Always follow your passion because more often than not you will appreciate the end result. But what about those times when you make every effort to see something only to be disappointed at the outcome? Unfortunately this is exactly what we experienced when we visited Fall Creek Falls State Park to pursue my passion of waterfalls!
The myriad of Fall Creek Falls hiking trails may provide some spots of breathtaking scenery but I am now considering whether our expectation levels were too high prior to visiting this spot in the heart of Tennessee. The trip was not all negative and there are a number of memorable experiences to take from this encounter that warrants a positive review of this state park.
During one of our weekend trips to Nashville, we made the decision to rise early on Sunday morning and take the 2 hour drive to Fall Creek Falls. Our research suggested that a number of impressive waterfalls and a variety of hiking trails to explore were available at Fall Creek Falls, so we had enough ammunition to justify the additional 4 hour round trip to see what all the fuss was about.
Where is Fall Creek Falls State Park?
Located in the heart of Tennessee, about 2 hours east of Nashville is Fall Creek Falls State Park. Accessing this state park from any location is not the easiest, so be prepared to take your time driving through some pretty scenic Tennessee countryside until you reach a pretty obscure sign advertising Fall Creek Falls State Park.
There are a couple of routes you can take if driving from Nashville but we opted to drive south through Murfreesboro and then head across US-70S through a myriad of bustling towns such as Centertown and McMinnville.
Gorge Scenic Drive Trail
If you start out at the Nature Center, there are a variety of trails available to you depending on how adventurous you want to be.
The Woodland trail is the most popular as it passes over the Cane Creek Cascades via a swinging bridge, but this trail also provides an opportunity to experience other connecting trails.
The Gorge Scenic Drive Motor Nature Trail is a great alternative to capture many of the highlights available throughout this state park if you have little interest in hiking through the Tennessee wilderness.
Be sure to check out all the overlook spots, some of which are easier to access than others but all are worthy as you take in the breathtaking views across Tennessee’s landscape.
But of course, you don’t visit Fall Creek Falls State Park without experiencing one or two of the many hiking trails available, so here are a couple of our favorites that we encountered along the way.
Fall Creek Falls
The highlight of Fall Creek Falls State Park is the waterfall that goes by the name of the park. Fall Creek Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in eastern USA, standing at 256 feet. We focused our attention on finding this natural beauty and I will admit that this is one of the easiest tasks we faced throughout the trip.
The winding road through the park takes you directly to a parking lot and a short walk from here leaves you at the Fall Creek Falls scenic overlook. With high hopes I peered over the edge only to be left in disarray as the waterfall was almost dry. A faint trickle was visible, ok so maybe it was a little more than that but it certainly was not what I expected.
Don’t get me wrong, the waterfall at Fall Creek Falls is a highly impressive natural attraction and I can only imagine how cool this looks in the Fall or Winter when water is pouring down the mountains and over the edge. But don’t you just hate it when you visit somewhere and you are left slightly disappointed!
Perhaps taking the hiking trail to the base of Fall Creek Falls would provide a more appealing attraction. Although we didn’t hike all the way to the pool where people were bathing, we started out on the steep trail that passed through a gorgeous collection of ancient rocks while still providing views of the falls and distant dense forest.
The Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail is a steep trail to the bottom though at only 0.4 miles (the return trip will certainly be a workout especially in the heart of summer!) it is well worth the trek.
Piney Creek Falls Bridge
After leaving what I can now admit to being a disappointment at the so-called major attraction, we headed around the scenic road before arriving at the parking lot for Piney Falls. Visitors are presented with a number of intriguing hiking trails, all dependent on your interests and how long you plan to stay inside the State Park.
I heard rumors that the Piney Creek Falls Bridge trail was worth the short hike so we opted for that one first. The trail is narrow and steep in parts though again it is one of the shorter trails available here. At only a quarter of a mile one way, it is hardly going to take your breath away but in the searing heat of almost 100 degrees, any further may well have been a little daunting.
Walking through the undergrowth which in parts is a little tricky, makes you wonder whether you are taking the right trail because you can hardly imagine a scenic bridge appearing. But never fear, as you turn the final corner and are presented with an opening, a rickety rather than scenic suspension bridge is right in front of you.
It may not have the presence or size of a bridge like the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver that we have previously visited, but it certainly adds a quirky feel to the scenery.
Do you have what it takes to walk across the bridge, despite the pretty serious drop below you? Why not! I decided to walk across while Heather was content to take pictures of the bridge, the scenery below and of course my careful steps across what I can now say was a pretty stable construction.
Be careful how close you get to the edge of the rocks because there is nothing to prevent you from taking a pretty serious tumble. Imagine the views over the edge of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona…ok so the comparison is hardly the same but if you have been to either my point is that there are ZERO safety barriers, so be sure to watch every step you take or it could be your last.
Piney Creek Falls Overlook
Experiencing the Piney Creek Falls suspension bridge will likely give you the desire to take the alternative trail starting at the parking area to the Piney Falls overlook.
Another short trail makes this relatively stress-free though there are a couple of spots where you should be careful with your footing.
Arriving at the overlook, you may be left a little disappointed with the obstructed views that are available of the waterfall. Piney Creek Falls is located deep inside the gorge which for the most part is inaccessible, though the more adventurous travelers may see this as an opportunity to clamber through the rugged landscape on a 5+mile hike through the gorge starting out at Fall Creek Falls.
If you are serious about trying to get a closer look, I recommend reaching out to a local or even a park ranger at the visitor center who may offer a hidden trail that takes you to a more scenic view of Piney Creek Falls.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is a difficult location to summarize because there are so many positive and negative aspects that we experienced here. From the disappointment of seeing Fall Creek Falls itself having very little water (I understand this would be very different if we visited in Spring, Fall or Winter) and Piney Creek Falls having obstructed views, just being out among the natural Tennessee environment made this a worthwhile excursion.
I would encourage you to pay a visit here if you are passing through Tennessee along I-40, but whether it’s worth taking a 4 hour round trip from Nashville is highly debatable.
Perhaps driving here, parking somewhere near the Nature Center and then donning your hiking boots is the best option so that you can explore ‘off the beaten path’. I will leave the decision to you as to how worthy your time can be spent at Fall Creek Falls State Park!
You can explore more images of our experience in the heart of Tennesssee here: Fall Creek Falls State Park