Hiking Foster Falls Climber’s Loop Trail

Tennessee Hikes, Waterfalls

My AllTrails recording can be found here.

My daughter has recently gotten into hiking. I am one proud mama! I was hoping she would come around to it. So far I have tried to take her on easy(ish) hikes. She’s grown and could handle a hard hike, but I don’t want to scare her off. I decided to take her to Foster Falls and do the Climber’s Loop Trail. I have been to the falls several times, but this is the first time I have done the loop. And, of course, I left the good camera at home in a chair. So no super pretty flowing waterfall pics this time. I will just have to come back I guess.

Foster Falls is part of the Fiery Gizzard trail in South Cumberland State Park. It is an easy to moderate trail, barring a couple of up hills, that is just under three miles. The rest of the Fiery Gizzard is a brutally hard trail. This hike would be fine for kids, not too little, that can handle the climbs. It took us under two hours and that was even stopping a lot for pictures.

Foster Falls

The hike down is steep, but worth it. On this day, it was incredibly crowded and the trail was lined with people going down and coming back up. Very different from a few years ago when I went and there was hardly anyone there. It was also very slick. A couple of people slipped. Once you get down to the bottom it is absolutely gorgeous.

The bridge is a nice touch to the rest of the scenery. It isn’t a very high or long bridge, but fun just the same.

This shot gives you an idea of the terrain. It is very rocky, rooty and steep.

If you look in the top right hand side you will see a group of kids at the base. They are yelling up at a girl that is walking along a tiny ledge. It sounded like they were screaming at her to stop. It was scary. I don’t think she realized just how high up she was and if she had slipped it would have been bad.

Once you move on past the swinging bridge the trail cuts back to the left to take you on up to the climber’s loop. The greens and the rain that had just come through really made for a pretty hike.

As you can see, the terrain is very rocky. There is one section where you really have to boulder hop. It’s short though..very doable.

Eventually you will see this sign. Since I had heard that the trail was three miles long I knew this just could not be correct so we kept on. That was a mistake. Past this sign the trail ends at one of the climber’s walls. I would have taken pictures of that, but there were several climbers just sitting there talking and I didn’t want to bother them. We turned around and headed back to this sign and took the trail up.

This is the steepest part other then when you are actually going down to the falls at the beginning. It’s a bit of a climb over some rocks. It was very humid when we went and were soaked with sweat by the time we got to the top.

Once at the top it is easy going. You will stroll along and see some great views. In about six weeks or so this is just going to be fabulous with all the fall colors. We kept going and eventually came up to the Father Adamz campsite area. There were several really good camping areas that I will definitely be back to check out. Hopefully, in the next few weeks. We went in and checked out the sites and then came back and headed on down the trail.

Eventually, you end up at a great overlook of the top of the falls.

And then another bridge.

One last really pretty overlook before we get back up to the trail leading back to the parking lot.

Looking back at the area we just came out of.

All in all just a lovely hike and would recommend for those who are in relatively good shape. If you get there early enough you would have time to go do another short hike in the area. We got there around 3 in the afternoon, so it was a little late by the time we finished up.

Afterwards we went to Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse. It is my go-to after hike meal place. Highly recommend it. The food was delicious and my daughter loved her bbq and fried chocolate pie. You even get a free fudge sample when checking out.

That’s it for now!

Happy Hiking!

Lori

Virgin Falls-Know Before You Go

Tennessee Hikes

*All the photos in this post were taken at different times/seasons over several years by me.*

Virgin Falls.

Wow! So much that can be said.

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First: The TRUTH

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Virgin was my first really hard hike. So hard in fact, that after I survived it, I swore that I would never go back. That was about twenty hikes ago. Just goes to show never say never.

My young nephew who had just done several months working for a gold mining company in Alaska talked me into it. He was around 24. I, well, was not.

‘It’s easy’ he said.

‘You’ll be fine’ he said.

TWELVE hours after starting the hike we made it back to my car, in the dark, just in time for the bottom to fall out of the sky and a monsoon poured down on us.

How was I going to drive home? I couldn’t lift my foot to push the gas let alone the clutch. My body was completely spent. I had never felt such pain in my entire life.

Thanks to an amazing boss I was actually able to take a week of vacation to recover. Read that again. A WEEK to recover. The morning after that hike I had to basically crawl to the bathroom. I literally could not walk. Now, I don’t say any of this to scare people from the hike. Quite the contrary,  you should go. I am just giving you a side that many will not tell you. It’s a blasted HARD hike. One site, a few years ago, had it listed as a black diamond like they do with ski slopes. I don’t know if that is the ‘technical’ rating for it, but I do know you can count on one mile an hour mostly due to the trek uphill on the way out.

Oh yeah, and the hike is only about 4.3 miles one way. In total between the 8.6 and 10 ,or more, if you decide to go up to Martha’s Pretty Point or explore around the area near the falls.

Prior to my first hike there I had been walking upwards of 8 miles on my nice little paved green-way near my house. I walked that much almost daily. The hikes I had done up to that point were easy, so easy they really shouldn’t even be counted as hikes.

And I thought I was so tough before hitting the trail.

I was certain that all my non-strenuous green-way walking had prepared me for a so-called hard hike.

Humble pie tastes like crap.

As you are starting down the trail you will see a guard shack that usually has somebody there. They are there for one reason; to let you know what you are getting in to. The first time I hiked there that shack was not there. All the warnings I had were a couple of signs that I totally ignored because young gun nephew said I wouldn’t have any problems.

If there is a sign STOP AND READ IT!!

Virgin Falls

This was the sign about ten years ago. It has been updated to the one below. This was taken just a few months ago. READ IT!

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Did I read it?

Yes.

Did it sink in?

No.

The nephew just kept saying ‘You’ll be fine. Trust me.’

Second: The Illusion of Ease

The trail starts off level and deceivingly easy. After a short walk, I believe around .2 mile in, you will see a fork where you can go off to the right and take the Upland Trail to Martha’s Pretty Point. The hike has some small hills and is ok and is nothing too strenuous or spectacular. You do a pretty long walk on a gravel covered access road. It is the easier way to get to the overlook and campsites up there. You can also continue on the Upland trail and it will loop back down where it meets back up with the main trail to Virgin. If you decide to take this trail you will bypass the cable crossing that is just prior to the cable crossing campsites.

Continuing on the main trail you will continue on the narrow trail with relative ease. When you start to get into, what I believe is a grove of rhododendrons, the trail can be muddy and you will start to see more roots and rocks. Still, nothing difficult at this point.

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The first named waterfall you come to is Big Branch Falls. If you ever get to this falls and it is not flowing you will know that, more than likely, Big Laurel will be not much but a trickle. But, if it IS flowing you will be in for a good day. The descent down to the Big Branch is also the first inkling of what the terrain is going to be like.

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I knew on this day that Virgin was going to be rockin’ and rollin’.

Now you will start to go down some switchbacks and you will hear more water. You will end up at the cable crossing.

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Just past the cable crossing on the creek there are three campsites. If you are wanting to get into camping this makes a great beginner camping area. It’s not too far in and there is usually a water source (except in the hotter months of summer). I have seen it bone dry before. So, if hiking in July or August make certain you have plenty of water going in.

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Cable Crossing Campsites

Not very far past the campsites is the trail that leads up to Martha’s Pretty Point Overlook. It’s about a half mile up to the overlook. It’s a hard half mile and the trail can be a bit confusing. Once up there you can opt to continue on the Upland Trail that I mentioned above. It will take you back to the beginning of the trail.

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Martha’s Pretty Point

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Martha’s Pretty Point in the winter.

In the video below we went up to the overlook from the cable crossing section and came out on the Upland Trail. And yes, I did walk through their campsite. At the 1:40 mark I point up and say ‘Do not go up’. There is a section that looks like the trail but isn’t. If you go up it’s very steep and you will be directly under the cliff. That is not the part where the ladder is, so don’t waste your time going up. Nothing to see.

Not long after you pass the sign directing you towards Martha’s Pretty Point the terrain changes. You will begin descending ever so slightly and you will see some absolutely beautiful landscapes with waterfall after waterfall (provided it isn’t the middle of summer in a drought). You will have to watch your footing more from now on out. There will be the occasional reprieve from rocks and roots, but those won’t last that long. You may not notice that you are continuing to go down. You will be too busy just taking the beauty in that you won’t notice. That is until you get to the top of Big Laurel Falls.

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Virgin falls in the fall

After awhile you will soon be standing just above Big Laurel Falls. At this point you will go down to the base of Big Laurel on a very steep slope that has a wire cable to help you down.

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Rock Climbing Big Laurel Falls

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As you can see, there is ample camping for both tents and hammocks.

You can go inside the cave behind the falls. However, know that the ceiling does fall from time to time. Also, there is NO CAMPING and NO FIRES inside the cave. This is common sense, but I have been on two occasions where I have seen tents and a fire going. The fire could potentially cause the ceiling to cave in and who would want to set up a tent inside where this is a possibility?

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Looking out from inside the cave

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Big Laurel Falls is about the half way point. I always stop here for a snack and to rest up. The cave is fun to explore. It’s very sandy inside and the rocks are extremely slick.

When you finish up with your break at Big Laurel you will continue on down the trail. It’s pretty uneventful and it’s a nice hike. The trail is easy to follow. You will, however, feel like you have gone more than a couple of miles.  After awhile you will come to a junction. You can go left which is the shorter way down to the falls or go to the right towards Sheep Cave. It’s a little bit longer going towards the right, but much less steep. To the left it is extremely steep. I recommend going right to go to Virgin and coming up the other way, shorter way. Just my preference though.

Eventually, either way you go, you will come up to some of the campsites. I have camped here before. It’s probably the best sleep I have ever had while camping due to the sound of the falls. It’s very loud and soothing.

When you get to the falls drop your pack. Sit down and have a good lunch. After you rest up you can go up the trail directly up from the VF sign and go to the left. The trail will take you up and around to a cave and to where the campsites used to be on top of the falls. They no longer allow camping up there, but it’s still neat to get to the top of the falls and the area is very pretty.

Now for the fun. The way out. All I can say is take your time and rest in knowing that you will have completed one heck of a hard hike (if you make it out) lol.  Oh, wanted to also mention that on the way in you may think to yourself  ‘I’ll do the overlook up to Martha’s Pretty Point on the way out’. Ummmm, probably not. I mean you ‘might’, but I can almost guarantee by the time you get to the sign to go up there you will not even have the urge to go. SO, if you are bound and determined to go to the overlook AND VF in the same day, I strongly recommend you do it on the way in. When you first start the hike take the Upland Trail to the overlook and then continue the trail down to the main trail. It can be very confusing trying to find it though. You will go down a ladder and then the trail winds down and back and forth a bit. Like I said, can be sorta confusing.

If you want to camp you will need reservations. The area is managed by Fall Creek Falls. On the link below, be sure to scroll down the page to choose the sites there.

https://reserve.tnstateparks.com/fall-creek-falls/campsites

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So, the takeaways.

  1. Plan on ONE mile an hour. Not kidding. Give yourself time to do this. If you go after the time change make sure to plan for that and have a headlamp.
  2. Take plenty of water ( I don’t care if you NEVER DRINK WATER) take it and/or water filter.
  3. Snacks. YES, you WILL get hungry.
  4. Shoes. Please wear appropriate shoes. You will be cussing some flip flops if you choose to go that route. And yes, I have seen that and the people were not happy.
  5. Don’t drag your small children on this. If they hate hiking this will make sure they will keep hating it. Wait until they are old enough to enjoy it.
  6. Take breaks…lots of them. No shame in it. Remember, my first trip there took 12 hours. Yours probably won’t.

And that’s it. Please feel free to reach out to me for any questions. Also, when in doubt just call the ranger’s office and talk to them about it. Just go prepared and you will be in awe of the beauty of this place and know why it is one of my favorite hikes in Tennessee.

Happy Hiking!

Lori

Hike to Busby Falls

Tennessee Hikes

Short Springs Natural Area in Tullahoma, Tn is, most notably, home to Machine Falls. It is the main destination for most people. However, the area has so much more to offer than just Machine Falls.

I have been to the area on numerous occasions and have photographed Machine Falls every time I have gone.  However, today I had another destination in mind. I wanted to hike back to Busby Falls. There is an overlook trail that takes you to a neat little area that overlooks (hence the name) upper Busby Falls. I have been to this overlook several times and have always wanted to see the falls from below.

The trail is quite tricky to navigate and there are no signs even indicating that you can get there the way I went. So, listen closely, and you can also trek to this little, hidden gem that I assure you few people would try to get to. Keep in mind I did this solo. So, you can do it too.

The day started out with rain. It was expected so I wasn’t too concerned and I made sure I brought along a big umbrella. I know most hikers use ponchos. I would if I did not have glasses.  Poncho’s don’t keep the rain off your face and that drives me nuts. The umbrella works fine for me.

In your GPS just put in Short Springs Natural Area in Tullahoma, Tn. You will park at a large water tower. They have recently actually made an officially paved parking area.  It had been just a gravel pull off.  You will park, and then cross the street to start the trail.

I would encourage you to go to the Busby Falls overlook trail first. It’s a nice little hike and will give you an idea of where you will be hiking up to.  The trail goes on over a bridge but, the last time I was there it just went onto a small loop trail that brought you right back to the bridge and there really wasn’t much to see on the loop.  But, by all means, check it out if you want.

Since I did not go to the overlook on this trip I cannot remember if the trail takes you back to the Machine Falls loop or not. So, if there are no signs pointing you to Machine Falls come back to the trail head and take the Machine Falls Trail. Stay on the main trail. You will eventually come to the part of the trail that you can tell is getting a little more rugged.  You will descend down a very steep area with some wooden steps. Go all the way to the bottom. You will see a sign pointing you to Machine Falls (don’t go over the bridge)  to the right and the Wildflower Trail to the left.  Even though this post is about Busby Falls PLEASE DO GO check out Machine Falls. It’s RIGHT THERE and it’s stunning.

To get to Busby Falls take the Wildflower Loop trail and go counter clockwise (mainly because the clockwise way was very overgrown).  You will follow the loop right to the point where it would be looping to come back to the beginning. You will see a small trail that goes straight to the right (it’s right at the center of the loop).

This is where it gets fun. In a sort of weird, hiker fun kinda way. Normal people will not think this is fun.

Now, when I say ‘trail to Busby Falls’ I use this term ‘trail’ lightly. What little actual trail there is comes and goes and has been closed off by various blow downs. Basically, you will be in a very rocky creek bed that you will follow all the way to the falls. The good thing is you can’t really get lost since it just takes you one place…the falls.  You will, however, get wet. Your feet will, more than likely, be completely submerged in water or muck at some point on this little jaunt. So, take either water shoes or a change of socks and shoes with you.  As always I do not recommend flip flops or sandals.

This is what you will be walking through. I am not sure about the mileage. I don’t think it is all that far. Maybe, at most a half mile, but I doubt it’s even that far. It was just so slow going that it seemed that far.

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Along the way, there were several smaller falls coming off the sides of the hills on either side as you walk down the creek bed.  I only stopped and took pictures of one.  Can you tell why? (cough, cough) No, I did not make this Cairn, but I love it!!

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Tons of photo ops on this trail from water features to cairns, to mountain laurel that was falling from the trees above the falls.

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bf9The pollen was really bad. I didn’t realize that my lens was covered when I took this picture. I still like it though. I was constantly wiping my lens off.

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Pretty much the whole way you can hear the falls. Just keep following the creek bed and the sound and you will eventually get there.

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This area was so beautiful that three hours passed before I knew it. I had literally stayed three hours here taking pictures.  I climbed over more stuff and walked through more stinky mud than I have in a long time to get some of these pictures. And I absolutely loved every minute of it. Well, except for the mosquitos. They were BAD.

So, there you have it. A beautiful, hard hike that I would do again in a second.  Take your time. Oh, and watch out for snakes. Surprisingly I did not see a single one, but I know they had to be there.

Here are some need to knows before you go:

  • Bug Spray.  A LOT of bug spray. In fact, don’t just spray it on. Soak in a vat of Deet from head to toe.  I used skin so soft which usually does the trick. Well, not with these mosquitoes. They must be terminator mosquitoes. I have over 50 bites to prove it.  As a matter of fact, they are why I left and didn’t go back to the overlook.
  • Good Shoes/water shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy
  • Extra shoes to change back into and socks as well
  • Water. It was 89% humidity yesterday and I felt every bit of it.  Take more than you think you will drink.
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Neutral Density Filter if a sunny day. You could get by without one if it’s very overcast.
  • Tripod

 

Hike To Laurel Snow Waterfall

Tennessee Hikes

April 1, 2017

The morning drive to Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness started out with drizzling rain and very cool temperatures.  There were four of us on this trip. My nephew and his girlfriend and a good friend of mine from work. None of them had been there before and I was excited to show them the area.

When we arrived the parking lot already had several cars and, because the day was to clear up and be nice, I knew there would be a lot more people showing up.

We started out for the stroll on the Richland Creek Part of the trail. This section is easy. Anyone who is a budding photographer or limited in their ability to hike long distances will love this section. You could just stay on this part all day and not run out of photo ops. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

There is an entrance to the old mine that websites say you are not to go in. Well, I don’t know how serious they are about that since it’s wide open and clearly, everyone who does this hike goes into the mine.  If they are serious about that then it needs a gate.  It’s very dark so if you really want to see anything be sure to have a flashlight handy.

Once you are past that, the trail will turn sharply to the right. I actually missed the turn and kept going straight until I realized something was wrong. I saw the ‘main trail’ sign when I turned around.

So now, the ascent begins. It is steady going up and loaded with switchbacks and ‘short cuts’ leading straight up. I may do a couple of short cuts here and there, but for the most part, I stay on the regular trail.

There was a long 150′ foot bridge that had been there since 1976. However, several years ago it was damaged during a storm.  Up until sometime recently it was still there and was a mangled mess. It was there the first time I went but has since been removed. Now there is no man-made crossing. You have to use fallen trees.  We watched some other hikers and decided what they were doing was the easiest and it was. We got over the creek with no problem at all.

The difficulty in the trail picks up a bit once you cross the creek. There are several rock fields you have to go through and it’s very easy to slip and roll and ankle. It’s a steady climb up the trail. At one point, where the tiny falls where the crosses are painted on the rock, you will have to climb through a small tunnel to get to the other side of the trail. This area is very pretty and there are several smaller falls making for some great photo ops.

After stopping for a few minutes for lunch on the trail we were back at it and got to the falls within just a few minutes. The falls are very impressive. It’s 80 feet tall and, if the rains have been good, will be flowing well enough to get some good long exposure pictures. I don’t know how well it would be flowing in the dryer summer months. So, if you go in the summer just make sure it’s after a rain. It would be a huge disappointment to go all that way for it to be a trickle.

You can climb up on the rocks to get a closer view of the falls. I did not do that on this trip. To be honest, I was tired and just wanted to sit and look up at them for awhile before heading back down.

When we got back down to the Richland Creek trail we saw some people practicing rock climbing. We met a girl carrying a mattress type thing on her back. It was really funny. She had a very determined look on her face. I turned around once she passed and snapped a picture. When we got back to the trailhead I was shocked at how many cars there were. I had never seen it that crowded before. So, just be sure if you go on the weekend to get there early to beat the crowds.

Need to know:

  • Hard Hike
  • Depending on what website you look at you will see various mileage reports. The Fitbit said it was just under 7 miles (round trip)Some sites say 4. Who knows? Just plan on about 4-5 hours (breaks and picture time added in)
  • Good shoes!!
  • Trekking poles ( I NEVER hike without them)
  • Snacks/Water
  • Camera/tripod/neutral density filters for long exposture water flowing pictures