I’ve lived in Tennessee my whole life. Actually, I’ve lived in one county in Tennessee my whole life, and if you want to get real technical I’ve lived in the same city for 98.2% of it. City is also a very liberal term when used in context with where I live. Although we do have a Dollar Store, so that has to count for something.
But in the 31 years that I’ve lived in Tennessee I’ve actually seen surprisingly little of the state. I’m pretty well acquainted with the Gatlinburg area, which is beautiful but so crowded that it doesn’t take too long to get tired of waiting on the family of seven in front of you to all work their way through the fifth hole at the putt putt course. Seriously, let us play through if you have a four year old trying to make a shot up a 30 degree ramp into a spinning wagon wheel. It’s the right thing to do.
I don’t mind visiting Gatlinburg every now and then, but we’ve been there so much between vacations and work trips that I’ve seen and done most everything there is to do. Luckily Tennessee is full of state parks, historic sites, museums, lakes, rivers, mountains, and just generally cool stuff. And I think it’s about time to start seeing some of it.
Since we don’t know when we’ll be able to start traveling or where we’ll go we think some day and weekend trips around the state are in order, hence the name of the post! I’ll try to make this a series, as we explore somewhere new I’ll write about it and hopefully give you some ideas of new places to visit.
This idea actually came up on the way home yesterday from our first actual trip in the Turtle. We haven’t taken it on the road since we moved here in early April, other than to get to high ground after the Great Flood of June. Our last trip (which I think we can all agree was fairly unsuccessful since we spent the whole time driving and I got pleurisy) was originally a tent camping trip that ended in a hotel room. So this time we planned a five day adventure with the Turtle on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee. We packed up in a little under an hour and off we went.
Luckily for all involved this trip was so much better. Seriously, it’s in the running for the best trip yet. There were a couple of kinks, but without any kinks it’s just not an adventure, don’t ya think?
So without further ado, here’s a brief rundown of our spectabulous trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park and Burgess Falls State Natural Area.
First off, let me just tell you that if you’re going to Fall Creek Falls there are only two entrances leading into the park, and seventeen possible ways to get to those entrances. Sixteen of those appear to be perfectly fine routes with divided highways that a 36′ RV just loves to ride on. One of those routes should come with a series of Burma Shave signs warning campers to turn back before it’s too late. So obviously our GPS took us that route. She (the GPS lady) dumped us off the interstate at the first possible road leading to the park, which fairly quickly turned into what felt like a 58 mile trek straight uphill. And by straight I mean curvier than my slouch socks in elementary school. And by 58 miles I mean 5 miles, but it felt much longer pulling eight tons behind us. The truck was whining, I was holding my breath, and the shoulder of the road must have already realized it was in the wrong place and left. But we made it eventually and passed the sign welcoming us to the North entrance to the park. For your future reference the North entrance is not where you want to be with a camper.
We found out a few days later that had we stayed on the divided highway we started on for another 8 miles we would have sailed right into the park on a nice flat two lane road. Live and learn. At least it was an adventure.
Fall Creek Falls is the largest state park in Tennessee, and definitely the largest one I’ve ever seen. It’s like a city all of its own, with a hotel and restaurant, olympic size swimming pool, 58 miles of hiking trails and five campgrounds. Unfortunately, like a lot of state parks, the campgrounds were put in when RVs were small and quaint, not house sized. With a bit of finagling we were able to wiggle around a cul-de-sac and into our spot though, and it was so nice that after scouting the other four campgrounds we decided we’ll want the same one next time. We were surrounded on two sides by beautiful mature forest, there were other campers around but the direction we were facing was quiet and peaceful, deer were just wandering about like a Disney movie. Absolutely beautiful.
Without a trail map it’s a little tough to find everything with the park being so big, as we had already been warned. So we parked, set up the camper, and took off for the Nature Center to get a map. Of course it had closed 10 minutes before we got there, so we decided to wing it.
There are two trails leading from the Nature Center, one goes to an overlook over Cane Creek falls, and the other goes to the Fall Creek Falls overlook. The first is a short walk and a pretty view, so after we did that of course we wanted to see Fall Creek Falls, I mean that’s part of the reason we’re here. So we take off down that path, and are almost instantly met with a suspension bridge hanging over the creek. I can’t find an exact height anywhere but I would guess it was 30-40 feet above the water. Or from my point of view 600 feet above a roving pack (gang? conglomerate?) of circling piranha. Have I mentioned I’m terrified of heights? I also have some sort of condition that causes me to think I’m going to flail myself off of whatever tall thing I’m standing on. That’s perfectly normal, right? My dad has the same thing, and he says it’s normal. So I’ll take that.
After much internal debate and a little coaxing I finally made it across the bridge, and since this is my blog I’m going to leave out the part where I hyperventilated and refused to look anywhere but straight ahead. I also won’t mention there might have been some squealing. No need to go there. I’ll just say that I did much better on the way back across, and that I even crossed a taller, longer bridge the next day. With slightly less hyperventilating and only 10 minutes of coaxing.
The hike to the falls was totally worth the risk of flailing myself to an untimely death though, it’s a beautiful 3/4 mile hike through the woods that ends in a platform overlooking the waterfall. We hadn’t planned on going for a 2 mile hike as soon as we got there, but we didn’t realize how far it would be until we were far enough along that we might as well keep going. The ironic part was when we emerged from the woods on the other end of the trail to find a parking lot and lots of non sweaty people meandering around the overlook. Evidently there’s a scenic motor trail that takes you directly to the top of the falls, no hiking required.
It turned out great though, we hiked back and then spent the whole next day exploring other trails, including the one to the base of the falls. That trail is more a collection of fallen rocks that you climb around and over to make your way down the side of the cliff to the falls, but again it’s absolutely worth it.
Day three was spent visiting my parents in Newport Tennessee, as well as a quick stop along the Highway 127 Yard Sale which runs from Michigan to Alabama. Originally the yard sale was the whole reason for the trip, but once we got to the park and realized how much there was to see we just weren’t that interested. Which was fortunate, because the few places we stopped thought an awful lot of their knick knacks and had them priced accordingly. The stops were worth it just to catch a glimpse of this lovely couple here though.
Day four we ventured out to Burgess Falls, which is about an hour away from Fall Creek Falls. The park there is super tiny, basically a parking lot and a trail to the waterfall, but if you’re in the area the waterfall is a must see. We hiked to the bottom of it too, despite the sign saying Very Strenuous Hike. Apparently they had never been to Fall Creek Falls, because the Burgess trail is nothing in comparison.
By day five I was trying to figure out a way to live in the nice cool forest on the Cumberland Plateau, but it didn’t pan out and we had to come home. This time on the big easy road, not the curvy adventuresome one. The only real glitch on the three hour drive home was the brake connector wiggled loose from the truck as we were switching from one interstate to the next and we had no trailer brakes. Luckily Marty’s a really good driver and got us to a stop so we could reconnect it. It’s a good thing I’m not in charge, because my only reaction was to put my shoes back on. I hate to be barefoot in an emergency.
Since this post is already long enough I won’t bore you with any more details, just a quick summary of what I learned this time around. I’m already planning the next trip, I can’t wait to share it with you!
- If the GPS tries to send you through downtown Murfreesboro, just shut up and go. It’s probably better than the alternative.
- Whoever invented State Park fire wood was a genius. The stuff absolutely will not burn, which should drastically reduce the risk of forest fires.
- If you convert a cabinet into a dog cage be sure to lock it with a bungie cord if the ride is going to be bumpy, otherwise they might both be standing at the door when you get there.
- After your impromptu two mile hike to the falls be sure to wander to the other end of the park where the buffet is. Even if you have a camper full of food.
- Fall Creek Falls = Breathtaking views, tons of amenities, miles of hiking.
- Burgess Falls = A way cooler waterfall than Fall Creek Falls.