We have been looking forward to these next few days since before we left on this adventure. We are going to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee to meet up with our daughter Amber and her family. They are on a two week camping vacation and asked us to join them for a few days. The chance to spend time with them and see the grand kids has us feeling very excited.
The drive through the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee was slow going. The roads are narrow and winding. It’s beautiful country though. The light sparkles as it comes through the canopy of lush green trees. Around the bend, water cascading down the rocks and then a clearing revealing the valley below. We are filled with a feeling of awe and wonderment as we meander along.
Fall Creek Falls is one of the most visited parks in Tennessee. Once you’re there, you have no need to leave. There is so much to see and do. During the summer peak season the campgrounds are usually full. Reservations are made months in advance. We feel fortunate to have booked four nights just a few weeks ago albeit not in the same site. We will have to move once.
Day 1 – Finding the kids
We set up on Loop “B” site 83 for the first night. It was a “premium site” with full hookups next to the bathhouse. It was the only site available for us and we paid $45.00 for the one night. There were no discounts offered. Definitely the most expensive site we’ve had so far.
After setting up, grammi tried calling Amber but did not get through so we used the “find my friends” app on the i-phone to locate her. It led us to a congested parking area at a swimming hole. Our timing was perfect as someone was leaving as we arrived opening up a parking spot for us to grab. It quickly became apparent why this area is so popular. Here was a large level area with a grass lawn and flat rocks next to a bend in a creek. The creek is deep enough to allow the brave to jump from the rocks on the opposite side.
We spotted them sitting on an outstretched blanket in the shade. They were wearing bathing suits and were wet from playing in the creek. They were surprised to see us but Amber figured we used the app to “hunt her down”. Danny’s sister Holly and her husband Bryan were there visiting for the day too. They moved to Nashville a couple of years ago with the hope of boosting Bryan’s music career. He was singing a song to Ivy as we walked up.
We were not there long as they have planned to go to the recreation center for a scheduled children’s activity. This park has a long list of scheduled activities for young and old alike. At this one, dozens of children of all ages gathered around buckets of dye with tee-shirts tied with rubber bands as a ranger coordinated the activity. Clothes lines stretched across the courtyard with a rainbow of tie-dyed shirts hanging to dry. I was astonished by the variety and creativity on display but I’m quite certain the two Ivy did were the best.
For dinner we all met at Amber and Danny’s campsite. They have a walk-in tent site five hundred feet from the parking lot. When I saw how much stuff they lugged in I couldn’t imagine how many trips up and down the hill to the parking lot they must of made. Besides the tent, camping stove, chairs, cooler, air mattress and sleeping bags, they also had a large screen room set up. This came in handy when we all had to gather inside it to eat dinner while it rained. Danny, who is still trying to warm up to the joys of tent camping, said it has rained every day. That lead me to remember a time years ago when I may have been complaining about the same thing to a local resident of the area. He replied to me, “I don’t understand you Floridiots, you come here in the middle of rainy season and complain it’s raining.” His point well taken has stuck with me.
Day 2 – Moving sites and taking hikes
We moved our camper to site B53 this morning. A smaller site on a tight loop with a downhill and side to side slope, probably the most difficult site we’ve had to set up on so far. I still got it positioned right where grammi wanted on the third attempt. The couple in the camper next door barely got settled in their chairs before I made an announcement that the show was over. They didn’t even have time to make a bowl of popcorn.
We met the kids at noon for a hike. A ranger lead a half mile hike through the forest along the edge of a creek. The theme for the hike was edible plants. Our granddaughter Ivy, who had taken a liking to the ranger, was very engaged and interested in the plants. It was fun to see her learning and enjoying the outdoors. Among other things, we learned we could eat the tender new growth from an Eastern Hemlock tree and the carrot like root from Queen Anne’s lace but not to eat a Rhododendron.
Later, after a quick lunch, we went on the Gorge Overlook and Woodland Trails hike. It’s a 2.9 mile loop trail featuring scenic views of both Cane Falls and Fall Creek Falls. With one year old Eliza loaded in a toddler backpack carried by her dad and Ivy in her hiking shoes, we started at the Betty Dunn Nature Center.
There we crossed over a swinging suspension bridge spanning maybe 150-200 feet across Cane Creek. A sign warning that no more than six people are permitted on the bride at one time is post at each end. As we walked across the wood planks supported by steel cables, the bridge swayed and bounced rhythmically. If one could muster up the courage to look down, they would see beautiful cascades below.
There are quite a few trails that criss-cross the park and you must take care to have a good map and pay close attention to the signs posted along the trails. We stayed on Gorge Overlook Trail and found side trails leading to the overlooks.
The abundance of rain the past weeks has swelled the creeks and created fantastic views of of the waterfalls. Fall Creek Falls, the namesake of the park, was amazing. At 256 feet, it is the highest falls east of the Mississippi. I admit I probably took more pictures than I should have but with these kind of views it is hard not to. Continuing the loop hike, we followed Woodland Trail back to the swinging suspension bridge and waited our turn to cross. It was a great hike.
After dinner and darkness fell, we sat around a campfire and roasted marshmallows. The lightning bugs were twinkling all arounds us and a chorus of katydids were singing their song. We are so blessed to have these memorable days.
Day 3 – Rope course and swimming kind of day
We went early this morning to the ropes course. It’s another activity offered at this state park. Amber and Danny signed up to take Ivy on this exciting adventure. After being fitted with a helmet and harness and receiving safety instructions, they were escorted to the first of many challenges. There were two courses, one for youth and another for adults. The youth course was today’s goal. Grammi followed along to take pictures while Eliza and I spend the time playing. I could see and hear them from where we were. I wasn’t sure if the screams I heard from Ivy were from excitement or fear but I later learned it was both. Her mother says Ivy climbs the playground equipment with no trepidation but put her in a harness on a course at the same height from the ground and anxiety sets in. Go figure…right?
However there were signs her confidence was growing as she took on the last of the obstacles. I think it was a good exercise for her and she did admit she had fun.
We went to the swimming pool after they finished. It was an activity that Ivy requested. She enjoys the pool and likes meeting and playing with the other children there. It was a large pool with two diving boards and three life guards on duty. A two dollar fee is charged for a day pass. There was a snack bar offering sandwiches and pizza. It was a nice way to spend three or four hours with the kids.
From the swimming pool we drove to the Piney Creek Falls parking area. It’s a short hike to an overlook. We have read this falls can dwindle to a trickle during dry conditions but on this day the water was flowing. It’s a more remote and less traveled area than Fall Creek Falls. The views from the overlook are somewhat obstructed by trees and less appealing. Getting down to the bottom of the falls requires a five mile one-way hike up the gorge.
However, if you hike beyond the overlook you come to yet another long swinging suspension bridge. On the other side is a path leading down to the creek where deep pools, large rocks and abundant shade trees beckon for you. We were alone there for quite awhile, swimming and wading in the cool creek on this hot summer day. It seemed like our own little oasis.
Day 4 – The kids head home
The kids showed up at our camper early for a hearty oatmeal and fruit breakfast. It was time for them to pack up their camp and head for home. From my own experience I empathize with what they must be feeling after nearly two weeks camping. Saddened that vacation was ending yet eager to get home. It’s a confusing feeling. Eliza and Ivy stayed with us while Amber and Danny went to pack up and tote their stuff out to their van. It would take them dozens of trips.
We spent the time entertaining the girls and keeping them active before their long car ride home. We got as many hugs and kisses as we could knowing we wouldn’t see them until September. Grammi sliced some watermelon for them to take along. Ivy painted her name on small rocks to take home.
Amber and Danny returned packed and ready to go. One final round of hugs and kisses before getting buckled into their seats. To no one’s surprise, grammi started crying. As they drove away around the corner and over the hill, our hearts sunk.
We went inside the camper, sat back in our recliners and exhaled, not realizing until that moment how exhausted we were. We lazed around for a couple of hours. I pulled out the laptop and started looking for our next destination. Where should we go? What direction? What are our options? A decision was made and reservations were booked. We went and filled up the truck, did the laundry and packed up the things we could as we prepared for a travel day tomorrow.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is an amazing place. It’s the jewel of state parks.There is so much more to see than we did during our short time here. I played golf the last time I was here and had hoped to play again, but didn’t get the chance. There is a large lake that I fished, but not this time. There are miles of trails, organized activities, nearby horseback riding and so much more. There are cabins for rent or a lodge to stay in located on the lake for those that don’t camp. Plan a week of two, maybe three, when visiting. I’m sure we will be back again.