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  • Writer's pictureBecky Wagaman

Camping, Swimming in Waterfalls, and Exploring Hidden Caves at Fall Creek Falls In Tennessee

Each year for our anniversary, Dustin and I like to go on a trip to celebrate by making new memories together rather than gift giving. Last year we went to Niagara Falls and this year we decided to take our new camper on its first out of state camping trip and headed to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee. Dustin had vacationed there as a kid with his dad and brothers and had fond memories of their time in that area and wanted to show it to me. We got lucky and booked one of the last available RV campsites! We left on a Wednesday night after work and drove part of the way down. One of the really convenient things about having the camper is that we are able to take the dogs with us when we travel, so we didn’t have to pay for a dog sitter. Bailey, our Jack Russell, is not a fan of car rides. He gets very anxious. We tried giving him some mild sedatives and it didn’t hardly phase him. I spent a lot of the trip going back and forth between the front and back seat to try and calm him down a bit.

Most of the Wal-Mart stores around the U.S. allow people to park overnight with their campers, so once it got to be around 11pm that night, we stopped in Scottsburg, Indiana and parked in their parking lot to rest for the night. This concept might sound a little hillbilly to some, but it saved us $100 on a hotel room that we would’ve only been in for 7-8 hours tops so you can’t argue with that! The only unfortunate part is that there was obviously no place to hook up to water or electric so we couldn’t use the air conditioner and it was extremely hot that night.

The next morning we woke up and went to Waffle House for breakfast. I have family in east Tennessee that we go visit and my sister and I always enjoyed getting breakfast at the Waffle Houses down there when we were little. Now anytime we are out of town and see one, it’s a fond memory and we make our husbands go because we don’t have them anywhere up north. Even if they are kind of smarmy little places, we still go.

After breakfast, we got back on route and made our way towards Fall Creek Falls State Park. Our GPS took us on just about every narrow, winding road it could possibly find (which we had hoped to avoid since it was our first time towing the trailer in the mountains) but Dustin handled it like a pro.

We saw a sign for Dale Hollow Lake along the way, which was another place Dustin had always talked about taking me, so we veered off for a bit to go find it so he could at least show it to me. The road we were on took us to Dale Hollow Dam where we parked and got out to take in the view.

Dustin reminisced of his time there with his family as a teenager and showed me places he and his brother used to go jet skiing. I had heard the stories many times so it was neat to finally put an image together with them.

After taking the puppies for a quick, hot walk around the dam, we got back into the A/C and kept on our way. We finally made it to Fall Creek Falls State Park later that day.

We checked into the campground and were pleasantly surprised with the area that our site was located in. It was situated on a nice, private, wooded cul-de-sac and there was only one other site occupied there at the time, which gave us lots of room to get the camper backed in to our site.

Most all of the campsites were really uneven so we were really glad that we had purchased leveling blocks to use for this trip. It was a little scary getting the camper secured in place because it kept wanting to go backwards and there was nothing but a steep hill behind it, but we eventually got it just right. After getting settled and giving the A/C in the camper time to cool things down, we made sure the puppies were comfortable and then headed to find the nearest place to buy some groceries.

We had traveled without very many groceries to keep the load lighter so that we would get better gas mileage on the way down. We were told there was a Wal-Mart about 30 minutes from the park so we decided to go there. We took a different route than the way we had come and found a really fun, curvy road that offered a much more scenic drive. On the way back, we saw something in the middle of the road so Dustin slowly drove up to it so we could get a better look and we realized that it was a huge rattlesnake!

The next morning, we got up and decided to drive the scenic loop in the park which has pull off areas at several overlooks. In a home video that Dustin had of his family trip to Fall Creek Falls when he was a kid, we remembered his dad and stepmom talking about a place called Buzzard’s Roost/Millikan’s Overlook that looked really neat so when we saw a sign for this overlook, we stopped and got out to see the view of the gorge. It was absolutely stunning!

After hiking around a bit at multiple locations throughout the park, we drove to Piney Falls and went for a walk on the suspension bridge there to see the falls. That only made us want to see Fall Creek Falls even more since it was a much taller waterfall, so we headed back to the campsite, ate lunch, and then rode our bikes back to Fall Creek Falls (which was about a mile or so from the campsite). We first stopped at the overlook to see the falls from up top and then hiked to the bottom. The trail was really rocky and uneven so we really had to pay attention but it was fun and adventurous! About halfway down, an opening to a cave let out a lot of cool air and it was a most welcomed surprise after a hike through the thick, humid air of a mid summer day in Tennessee.

At the bottom, we went swimming in the falls to cool off for a bit before heading back up the treacherous trail to the top.

After a full day of hiking and exploring in the park, we rode our bikes back to the campsite and grilled up some chicken and Brussels sprouts for dinner.

Despite the heat, we still made a campfire that night. After all, camping wouldn’t have felt the same without a campfire.

Dustin and I took some drinks over the neighbors (Emily and Tony) and introduced ourselves. They were there celebrating her birthday and had been there for a few days already and were leaving the next day. Later that evening, Emily returned the favor and came and brought us a couple glasses of wine that she said was her favorite, Purple Toad from Kentucky. We find that people are generally pretty friendly for the most part if you just make yourself approachable

The next morning, Dustin made us a delicious breakfast of eggs and sausage to start our day of adventuring off right. Chattanooga was just over an hour from the park and we had planned ahead of time to take a day to go check it out since neither of us had ever been there. On the way there, the brakes in Dustin’s truck started feeling really funny, which was not a comforting feeling as we were going down an 8% grade in the mountains!

We decided that we were going to have to pull off and find a mechanic. We stopped at several shops and finally found a Firestone shop that could get us in right away. It ended up taking them an hour to look at the brakes and 2 hours to fix them so we walked over to a McDonalds across the street and sat in the A/C while we waited. Not exactly the day we had planned! By time they were done, too much time had passed and we needed to get back to the dogs so we turned around and went back to the park. I was disappointed because I had really been looking forward to our day in Chattanooga but Dustin assured me that we would have a mulligan the next day and try again.

After hanging out with the puppies for awhile and taking them for a walk, Dustin and I drove around the park and found the general store and the gift shop. We bought some ice cream cones and some gifts for our family and then drove out to Buzzard’s Roost again to try and catch the sunset over the canyon. When we got out to the end of Buzzard’s Roost, there was a couple with a photographer having an engagement photo shoot. I imagine their photos turned out beautifully, as it was a stunning sunset. Dustin and I tried to stay out of the way and quietly enjoyed the sunset ourselves in the background.

The next morning, we gave it another shot going to Chattanooga. This time our brakes worked properly, thankfully! We went to the Incline Railway first where we purchased Triple Play tickets that were good for the Incline Railway, Rock City, and Ruby Falls. There was a 45 minute wait for the railway, which was extremely hot! We were nice and sweaty by time our cable car arrived!

It took about 10 minutes to go the 1 mile distance to the top. The car had panoramic windows across the top so that we could see out the entire way up, and there were some pretty neat views. The steepest grade was 72% at one point so it felt like we were almost straight up and down by time we disembarked at the top at Lookout Mountain. The views were really pretty from the top but there was another 45 minute wait to get back down to the bottom. Given the amount of wait time versus the time we actually spent at the top, I don’t know that it was really worth it for me. However, it was a neat experience as I had never been on an incline railway that steep!

Next, we headed to Rock City which was just over the Tennessee/Georgia line in Georgia.

If you have ever driven through this part of Tennessee, you know that every barn you pass is plastered with ads saying “See Rock City”. I had seen the ads many times, but never stopped. Needless to say, I was curious. Rock City is very touristy, but a really, really unique place! There are tons of walkways carved into the rock formations, beautiful gardens, a waterfall, and from the top, you can stand in one spot and see 7 states at once! (Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama).

We were afraid of leaving the dogs for too long at the campsite without us, so we kind of speed-walked through everything, but I would recommend giving yourself a few hours when you visit to take it all in at a more leisurely pace.

After Rock City, we drove to Ruby Falls, which was an underground waterfall. There was a ridiculously long line to get in so we opted to pass and head back to the campsite. That evening when we got back, we made pizza pies and s’mores and enjoyed the campfire.

The deer in the park were very tame due to all of the visitors and we had them walk through our campsite several times while we were there. Being the animal lover that I am, I just had to feed them and try to get them to come closer, and it made our dogs go crazy! All I had handy was a handful of animal crackers so I threw them out to feed the deer. Dustin got quite a kick out of the fact that I was feeding animal crackers to animals. I also sliced up some of our apples for them, trying to lure them closer so I could take a better photo of them. One of them was really brave and came so close I could have almost touched it!

We met our new neighbors, John and Heather and their son Nick, and chatted a bit about each other’s travels. They had been on a lot of really neat camping trips and were looking for suggestions on where to go next. Dustin told them about our blog and after checking it out, they told us that they had decided to go to northern Michigan and Canada to Agawa Canyon based on our recommendations! How cool is that? I felt honored that our posts had helped inspire their next trip!

Later that night, a thunderstorm started to roll in. I have always been enamored by the power in storms. My dad and I used to sit out on the front porch watching storms when I was little and my whole family has always enjoyed driving down to watch the storms roll in over Lake Michigan in my hometown. Trying to find a good vantage point, Dustin and I drove back to Buzzard’s Roost to see if we could watch the storm from there. Unfortunately, the gate had already closed to access this loop for the evening so we decided to get out and watch it come in over Fall Creek Falls Lake instead. There was some crazy cool lightning with intense bolts coming down so it was a little eerie being out in the open air, but it was an exciting way to enjoy the storm. When it finally started to rain, we headed back to the camper to stay with the puppies, as they don’t particularly love thunder storms.

After a peaceful night of falling asleep to the sound of the rain on the camper, we woke up and decided to explore some caves. The caves are not widely known, as they are not advertised at the park. However, Dustin remembered going in a cave there when he was a kid so we went to the park office to inquire about them. They told us that the caves are mostly only known by locals and they didn’t have precise directions on how to find the caves, but that we could obtain a permit to go in them for a day if we wanted. We found the dirt road that we had been instructed to go down to find the entrance to the trail that would lead to the cave.

Once on the trail, we had no idea how far we would have to go before finding the cave, and honestly, we really didn’t know where to look for it. After about a mile of hiking and crossing the riverbed twice, we came to an area that started looking familiar to Dustin.

We hiked up a hill a bit and to our delight, found the opening to the cave that we had been searching for. I’ve been in many caves before, but always on a guided tour. This time, it was just Dustin and I and our headlamps and it was pitch black inside. We had no idea what could be lurking but I have to admit, that is what was so thrilling about it to me!

Within a few steps of being inside the cave, the air cooled off by about 30 degrees or so, which was so welcomed after a long, hot hike to get there. The inside of the cave was very damp and slippery and only a few steps in, Dustin slipped and fell on his butt right on the edge of a cliff inside the cave. It scared me so much because it would’ve taken me forever to get him help if he had been hurt since we were so far out in the forest. But luckily he was fine and narrowly avoided falling off the ledge.

The main entrance was to a large room so we looked around that area first.

In the far back corner, we found a narrow passageway. Curious where it went, we shoved ourselves through it and found that it opened up into another huge room with lots of really neat formations.

We ended up finding several more corridors that we followed and ended up several layers deep into the cave.

I’ll admit it was slightly creepy because in the first main room that we had been in, there was evidence that at some point, there had been a rock slide and there were muddy handprints on the rocks. Thinking about the possibility of that happening again while we were deep inside the cave was a little disconcerting, but added to the adventure of it all!

The air was so moist inside the cave that most of the photos we took had visible water droplets in them!

At one point, Dustin convinced me to turn off my flashlight and headlamp so we could see just how dark it actually was. He was literally standing right in front of my face and I couldn’t even begin to see him! That lasted for about .03 seconds and then I quickly turned my flashlight back on! I’m a bit of a chicken in the dark!

After exploring as far as we could in the cave, we made our way back out. The whole experience had been completely exhilarating! We were both on an adrenaline high and couldn’t wait to keep exploring the area after that!

We hiked back to the car and then changed into our swimsuits and set off to find the Cable Trail that our camp neighbors had told us about. The Cable Trail was a long, steep hike straight down the rocky hillside where they had installed a strong cable to assist adventurous people in safely getting to the bottom of Cane Creek Falls.

It was a lot tougher than I had anticipated but once we made it to the bottom, we had a gorgeous view of Cane Creek Falls, which in my opinion, was much more impressive than Fall Creek Falls.

We put our belongings on the rocks and went for a swim in the waterfalls. I had expected the water to be a lot warmer than it was since it was so hot outside, but it was actually a little chilly and very refreshing!

We walked around to the other side of the river to a spot where we could actually walk behind the falls. It made for some really neat photos!

After cooling off a bit, we hiked back up the Cable Trail and went to Cane Creek Cascades which was the river at the top of the water fall. The cascades were a river that gradually “cascaded” down until it finally reached the waterfall that rushed down to where we had been swimming below.

There were some sliding rocks that were so smooth from the water constantly running over them that we could sit down and slide into the natural pool of water below. We were also able to walk out to the very ledge of the waterfall and peer over to the drop down below.

This was an all around amazing day full of adventure! That night, a little tuckered out, we stayed in and watched movies in our camper with the puppies.

The next day we again rode our bikes to Fall Creek Falls. This time instead of hiking down, we hiked around to the summit of the falls. There were beautiful trails and great views of the gorge from the top of the falls.

After hiking, we went swimming and floating on our rafts on a river near our campsite. There was a huge rock wall near the river where a lot of kids kept climbing and doing backflips and tricks so it was fun to watch while we bobbed in the water below.

Later that evening Dustin took me out for an anniversary dinner to the inn at Fall Creek Falls (the only restaurant in the park). We were both a little disappointed by the food. A lot of it tasted very processed and not home cooked at all. And the inn was in dire need of some updating, but either way, it is a neat option for those that are not so inclined to camping so they can still partake in staying right at the park. The inn did have a pretty lake view and they had a nice swimming pool for guests. The campground also has a very nice swimming pool but we never ended up using it due to the overpopulation of splashing children. We preferred the natural swimming holes anyway.

After making a lot of truly wonderful memories at Fall Creek Falls, we decided to be spontaneous and extend our trip by a few days so that we could go play on the water at Dale Hollow Lake. Read more about the rest of our trip here.

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