‘north-ish’. It is definitely worth the .8mile round trip.

Once again, the path down to this overlook is tricky. Steep and muddy/slippery. I was disappointed it was so overcast, I’d love to see the view on a clear day. It’s a nice spot for lunch. There is a wood platform with seating. Sadly, there is a lot of trash around here. 

After hiking back to the Overnight trail junction, I was heading toward Fall Creek Falls main overlook. While I’m walking and taking pictures, I’m often writing my trail review in my head. There are a few small stream crossings that don’t have bridges. Stones or tree trunks are usually easily managed to cross. Of course, as I was thinking that, I lost my balance and stepped into the stream. Water deeper than my boot. Soaking wet foot. Good times.I saw lots of different animal poop. I admit, I took pictures of numerous ones, mainly so I can learn to identify them. This one was particularly odd/gross. (Anyone know what animal it’s from?)

Finally, I make it to Fall Creek Falls main overlook… (1st time I actually had sketchy cell service) There is a restroom with sink (no hot water or paper towels) and a trashcan. A metal bench is also there if you want to cop a squat on something beside a cold rock or log.

The views from the overlook are spectacular.
I also watched a hawk fly overhead… it went directly above me but of course I couldn’t get *that* shot.

This was the first time I saw anyone since I started the hike yesterday morning. People drove up, got out of their car, walked up to the overlook, took a couple of pictures and walked back to their cars. Sad because they missed the best part:

This trail is very tricky. Particularly when you have a 30+lb pack on. Next time, I will skip going down to the base of the falls as part of the Lower Loop Trail. I’ll do it with just a daypack. I took a lot of pictures and have a lot to say, so I’m going to do a separate trail review for it.Here’s just one shot: (It doesn’t do the trail justice at all.) I got here around lunchtime – great to sit at the base of the falls and have your lunch and be amazed at the power of nature. Again, a fair amount of trash along the path, so pick up what you can.

Next it was off to the Gorge Overlook Trail but you’ll cross the creek & stream that feed the 2 falls. The smell of the water was awful. Sewage-y and the it was notably discolored.

You have the option of doing the Woodland Trail (about 2miles) or the Gorge Trail (.7 miles not including actual overlooks). I still had a lot of territory to cover and it was approaching 3pm. I encountered a nice woman who was traveling across the country taking pictures at various parks. I would have loved to have chatted with her more, but I had a little more than 2 hours of sunlight left and several miles to go. 

The Gorge Trail path was wider and had a bit of elevation changes. There are three overlooks which are well-marked with signs. And like all the other overlook paths, they are rocky, slippery, and a bit of a challenge to navigate. I’m referring to their number from West to East toward the Nature Center.

The first overlook (Rocky Point) has a secondary path to climb up a larger rock outcropping with a spectacular view. (Not recommended with a full pack and there are seriously steep drop-offs) Be careful.The second overlook is not worth the effort. The view is obstructed. 

The third overlook was spectacular. (Two out of three ain’t bad!) 

The Gorge Trail intersects with the Woodland Trail and then the Campground Trail. I admit, I was confused for a moment where I was supposed to go. I knew I needed to head toward the Nature Center. I saw the steep stairs and saw the Nature Center across the creek. It took me a second to realize “duh” that the stairs led to the Cane Creek Cascade Suspension Bridge.

I felt like I was in the final stretch crossing the bridge this time. I was hungry, my wet cold foot was developing some blisters and I was ready to finish. I checked in at the Nature Center, letting the Ranger know I was okay, passing through. 

The final segment was the Paw Paw trail, it is picturesque leaving the Nature Center as it follows the stream.The Paw Paw is not marked with blazes and I got a little confused where the trail goes by the road. The map indicates you cross the creek, but it was pretty deep and there was no way to cross it via rocks that I saw. I ended up crawling up the hill to the road, walking along the road for a few yards before encountering another entry point/sign for Paw Paw Trail.

There were 3 additional overlooks on the Paw Paw trail. Again, they had signage. The first was the Cane Creek Falls Overlook – another gorgeous view.The second overlook is Dancer High Bluff. The sun was right in my eyes, but it wasn’t a “WOW” view. Still nice…

I didn’t notice a sign for the 3rd overlook, one last view of the gorge on the Loop Trail.

I was in the final stretch. The Paw Paw becomes uneventful, more walk in woods. I really wanted to get back to my car. A few more signs that I had crossed on my way out. Some random animal poop and the one tree that I had to get on my tip toes to get over – it’s right at the beginning/end of the trail. (Someone, please break out a chainsaw!) 

I arrived safely at my car at 5pm. I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment. I was tempted to hitch a ride from the Nature Center back to my car because my blisters were killing me and I was cold. (wet sock – I could have stopped to switch socks, but the shoe’s interior was wet, so it was pointless) According to my GPS, I traveled 11 miles on day 2, taking 11 hours. Day 1 was 4 hours and 5.7 miles. (Remember, the Loop Trail is technically 12 miles, but I did several of the Spur trails and overlooks)

When you fill out your backcountry permit (in triplicate), you keep one copy on you, one is kept on dash of your car, and the other with the Rangers. He indicated that if my car was still parked there at dark on end of day 2, they would start looking for me…

Some random and quirky things I noticed along the way:
The ‘snout’ of this tree extends over the trail. I’m 5’6 and just passed underneath it.

This reminded me of a pancake.I had to sprawl across this rock. It’s quite large. It reminded me of a Grand Piano.I thought this looked like a bear cub peeking up behind the log:

This looked like a wolf to me.I liked how the various plant growth had wedged itself in the layers of the rock.
Here’s the gpx file with waypoints of Day 2.


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