It’s finally been warm enough in the evenings to de-winterize our camper! This weekend, we went on our first trip of the year in our R-pod for a Fall Creek Falls State Park camping trip in Tennessee. My hubby came across this gorgeous place on one of those lists on Facebook. “5 best parks in the South” or something of that nature. It was the only one on the list that we hadn’t been to yet. Robert took off work on Friday, so we loaded up the pups, food, beer, and hiking gear in my truck, hitched up the camper and headed west. Thankfully, our dogs are road trip pros at this point, so they took the 6.5 hour drive in stride.
Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee’s largest and most visited park, and after going ourselves, I can definitely see why. With over 26,000 acres of park land and more than 34 miles of trails, there really is something for everyone. In this post, we will detail the trails that we hiked, including those leading to all of the park’s falls, and all of the suspension bridges within the park. For those looking for backpacking options, there are also 2 longer backpacking loops. I cannot wait to go back and hike those too someday (with less pups).
Day 1 – Off to a rough start
The first hour of our camping trip was a complete disaster, to put it mildly. We got to the campsite and backed in the trailer like we’ve done so many times. No big deal. Except the sites here are NOT EVEN CLOSE to level and our trailer is on a steep angle forwards. Bring out the leveling blocks, get the camper level left to right… by the time that’s level, the rear of the camper is even higher off the ground than when we started.
Long story short, we have a crappy tongue jack and the silly yellow “foot” at the bottom made it impossible to get enough clearance to add any blocks to the front and level out the camper… we tried to lift it enough to level it a little and it FELL. The camper fell!!! The foot of the jack buckled and the camper lunged forward, wheel chocks be damned.
You have GOT to be kidding me.
The next 45 minutes are a blur of cursing, fiddling, and head scratching. If I’m being completely honest, I was ready to throw in the towel. The park was booked solid, so we couldn’t get another site and it’s not like there was a Camping World down the street to get a new jack. Thankfully, my husband is more headstrong than I am and a bit less shaken by falling campers. We had my tiny little hydraulic jack for my truck, which we managed to use to lift the front of the camper JUST enough to get it back upright and back on the tongue jack. In the end, we did the best we could but still ended up with a seriously uneven camper.
At some point, enough is just enough and you decide it’s as good as it’s gonna get, sit down with the dogs and crack open a nice cold beer. And then apologize to your spouse for getting testy, hug it out, and decide to go hiking to destress.
(We put a new, MUCH BETTER jack on our Amazon shopping list as soon as we got home. Lesson learned!)
We knew that Fall Creek Falls was a popular park and bound to be busy over the weekend, so we headed out to a few popular spots to check them out without the crowds. Our first stop was a pristine day use area along Cane Creek. Gorgeous aquamarine water, rock cliffs, and not a soul around. After the long drive, it felt great to stretch our legs and breathe in that mountain air.
We wanted to see more but were exhausted after a long day of traveling and trailer issues, so after a bit of exploring we decided to do a short hike before calling it a day. We headed to our first waterfalls of the weekend, Cane Creek Cascades and Cane Creek Falls. They were amazing! Little did we know that these were nothing compared to the sight we would see on Saturday!
After checking out the falls, we thought we would do a test run on one of the suspension bridges before our big day of hiking the next day, knowing there would be many more to cross for the dogs along the way. It was fairly quiet, so we could take our time and let the dogs get acclimated at their own pace.
Dogs vs. Suspension Bridge
So, some of the coolest features of this park are the really long suspension bridges that cross over raging aquamarine waters and gorgeous waterfalls. We were really excited to see them but a little nervous about how the dogs might react, having never crossed one before. These bridges, as you can imagine, are really popular picture spots and get pretty crowded on the weekends, so we decided to hit one on Friday evening to enjoy it without the crowds.
I am happy to report that the dogs did surprisingly well! Helo and Roxie crossed the wobbly bridges like total champs, not hesitating a bit, like it was a normal occurrence. I was blown away! Boomer started strong and then got a bit nervous when it started to wobble about halfway across, at which point she pulled out her signature “army crawl” stance. Legs spread a little wider, chest close to the ground, full speed ahead… Ringo hesitated a bit and would occasionally slow down and fall behind, but did great with some extra encouragement. Once we crossed a second time, they were all seasoned pros! SO proud of my little adventure pack.
Day 2: 8+ Miles of hiking, vistas & waterfalls
We woke up bright and early on Saturday (okay, dark and early), made some breakfast and headed out to the more popular trails in the park before all the day hikers had a chance to show up. We headed to the nature center, where most of the trails start, back over our practice bridge from the day before, and started the day with the Gorge Overlook Trail, which took us past 4 GORGE-OUS overlooks. See what I did there? HAHA.. I couldn’t resist!
Gorge Overlook Trail: Difficulty: Easy | Duration 1.1 Miles
A nice easy warmup hike with amazing vistas! This trail has 4 official overlooks which give you amazing views of Cane Creek falls, Cane Creek Gorge, and last but certainly not least, the namesake of the park, the incredible Fall Creek Falls.
Gorge Overlook Trail: Fall Creek Falls Overlook
This is the main falls overlook (and the most developed). There is actually a parking lot right by this spot so that it’s accessible for people of all fitness levels, as well as those with disabilities. While that’s a nice option for some, we’re more the “take the scenic route” type, plus the dogs were in heaven on the trails. This waterfall was so awesome that we knew we needed to get a closer look, so we decided to hike down to the bottom for the “up close and personal” perspective.
Base of Fall Creek Falls Trail: Difficulty: Moderate | Duration .8 miles out and back
The trail to the bottom is only about a half mile, and I’d call it a “moderate” difficulty level. The trail is uneven and rocky, and wet in some places, but if you take your time and watch your footing, it’s not a bad hike at all. The dogs had a BLAST jumping over rocks and really enjoyed this little detour that we took through some rock formations along the way.
Almost to the falls! Even from a distance, you can hear and feel the sheer power of the falls. The load roar, the temperature dropping, and the mist starting to fill the air.
BEHOLD the mighty Fall Creek Falls! The highest single plunge east of the Mississippi! Seeing this amazing fall from the overlook was one thing, but it doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Standing feet from the bottom of the plunge, hearing nothing but rushing water, and getting coated in a cold wet mist, you can’t help but feel small and insignificant. You can’t help but be in complete awe of Mother Nature. And cold.. if it’s 7-8am in the morning in early spring and the sun is barely up, also cold. We stood in awe, snapped some pics, took it all in, and then we hiked out in search of warmer air and sunshine! The hike up was a bear, but it was so worth it to see the magnificent falls up close and truly experience them, especially with out another soul in sight. Definitely go in the morning if you can, this place gets PACKED during the day, especially on weekends.
Woodland Trail: Difficulty: Easy | Duration .8 Miles
On the way back, we took the Woodland Trail back to the Nature Center where we started and then headed “home” (to the campsite) for some lunch and a quick rest before heading out on the next trail. This trail was easy and fun, nicely shaded, and had a few creek crossings where the dogs got to take a dip and cool down from the hike back up from the falls.
Paw Paw Trail: Difficulty: Easy/Mod | Duration 2.6 Mile Loop
After lunch and a quick rest, we decided to hit some of the less popular trails to avoid the crowds. Still beautiful, but not the ones with the “main attraction” waterfalls. Again we were rewarded with solitude and trails all to ourselves. And more suspension bridges!
Hiking this trail was the perfect way to spend the afternoon. As the sun was getting higher in the sky, the temperature was getting warmer. This trail is mostly wooded and nicely shaded, with great views of the Cane Creek Gorge and lots of perfect little rest spots along the water.
When we finished Paw Paw trail, the dogs were still rearing to go, and we knew there was just one more thing we wanted to see. Piney Creek Falls!
Piney Creek Side Trails: Difficulty: Easy | Duration: Maybe .75 mi total
We hopped in the car and took the Gorge Scenic Drive Motor Nature Trail, which ends at the Piney Creek Overlook Trails. The “trails” are more like 2 short walks from a parking area and are perfect for people who can’t/don’t really hike. They’re more than scenic pull-offs and still give you the feeling of hiking without needing the ability to walk long distances. That being said, they were also busy. BUT SO PRETTY! We didn’t stay long, especially after a lot of people and dogs started showing up in the small area, but it was well worth the quick stop for this epic view.
After this last stop, we went back to the campsite and hung out. I chilled in the hammock with Ringo and Robert napped with the other dogs in the camper. We made brats for dinner (which we shared with the dogs of course) and enjoyed some downtime.
After some chill time at the campsite, we headed to the less developed part of this huge park to find a little more (crowd-free) hiking. We tried to drive up Fire Tower Road, a 4-wheel drive only type of dirt road deep in the woods, hoping to find a fire tower and a cool view, but were stopped 1/2 mile from the end by a big orange gate. We parked and hiked a bit of a seemingly nameless trail, marked only by a sign that said “foot traffic only.” It was unimpressive and we only lasted about a mile before the dogs were hot and we were all tired and decided to call it a day.
The rest of our Saturday was spent hanging around the campsite, eating snacks, drinking a nice cold beer, and sitting around the fire, surrounded by happy, tired pups. This is what it’s all about!
Tips for a successful camping trip with dogs:
1. Always check the dog-friendliness of a park before you go. If you’re camping, check to see what their policies are for pets at the campsites. Max number, leash laws, etc.
2. Know your dogs and what they can handle. We did a lot of hiking this weekend, but our dogs hike multiple times a week and are conditioned for it.
3. Remember to watch your dogs when you’re outside and stop if they get tired or weak. Take breaks and bring lots of water.
4. Safety First! Be careful around ledges, cliffs, and fast-moving water. Our dogs were on leash the entire weekend and wore harnesses for extra control in precarious situations.
5. Bring extra food for your dog and lots of snacks. They need energy just as much as you do, especially if they’re burning a lot more calories than normal.
6. Go with the flow. Something will go wrong. Maybe your camper won’t fall over, maybe you’ll forget your tent poles or forget to pack socks, but something will not go perfectly. It’s all part of the fun and it makes for great stories.
7. Have fun and take lots of pictures! The memories will last a lifetime.
Considering a Fall Creek Falls State Park camping trip?
Click here to view the park brochure for more info including address, hours of operation, activities and special events.
Do you have a favorite camping spot or camping memory? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
Debbie & the MUTTS