About Falls Creek Falls
Falls Creek Falls is said to be the highest free-leaping waterfall east of the Mississippi River at about 256ft (according to the signs here).
If there happens to be enough water, then a second companion waterfall on Coon Creek drops alongside the main waterfall. Clearly, this was not the case during our visit as Coon Creek was trickling while Falls Creek had more of a wispy appearance. Apparently, high flow on Falls Creek would only be possible if the dam holding up Falls Creek Falls Lake released water due to high volume (from high precipitation perhaps?) to allow Falls Creek to grow.
We got to see this waterfall from a very easy stroll to an overlook platform that always seemed to be busy. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising considering how accessible it was to everyone from the car park. Even though the falls could be seen from much of this overlook, there was only room for one or two people for the best viewing spot in the middle of the facing side where the foliage beneath didn’t get in the way of the view. Thus, photo buffs would probably have to wait their turn (and be considerate of others waiting for their turn).
We were looking somewhat against the sun at midday so the photo conditions weren’t optimal. However, there were some clouds in the area that intermittently blocked the sun and allowed for us to take somewhat better photos.
I also managed to take a 0.4-mile descent (0.8-mile round trip) to the base of the falls for a quieter and more neck-cranking experience (along with some exercise to boot). This trail left the overlook area to the left and followed the cliffs towards another overlook of the gorge before making its steep descent down a combination of stairs and rocky trail with uneven footing.
Towards the bottom of the descent there was one section of rock steps where I felt cold air blow upwards into my face. I suspected that there must be a cave somewhere off trail near that spot, but I didn’t investigate that further.
Probably less than 5 minutes from the falls, I had to traverse a bit of a boulder field composed of large rocks that have already fallen from the neighboring cliff. I was surprised that the trail had us go through this bit of a rough patch considering how fickle the vertical and overhanging cliffs can be when it comes to the next rock fall. In any case, just beyond this stretch, I made it to the base of the falls where there was a rocky outcrop with an elevated view as well as a steep rocky (and slippery) scramble right down to the plunge pool.
Visiting just Falls Creek Falls along with the descent to the base and back took me about an hour and 15 minutes, and this included all the photo-taking as well. It was also possible to extend this excursion and hike in the other direction from the overlook (to its right) towards the Nature Center where I could’ve also visited three more waterfalls (which I’ll describe on a separate page). I believe it was at least a mile or so to get to the Betty Dunn Nature Center from the overlook.
Since it seemed like the town of Spencer was the nearest town of any size and joined many of the highways in this part of Eastern Tennessee, we’ll describe the directions from there. Spencer is about 31 miles south of Cookeville (where we had stayed prior to making our visit here) along the TN-111.
There were actually two ways of getting to Falls Creek Falls State Park from the Hwy 30/111 junction at Spencer. We did drove both ways in a loop (going south first then coming back from the east) so that’ll be the order in which we describe both ways.
The first approach left Spencer to the south along TN-111 for a little over 8 miles then turned left onto Hwy 284 (there were signs telling us when to turn). After about 10 miles or so along Hwy 284 (which became Park Rd), we reached an intersection where we turned left to continue to the Falls Overlook (going straight from this junction would’ve led to the Nature Center car park in another mile).
We then drove on this smaller road for another 1.6 miles (passing over the Falls Creek Falls Lake dam along the way) where we then turned right to continue on another small road. This small road eventually became a counterclockwise one-way loop after 0.7 miles, and the falls overlook was on our right after another mile.
The second approach leaves Spencer to the east along the winding TN-30, and after about 11 miles is a turnoff (also signposted) on the right for Hwy 284. After about 3.3 miles is the car park for the Nature Center complex, but continuing on Hwy 284 for another mile gets to the junction for the falls overlook on the right. Once on the smaller roads leading to the falls overlook, you can follow the directions as above (i.e. crossing over the dam, going right on another small road, and going onto the counterclockwise one-way loop).
For context, Spencer was 68 miles (over an hour drive) north of Chattanooga and 21 miles (30 minutes drive) east of McMinnville, where we had overnighted after making our visit to Falls Creek Falls State Resort Park.
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