It is only fitting that Fall Creek Falls, considered by many to be not only Tennessee’s best state park, but one of the finest in the Southeast, would have a wide array of overnighting options, from car camping to cabins to backcountry campsites. Of course, this 20,000-acre preserve is more widely known for its natural features, such as its verdant old-growth forests punctuated with rock outcrops and sandstone bluffs overlooking steep gorges, and of course clear streams that fall to circular pools, giving this park atop the Cumberland Plateau its name. Within this park are activities galore — if you can’t do it here, you probably can’t do it outside.
And now, an October fall in the hills of Tennessee, is a great time to be at Fall Creek Falls State Park.
What should you do first? Start by heading to the Nature Center. Inside are displays about the park. Get a trail map and visit the nearby falls. Cross Cane Fork on a swinging bridge above a cascade. The pool below this cascade serves as a summertime swimming hole (the park does have a regulation swimming pool). Take the Gorge Trail to observe Cane Creek Falls, then check out gorge overlooks before coming to Fall Creek Falls. You can curve around and walk to the base of this 256-foot drop. Longer trails include the nearby Paw-Paw Trail and two long loops for overnight backpackers. Fall Creek Lake makes a pretty impoundment in the upper Fall Creek valley. Rent canoes, pedal boats or johnboats. No gas motors are allowed on here, but fishing is, and is reputed to be good.
If you don’t feel like walking, ride a bike. Bikes are for rent at Village Green Area, where a recreation hall, visitors lounge and park information center stands. Take a trail ride at the park stables. Use your motorized wheels for a scenic drive. The one-way Gorge Scenic Drive circles around the edge of the Cane Creek Gorge then up Piney Creek Gorge where you can check out Piney Creek Falls. Park naturalists conduct nature programs. Kids 12 and under have their own programs. Take a pontoon boat ride, tour Camp’s Branch Cave, or go on a group bike ride. Ball courts are here for conventional games such as tennis, softball and basketball. If you don’t feel like cooking, grab a meal at the park restaurant where they have breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets. Come to think of it, a trip to Fall Creek Falls could be called an outdoor buffet.
How to get there: From exit 288 on I-40 near Cookeville, take TN 111 south to Spencer. From Spencer take TN 30 east for 10.8 miles to TN 284 west. Turn right and take TN 284 west, entering the state park at 1.7 miles. Go for a total of 3.1 mile to a four-way stop and the park nature center. From there, get a park map then start exploring. For more information, contact Fall Creek Falls State Park, 2009 Village Camp Road, Pikeville, TN 37367, 800-250-8611, www.tnstateparks.â€‰ comâ€‰ .