Slave Falls

Big South Fork National Recreation Area, Tennessee, USA

About Slave Falls


Hiking Distance: 2.6 miles round trip (to falls); 3 miles round trip (to both arch and falls)
Suggested Time: 90-105 minutes

Date first visited: 2012-10-22
Date last visited: 2012-10-22

Waterfall Latitude: 36.53181
Waterfall Longitude: -84.76703

Slave Falls was a trickling waterfall during our visit in Autumn 2012.

Based on this experience, I’d have to say you have to come during Spring or immediately after a significant rain event if you want to see this waterfall as more than a puny trickle.

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_031_20121022 - Slave Falls barely flowing
Slave Falls barely flowing

An added bonus for a hike to this waterfall was the chance to extend the excursion and experience the Needle Arch, which was a small but attractive natural arch surrounded by trees.

In any case, Slave Falls is said to be 60ft tall as it freefalls into a large alcove.

Unlike at Yahoo Falls, this trail ended at a fence discouraging further access into this alcove.

So although it physically looked possible to go behind the waterfall, infrastructure was put in to not sanction it.

Slavery at Slave Falls

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_020_20121022 - Julie passing by one of the deep alcoves on the trail to Slave Falls
Julie passing by one of the deep alcoves on the trail to Slave Falls

Speaking of alcoves, I learned that the reason why this waterfall was called Slave Falls was because during pre-Civil War times, slaves would hide in the many alcoves here to avoid capture.

We noticed there were at least three such alcoves along the trail leading to the waterfall.

I’m sure there are probably more of them outside of the trail system.

Hiking to both Slave Falls and Needle Arch

The trail we took to this waterfall began at the Sawmill Trailhead (see directions below) and was about 1.3 miles one-way.

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_032_20121022 - Zoomed in on the lip of Slave Falls to show that there was still water in that waterfall, but barely
Zoomed in on the lip of Slave Falls to show that there was still water in that waterfall, but barely

There was actually a trail junction at the 1.1-mile point of the hike where we could continue for 0.2 miles to the left for the waterfall or 0.2 miles to the right for Needle Arch.

Since the waterfall was disappointing during our visit, we were keen to visit Needle Arch.

Thus, the total overall hiking distance was probably about 2.8 to 3 miles.

We didn’t do the longer Slave Falls/Needle Arch loop as we were content to visit just the arch and the falls before returning to the trailhead.

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_051_20121022 - Julie checking out the Needle Arch
Julie checking out the Needle Arch

The out-and-back Y-shaped route that we took was generally downhill en route to each of the attractions and all uphill on the way back to the Sawmill Trailhead.

However, the elevation gain was gradual and not terribly strenuous.

All in all, we spent about 1 hour 45 minutes for both the hiking and all the picture-taking.

Authorities

Slave Falls resides in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Oneida in Picket County, Tennessee. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_008_20121022 - Julie starting the hike to Slave Falls and Needle Arch amongst lots of Fall colors
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_009_20121022 - Julie at a trail junction with the loop trail taking in Slave Falls as well as Needle Arch (curiously which is not stated in the signs here)
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_013_20121022 - Julie on the trail to Slave Falls as it gradually descended
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_016_20121022 - Julie continuing on the forested trail leading to the Slave Falls
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_017_20121022 - Julie passing by another trail junction where we were getting closer to Slave Falls and the signs finally made a mention of Needle Arch
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_018_20121022 - Julie at the Y intersection where we pursued the Slave Falls first before going the other way for the Needle Arch
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_022_20121022 - Julie continuing along the base of some vertically-slanted cliffs with interesting patterns and texture on them along the Slave Falls Trail
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_024_20121022 - Julie passing by more cliff walls as well as some small notches on the way to Slave Falls
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_025_20121022 - Julie passes by another deep alcove en route to Slave Falls
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_026_20121022 - Julie making it to the end of the trail wondering where the Slave Falls was
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_035_20121022 - Julie now pursuing the Needle Arch after having had her fill of the Slave Falls
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_039_20121022 - Approaching modestly-sized Needle Arch
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_047_20121022 - Looking up from underneath the Needle Arch
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_052_20121022 - Another look across the span of Needle Arch
Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_057_20121022 - We spotted this spider near the Needle Arch on our way back to the Sawmill Trailhead, but we weren't sure if it was poisonous or not

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From the town of Oneida, TN (along the US27 near the Tennessee/Kentucky border), drive west on the Highway 297 for about 22.5 miles as it will junction with Hwy 154.

Turn right onto Hwy 154 (going north) then drive for another 1.7 miles to a turnoff on the right for the Divide Rd.

Then, turn right to go onto the unpaved Divide Rd and drive another mile to a fork.

Turn right at this fork, which ultimately leads to the Charrit Creek Lodge.

Note that this road is both narrower and shared with hikers, horse carriages, and other non-motorized traffic.

You only need to go about 1.8 miles on this road before reaching the open grassy parking area for the signposted Sawmill Trailhead.

Slave_Falls_Needle_Arch_002_20121022 - The Sawmill Trailhead and parking area, which took us on the trail to the Slave Falls and Needle Arch
The Sawmill Trailhead and parking area, which took us on the trail to the Slave Falls and Needle Arch

It turns out that another 0.2 miles or so down the road, there is a different connecting trail for Slave Falls and Needle Arch.

However, there’s no sanctioned parking besides the gravel road here, and I think it was really meant to be part of the Slave Falls/Needle Arch loop trail.

If you’re entertaining thoughts about reducing the length of the out-and-back hike to Slave Falls and Needle Arch, I think you’re only saving about 0.1 mile going this way anyways.

By the way, this trail and the corresponding attractions belong to the Big South Fork National Recreational Area.

The Big South Fork refers to a branch of the Cumberland River that is the central feature of this region.

Twin_Arches_001_20121022 - The trailhead parking lot for the Twin Arches, which was a worthy side trip to add to the Slave Falls and Needle Arch excursion
The trailhead parking lot for the Twin Arches, which was a worthy side trip to add to the Slave Falls and Needle Arch excursion

If you’re visiting this waterfall, we highly recommend also visiting the Twin Arches (North and South Arches), which are on a separate trailhead not far from the Sawmill Trailhead.

To get there from the Sawmill Trailhead, go back towards Divide Rd (about 1.8 miles), then turn right onto Divide Rd and continue for about 3 miles.

There will be a junction (I believe it’s signposted) where you turn right and follow this road for 2 miles or so to the Twin Arches car park at the end of the unsealed road.

It’s only a mile hike each way to both arches, which are much bigger than Needle Arch.

The trail even lets you go on top of the North Arch.

Twin_Arches_038_20121022 - Looking back at the South Arch, which was one of the Twin Arches
Looking back at the South Arch, which was one of the Twin Arches

To give you a sense of drive times, it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Williamsburg, KY through Oneida to the Sawmill Trailhead.

When we crossed over from Kentucky to Tennessee, we had to watch out for the time difference.

For some additional context, Williamsburg (the nearest town where we stayed) was 70 miles (over an hour drive) north of Knoxville, Tennessee, 183 miles (3 hours drive) northwest of Asheville, North Carolina, and 103 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Lexington.

Zoomed in top down sweep of the trickling falls before zooming out slightly for context


Left to right sweep along the alcove before zooming in on the trickling falls with a top down sweep


Zoomed in top down sweep of the falls before zooming out for context


Left to right sweep from the backside of Needle Arch


Left to right sweep from the front side of the arch

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Tagged with: big south fork, national recreation area, picket county, daniel boone, twin arches, kentucky, tennessee, waterfall, needle arch, sawmill



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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