Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cumberland Trail Stinging Fork Falls 10/26/2013

Reaching back into the archives for this trip.  Ever since I heard about the Cumberland Trail, I have been fascinated by it.  When it is finished, it will be a long distance trail that runs from Chattanooga, TN to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park on the Tennessee Kentucky line.  In 1998, the state has come in and decided to help with the trail, naming it the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park.  The trail will be a little over 300 miles long when completed.  There are currently 190 miles of trail open.  In my mind, this trail is like the Benton MacKaye Trail a long trail right in my back yard!
      Stinging Fork Falls like Virgin Falls and the Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness used to be owned by the Bowater Paper Company.  Bowater set the lands aside to not be logged noticing their beauty and then they donated the lands to the state.  The Stinging Fork Falls makes up the Falls Segment of the Cumberland Trail.  So far the trail to the waterfall and the overlook are the only constructed parts of the Cumberland Trail constructed in the Falls Segment.  The Cumberland Trail Conference currently does not know how it is going to route the trail through this segment.
The trail from the parking lot
     I always like to find an excuse to hike on the Cumberland Trail.  My wife like to hike when the trail goes by a waterfall.  She says that it give us something to look forward to.  So when I can, I try to find a trail that takes us to a waterfall.  After searching and running the numbers, translates to driving time vs. hiking miles, I ran Stinging Fork by Jackie.  She was up for it. We drove to the trailhead and saw another couple getting out of their car for a hike.  The parking lot is right on the side of the road.  It would hold around six cars.  The trail starts from the side of the parking lot and goes downhill from the start.  It is not a bad slope, but it is downhill.  As the picture shows, the trail starts off grassy, but once past the curve it turns to a dirt trail.
     After half a mile, the trail splits.  The trail that goes to the right, leads to the waterfall and the trail that goes to the left goes to the overlook.  We chose to go left since the other couple went right.  The trail is at most a quarter mile long.  It was fall when we went so the view was fairly good.  The only problem was, there wasn't much to see.  It wasn't a bad view and we were able to see up and down the gorge.
A panorama of the gorge
     We after we finished our pictures we went back to the split and went in the direction of the waterfall.  It was about a mile hike to the falls.  The trail comes to some stairs and then continues down into the gorge.  The trail then goes through several switchbacks while still going down towards the creek and the falls.  The trail becomes very rocky when it reaches the top of the falls.  There is another set of stairs leading down again that were beginning to fall apart when we were there.  As the trail goes down the stairs, it leads you away from the waterfall.  Once the trail reaches the bottom of the gorge it drops into an old roadbed and turns to the left to go back to the fall.
End of Trail at the Falls
     We had not had a lot of rain when we went to the waterfall and it was a little disappointing.  We had hiked to see the waterfall but it was just a trickle.  I could imagine how the waterfall would look running full, but after putting in the work, it was a little disappointing to have to imagine how it would look.
     We hiked back to the car, going a little slower.  It was tougher going back up the gorge to the car.  Once we reached the trail split the trail eased out.  We had hiked some parts of the Cumberland Trail before and I have decided to dub it the trail of switchbacks.  With how the trail is laid out and the terrain that it covers, the trail makers have little choice but to use switchbacks.
Little Hiker Guy I like these
Stairs needing repairs
I would this trail to people.  I have high hopes for how the Cumberland Trail will run when it is finished.  The only thing for this particular trail would be to go after some rain, but that is standard advice for just about any waterfall.  For the Cumberland Trail Conference's page on the hike, visit this page:

National Trails Day 2014 Lula Lake Hike #2

     After our first trip to the Lula Lake Land Trust area, Jackie and I have been wanting to go back and explore some more.  For this year's National Trail Day, we decided to go back.  The Land Trust's popularity has grown since we were last there in 2011.  I was happy to see all of the people on the property.  The Trust must be doing something right.  We got to park close to the trailhead for the main trail, but we were not interest in starting with that trail.  There was a young man sitting by a table who gave us a map of the trails, which was nice since we did not have one three years ago.  We thanked him and walked down the driveway towards the falls.  At the table there was also a small box for donations and stickers for sale.
The creek crossing on Ford Trail
    Just before we got to the exit on the main road, we came to a little trail off to the right called Ford Trail.  It led strait into a creek.  I asked Jackie if she felt like exploring a little and she said she was.  I bent down to pick Mia up before we started into the creek and found a tick on her.  I plucked it off, sent it to its maker, and thought about how it was now summer.  Mia would wind up with two more ticks and I would find one on me.  Jackie seems to have repelled them this trip.  The crossing was not deep and the water wasn't that cold.  If we had hiked further than we had up to that point, it would have felt refreshing.
The North Creek Trail 
     After crossing the creek, we joined North Creek Trail, old Trail A.  I hoped it was North Creek Trail at least, there was not a sign.  Without a map I would have still turned left since that was the direction of the falls but I would have been a little more unsure than I was.  The North Creek Trail is just a half mile (.5) long, but with all the ups and downs it felt a lot longer.  The trail follows Rock Creek as it makes its way to the Connector Trail.  This is a nice trail for solitude.  Even though there were a lot of people on the property, we did not see a single person while we were on this trail.  I enjoyed the forest walk with the sound of the creek in the background.  The fisherman in me kept looking in the creek whenever it came into view for the chance swirl of a trout tail or the shadow of a perch, but I did not see anything but minnows swimming in the water.
     The Connector Trail runs up the mountain from the Handicapped parking/Port-A-Potty Bathroom area just beyond the bridge over Rock Creek to the Middle Trail.  We turned left to go down this trail to reach the old railroad grade that would take us to the waterfalls.  This part of the Connector Trail is pretty steep and rocky, but when you are going only a tenth of a mile it isn't bad.
     The falls going into the lake looked very nice this day.  Our still rainy spring gave the falls plenty of water.  There were a lot of people gathered around the lake.  It is a nice place with picnic tables and a couple of the box charcoal grills.  There is a cut where the railroad used to run that you pass through before the picnic tables that I always find interesting.  I love to think about the railroad booms that swept our nation and how men and steam conquered mountains and rivers to expand our national horizons.  I know that I have a slightly rose colored glasses look at this, but Lookout Mountain rises practically strait up from the Tennessee River and I am just awed by the nerves of the engineers who used to drive those old steam trains up the sides of the mountains.  End rabbit trail/rant.  After snapping a few pictures of the lake area, we continued down the trail/grade to Lula Falls.
The trail to the base of the falls.
     On our previous trip, we did not go down to the bottom of Lula Falls.  We felt like exploring more of the area than a hike down into the bottom of the gorge.  This time though we wanted to see the bottom.  I had hopes of possibly recreating a picture I saw on Lula Lake's Facebook site that was taken during the Civil War once I got to the bottom.  The trail to the base of the falls was very steep, washed out, and crumbling.  The picture to the right is just at the start of the trail.  It is quite possibly the best part of the trail down.  Once past the tree in upper center, the trail becomes crumbling sandstone and gullies.  We had to hold onto tree limbs and roots to keep from sliding or falling the entire way to the bottom.  Once we did make it to the bottom though, we were rewarded with great views of the falls.  There were people down swimming and splashing around, but they were careful to not wet others.  It was nice.  I was surprised to see several women in bikinis at the bottom, they are not what I would consider hiking wear but to each their own.  I will admit that they put shorts and shirts on before they climbed back to the top.  Due to downed trees and new plant growth, I was not able to recreate the picture I saw, but in comparing the two I was happy to see that in 150+ years the waterfall had not changed much.  The area below the falls is pretty open and there was plenty of room for lots of people to spread out and do their own thing.  Jackie and I took a spot just to the right of the frame of my picture by a couple who were sunbathing.  We sat for a little while and enjoyed the view and people watching.
The picture from 1860's I wanted to recreate
The picture that I took.

     After we had taken a break, we began the hike out.  It was a pretty tough climb back up to the top of the gorge.  The real hardest part was when we bumped into a guy with a pit bull and the dog wanted to say hi.  I was down hill and the dog was up, so it kept trying to help me get back to the bottom in a quick fashion if you know what I mean.  It really was a sweet dog and the owner apologized for it jumping on me.  I told him no worries, Mia didn't even get excited by the dog, and we went on our way.
     Jackie and I started to go up the Bluff Trail, but it was a little overgrown for my taste and Jackie was a little tick shy so we went back to the car.  To be honest, lunch was calling our name pretty loudly and I didn't want to ignore it much longer.  There was a guy who was struggling after climbing up from the waterfall in front of us.  An older woman from Alabama told us that the guy was on the verge of over heating and she was slightly concerned for the boy.  She was with a group who was there visiting and she said that they had given him some water.  We kept an eye on him until we were able to catch up.  I tried to talk to him a bit as we walked, but he was fairly quiet.  He met up with his group and we went on.
     This trip to Lula Lake wasn't as extensive as our trip three years ago, but I still enjoyed it.  Any time we are able to go there, I find something new that I had not seen before.  The Trust tries to keep the area low impact and it shows.  The trails are similar to hiking in some of the National Forest Wilderness Areas, but are a little better maintained.  If you have the chance one first weekend of the month, I would suggest a visit.  The trail they were making to connect Lula Lake with Cloudland Canyon is now complete so that opens up even more hiking opportunities!  This is the link for the Land Trust

Beech Bottom Trail and Jacks River Falls

     Apparently, it is my habit to put up a bunch of trip reports all at one time instead of right after I finish hiking the trails.  So much for trying to keep the hiking blog current huh?  My wife and I recently decided to tally all of the waterfalls that we have been to in the seven years we have been together.  That total has come to 54, yes that is right fifty four waterfalls.  So, since I have been hiking several more times since the last post and tallying up the number of waterfalls we have been to, I will try to update the blog with trips that are not repeats of what is already on here.  So with that spirit, here goes our trip.
     Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I decided to get out of the house.  Since she loves waterfalls and I did not feel like driving an insane amount of time to go to a falls in our home state that we had not seen before, I talked her into a wilderness hike.  We had attempted the Jacks River Trail before but when we came to the first of forty something water crossings, we decided to turn around.  This time though, I came up with hiking the Beech Bottom Trail to reach the Jacks River Trail and then seeing Jacks River Falls. Round trip, this would be a little over nine mile hike.  The Beech Bottom Trail is 4 miles long and it is another .6 miles on the Jacks River Trail to the falls.
The Parking Area.  At one point it was a fee area but I could
not find a station to pay.  My car is the blue one on the right.
     After talking it over, we set out. Contrary to the directions in the book and living here my whole life, I knew the way to get to the trail head.  Instead of going down Ladd Springs Road all the way, I decided to go Highway 64 to Cherokee Corners and then down the Forest Service Roads to the trail head.  I drive a Chevy Cobalt; this was not the best decision for me to make.  After the rain that we had been having, the road was pretty well washed and rutted out.  I felt like I was back four wheeling in my Jeep, picking the right line so my car would not drag.  It felt like it took forever to reach the trailhead, about an hour or so in reality.  Other than a guy in a Honda S2000, mine was the only car I saw the whole way in.  Sometimes being a man who doesn't always follow the directions isn't a good thing.  Following the directions at the bottom of this post will provide a safer car route than what I took.  It is still bumpy but it is not as bad as the way I went.
     The parking is on the left hand side of the road as you come around a curve, with the trailhead proper

being on the right.  The parking area was just about full when we arrived.  Everything I could find out about the trail said that it was one of the most popular in the area giving easy access to Jacks River Falls.  I could believe it.
     The trail begins pretty much on the state line between Tennessee and Georgia.  After passing the kiosk, there is a sign announcing the Cohutta Wilderness.  The trail then meanders through the forest.  After a mile, the trail drops down and crosses its first creek.  After crossing the creek, the trail begins to climb again.  This is the main climb of the trail and it last for roughly a mile.  After reaching the high point, the trail drops down to Beech Bottom.
An elevation profile of the trail that I have "borrowed" from ChucksNetWerx at Trimble Outdoors
There used to be a hunting camp in this area back in the day, but I did not look too hard for the foundation of any old buildings.  The Forest Service has signs posted all in the area saying that there is no camping allowed between April and October in the bottoms.  If you go after the blackout, the whole place looks like a good area to set up camp.  The trail crosses another creek and meanders through the trees before ending at its junction with the Jacks River Trail.
     Once we reached the end of the Beech Bottom Trail, we turned right to go to the falls.  We started running in to people left and right on this trail.  I was surprised but with it being a holiday weekend, I shouldn't have been.  We just normally do not see so many people on the trails we hike.  After turning onto the Jacks River Trail, it is .6 miles to the falls.  This trail was more narrow and more overgrown in places than the Beech Bottom Trail.   Jacks River Trail is a single track while Beech Bottom follows old roads and I would consider it a double track trail.  The only hard part of this trail was the creek crossing right before the falls.  The rocks are at angles and could pose a hazard with slick soled footwear
Panorama of Jacks River Falls
     Once we reached the falls, it was crowded.  I had heard that the falls were a popular swimming hole but I had no idea they were this popular.  Outside of the Boy Scouts we saw going to Cloudland Canyon, I do not believe that we have seen as many people on a trail in the Cherokee Forest.  I would say the number of people there ranks with our hike to Abram Falls in the Smokies.  Everyone was having a good time and there were plenty of dogs around.  Mia, our 8 year old Chihuahua did not like seeing all the other dogs, but Chihuahua's have that rep.
     After taking all of our pictures and watching the water for a little bit we went back to the creek crossing to eat our lunch.  There were several nice places that people could set up camp from November to March but there was the nice little sign again...
So we ate the snack lunch and rested for about 30 minutes while Mia barked at the dog parade going by.  Everyone apparently got a kick out of our 5 pound Chihuahua doing a 9 mile hike but that is what she knows.  I had heard that there was a "short cut" back to Beech Bottom that would pretty much cut the .6 miles off of the hike back to the car.  There used to be an old trail that ran to the right of the creek that the Forest Service chose to stop maintaining when the area became a Wilderness.  I saw several groups of people going up this old trail and talked Jackie into following it.  It might have been shorter, but the trail ended at a creek crossing and it was a 30 minute bushwhack back to Beech Bottom.  I ended up carrying Mia and hiking up the middle of the creek due to a lab and golden retriever that Mia thought wanted her as a snack.  When we finally hit Beech Bottom Trail again, I told Jackie that our short cut was a bad idea.  Then the thunder rolled.  We began to high tail it back to the car since we did not have rain jackets or my tarp.  On the way back, we had just crested the high part of the trail and turned a curve when the top fell out of a tree 50 yards behind us and crashed to the side of the trail and rolled down the ridge.  That was a little unnerving.  No one was hurt though.  We walked a little faster after that though.  We were glad to reach the car.  The sky had turned jet black than the thunder sounded like it was right on top of us.  For all of our running to get back to the car, we saw no lightning and it did not rain a drop on us.
     Overall, I would give the trail a rating of 3 of 5 stars.  The trail would be more scenic during the fall, and there might be some views during winter, but during the spring and summer it is a green tunnel.  For a group hike to go see the falls and maybe swim, it would be nice.  With the trail being wide, people would be able to talk and carry on freely.  On a physical scale, I would say the trail is moderate, but that is really on due to the length.  It took us roughly 5 1/2 hours to hike to the falls and back, with a 30 minute break in between.  The thunder probably helped to motivate us to hike faster on the way back.   If you are interested in an easy way to see Jacks River Falls or just for a long hike in the woods, I would recommend this trail, but probably not during the summer.

Directions: From Cleveland, TN, head east on TN 74/Waterlevel Hwy. to the US 411 exit; turn right at the end of the exit, heading south. Continue on US 411 for 6.6 miles and turn left on Willis Springs Rd. Go 3.1 miles and turn left on J Wilson Rd. In .9 mile, continue straight on Peavine Sheets Creek Rd. In 5.2 miles, turn left to stay on Peavine Sheets Creek Rd. Go 1 mile and take a sharp right on Big Frog Loop Rd. Continue 4.3 miles to Beech Bottoms trailhead parking.  (borrowed from  I am not good a typing directions so thanks again ChucksNetWerX.  I did use his track on my Backpacker GPS App just to see how it worked)