Benton Falls

Yesterday Derek and I hiked the Benton Falls Trail, which is over an hour away from Chattanooga. Benton Falls is located in the Chilhowee Recreational Area, part of the Cherokee National Forest.

Benton Falls is a popular trail because it is a relatively easy hike ending with a gorgeous waterfall. The trails in the area are heavily trafficked, partially because the area is home to a campground. There is a day use area with picnic tables, grills, and a man made lake with a beach. If you are visiting, it costs $3 to park. There are envelopes at the information kiosk in which to put your money in.

I like to research before we go out on any new hike. I look at pictures, read reviews, and even try to watch YouTube videos, if they are available. During one video, taken during the summer, I was shocked to see how many people there were at Benton Falls. Because of this, we left at 6:30 in the morning.

On the way into the Chilhowee Recreational Area, Oswald Road features a few overlooks. We stopped at these to break up the winding, slow drive in to the trail head. The overlooks are absolutely gorgeous, featuring views of Sugarloaf Mountain, Ocoee River, and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Sugarloaf Mountain is the pointy mountain, just off to the center of the photo.
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Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The tallest mountain in the photo is Big Frog Mountain.

The hike is a mostly flat path, and the trail is three miles total (1.5 miles there and back.) The trail only gets rocky toward the end, when you descend by the falls.

There is a spot where you can see the top of the falls flowing down. Derek found a path that lead to the middle of the falls, where you could stand next to the edge. It was cool (and wet)!

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What the path looks like most of the way.
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At the side of the falls, about half way up.

Derek and I have seen a lot of waterfalls on our hikes, and I think Benton Falls is the prettiest. It is a 65-foot waterfall, and it flows down over rocks that are in a stair-like pattern, which makes for a pretty water flow.

The water was flowing well when we went, but the pool of water at the bottom wasn’t so high that we were still able to walk across some of the bigger rocks out in front.

What I like best about Benton Falls is that you can get close to the water, if you want. We were able to walk right on the lowest ledge, and feel the water spraying us. I imagine that a lot of people hike here in the summer with their bathing suits on. The water is sure to feel good in the summer heat.

It was a good call to arrive early in the morning. We arrived at the trail head at exactly 8 a.m., and we did not see a single soul on our entire hike in. We had the waterfall to ourselves the entire time, which was at least 30 minutes. We started to see a steady stream of people while hiking the trail back to the parking lot.

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Edward’s Point

It seems like every new hike we do becomes my new favorite, and Edward’s Point is no exception.

Edward’s Point is an overlook that is directly across from Julia Falls Overlook, a place that we’ve hiked to multiple times this past fall. This vantage point allows you to see Signal Mountain directly across from you, as well as the meandering Tennessee River flowing southward.

Edward’s Point can be reached via a few different trails. We started our hike at Rainbow Lake Trailhead, and took that to the Rainbow Lake Damn and Middle Creek Suspension Bridge. This is also another hike that we have done before. Once we passed the bridge, it was all new from there. The total hike was four miles, with two miles there, two miles back.

It is a little difficult in the middle part of the hike since you are starting from the bottom of Middle Creek and making you way up to the top of the mountain, but then it levels out. The trail alternates from relatively flat paths to rocky areas.

Our favorite part of the hike was when we reached the top and the trail followed the ridge line for a while.

We left on our hike fairly early in the morning, and did not see that many people once we left the suspension bridge. We did see some people at Edward’s Point itself, but we were mostly by ourselves. If we do this hike again, we will try to leave even earlier, to beat the heat as well.

This hike was pleasantly surprising, because all though we were expecting the end to be the best part, we saw lots of interesting things along the way. We came across waterfalls that we were not expecting. We also saw different centipedes, and lots of wildflowers.

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Passing by Rainbow Lake Dam on our way to Edward’s Point.
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A fiddlehead fern.
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Two centipedes.
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Lockhart Arch.
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One of the little waterfalls we passed on the trail.
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Walking on the ridge line as we got closer to Edward’s Point.
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Edward’s Point.
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Panorama of Edward’s Point.

Overlook Trail

The Overlook Trail is the easiest trail at Cloudland Canyon State Park, but not without some amazing views.

The trail is accessed by the West Rim parking lot. The trail heads to the right, away from some of the harder trails like the Waterfalls Trail and the West Rim Loop Trail. The trail hugs the edge of the mountain rim, which allows for some great views.

The trail is an easy, flat gravel path, which goes on for one half mile, before turning back to complete the full mile.

When we went a few weeks ago, Winter Falls was heavily flowing, which was a beautiful sight. Hemlock Falls was also easy to spot below.

Following the path, there are two main overlooks to check out, which are accessed by walking down stone steps.

I enjoyed these overlooks because it offered a view of the canyon that we had not seen before. We were able to see little sections of Sitton’s Gulch, which we had hiked in the winter time.

I think hiking enthusiasts might want to overlook the Overlook Trail (ha) for more strenuous hikes, but I think this trail is well worth it.

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A view of the canyon with Winter Falls in front.
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Close up of Winter Falls.
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Sitton’s Gulch is at the bottom of the gorge. We hiked down there in January.
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West Rim Loop Trail

This past Sunday we hiked the 4.8 mile West Rim Loop Trail at Cloudland Canyon. This is our third hike we have done at Cloudland Canyon.

This is considered a “lollipop” trail, because it is sort of in the shape of one. The first and last mile are the same, you retrace your steps, and the middle miles are a loop.

I usually research hikes before we set out, and most people suggested to do the loop clockwise. This is so that the first half of the loop is in the forest, and you save the best views along the edge of the rim for last.

The trail follows the Waterfalls Trail at the beginning, so there were quite a few people, but as soon as the trail split off, we didn’t see many people.

This trail starts out by following Daniel’s Creek, and there is a bridge crossing. Toward the beginning of the trail we were able to see the top of Cherokee Falls, which was neat to see, because we have seen it from the bottom, part of the Waterfalls Trail.

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On the first part of the trail, we came to a neat out cropping of rocks. It was around this area that we caught site of a large woodpecker. I am sad that I was not able to get a picture.

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Another highlight of this trail was getting to see the town of Trenton down below. I work in Trenton. With the help of my camera zoom lens, we were able to find the town’s square, and my office building.

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Spring is definitely coming, and I cannot wait until it is in full force. The pollen makes me sneeze, but I was quite happy to see the trees in bloom.

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This hike in particular made me feel a little homesick for Pennsylvania. There were certain view points of the canyon that looked exactly like the view point areas of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, located near our previous home.

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We started out with coats, because it was only in the 40s, but quickly warmed up and we put the coats in the backpack. I am looking forward to ditching the outer layer completely, and not lugging the extra weight!

I enjoyed this trail, but I was quite tired by the end. We tend to keep picking hikes where the ending is hard because of a steep ascend back up the mountain!

With the addition of this hike, we have hiked approximately 22.5 miles so far this year!

Hike to Mushroom Rock and Suck Creek suspension bridge

We have hiked our longest hike to date, 5.75 miles. This was purely by accident, thanks to some poorly marked trails.

Here was our original plan: Start out at Shackleford Ridge Park, in Signal Mountain, and catch a trail that would take us to Mushroom Rock. From the rock, we would take the Cumberland Trail down to the Suck Creek suspension bridge. Once at the bridge, we would turn around and come back the way we came. This was supposed to be maybe a four mile hike at most.

We should have known that we would get lost, because there are few maps with the trail from Shackleford Ridge to Mushroom Rock. We could not use our Google Maps GPS to make sure we were staying on the correct trail. Once at Mushroom Rock, it is labeled more clearly.

I tried to read up as much as I could on the trail, and took a screen shot of the one map I did find, which in the end got us more lost than anything, I think. The issue is that there are multiple trails and unmarked paths that cross. Which one to take? We did not know.

We ended up walking about a mile, including backtracking a few times, before we got on the right trail. However, we did see some nice things along the way, and we got plenty of extra exercise in, so we’re not really complaining. When we saw that first sign for Mushroom Rock, we were relieved!

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A little stream crossing that was fun, but we technically didn’t have to do, seeing as we were lost at this point, but we didn’t know it yet.
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Finally on the right path!

Mushroom Rock is a really neat formation. I had seen pictures of it, but it’s still impressive when seeing it in person for the first time.

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Mushroom Rock.
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From there we had to jump on the Cumberland Trail, where we got lost again! We were on the Cumberland Trail, but we quickly realized we were going in the opposite direction that we wanted. Thankfully a nice couple passing by pointed us in the right direction. We had gone to the left, but we had wanted to go right, behind the rock.

From there to the Suck Creek Suspension bridge, it is a switch back trail that heads down into the gorge.

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We saw some melting ice in a shaded spot on the switchback part of the trail.

We stopped at a large suspension bridge, that we had all to ourselves. Just before the bridge, there is a primitive hike-in camping site, with a few fire pits and benches made out of logs. We both decided we would love to camp here. It would definitely be easier since we know now the right way to go!

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View from the suspension bridge.
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The hike back up the gorge was tiring! We had to stop many times to catch our breath. Once past Mushroom Rock, we got lost again! It was the same issue as last time, too many intersections with too many crossed paths. But we will remember for next time! We were thankful to get back to the car and rest our legs!

Stringer’s Ridge

Last weekend we hiked around Stringer’s Ridge Park, which is close to downtown. It is a ridge that overlooks the city.

This is definitely not a hike to do if you’re looking to get away from it all and by fully immersed in nature. You will hear road noise and be quite close to some houses. But, it will do in a pinch if you want to get outside and get some exercise.

There are quite a few trails, some of them shared by bicyclists. The trails offer elevation changes and twists and turns.

The highlight is the overlook on the Cherokee Trail, which has a good view of downtown and the bridges over the river.

Some of the trails we took were the Cherokee Trail, the Double J, (which is a part of the bigger Blue Loop) and the short path to Old Baldy, which is the highest point of the ridge.

However, don’t do what we did, and don’t park by the tunnel on Cherokee Blvd! That particular entryway has been marked as closed for a long time. We have seen people’s photos on social media and reviews, so we knew the park wasn’t actually closed. So we went over the closed gate. We soon came to a part of the trail that was washed out! So it’s closed for a good reason! However, some people probably did the same that we did, so there was a worn path to follow down and around. Parking is available in different sections, so I’d advise to park somewhere else and avoid that section of the trail.

We hiked about three miles total, and it’s nice to know that there’s a place nearby if we don’t feel like driving further.

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An old structure we came across on the Blue Loop trail.
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On top of Old Baldy. Lookout Mountain is in the background.

Sitton’s Gulch Trail

Yesterday we hiked Sitton’s Gulch Trail. This is the second hike that we have done that is a part of Cloudland Canyon State Park.

There are two options for hiking Sitton’s Gulch, because it is a there-and-back type trail. You can start the hike on either end, depending on how far you want to extend the hike.

If you start at the West Rim parking lot, you have to take part of the Waterfalls Trail down into the canyon to meet up with Sitton’s Gulch. If you go this way, the full trail is 6 miles long, three miles each way. When you’re coming back up, the stairs could be a strenuous ending.

The other end of the trail is located in Trenton, Georgia, in a residential neighborhood. We decided to start from this end of the trail. This way, we stopped our hike where Sitton’s Gulch meets the Waterfalls Trail, and did not have to go up or down any stairs. We have already been on the Waterfalls Trail, so we did not miss anything new. Doing the hike in this direction made it just over 4 miles.

Even though we shortened the hike, this is the longest hike Derek and I have ever done.

The trail is fairly easy, in that the path is mostly free from rocky and tree roots. However, there was a gradual incline the entire way, which was tiring at times.

The trail follows Daniel Creek, which was running fully after a few days of rain. There are many spots where the water flows down and over rocks, creating small waterfalls and rapids. There are many paths that split from the main trail to get a closer look at the creek.

The largest waterfalls are toward the end of the trail (or the beginning, depending on which way you go.)

One waterfall located high up even creates a small water crossing, depending on the amount of water flow.

We packed a lunch and enjoyed the view from the largest falls at the end, before turning back.

Cloudland Canyon has easily become my favorite place for hikes!

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Reminiscing about 2020

With the ringing in of 2021, our first full year in Chattanooga has come to an end. The obvious thing to say is that 2020 was a ridiculous year.

On the surface, things looked pretty bad. I had three jobs this year, which is two jobs too many. I lost a job, resigned from a job, and had to go see a doctor to get on depression and anxiety medication. Mechanic bills for our car and veterinary bills piled up. Our cat passed away two weeks before Christmas, too. Add that all up and … ugh.

But if you dig a little deeper, I’d say things were good.

I’m thankful that we spent the pandemic in the Scenic City. We got outdoors more than ever this year, which was the safest thing to do.

I’m an adventurous soul. Not being able to travel in the past year has hurt me the most. But instead, we adventured around Chattanooga, seeing and doing things (mostly outdoors) that I had never expected to do.  

I have a Chattanooga area bucket list, and the majority of it has remained untouched. For instance, “Seeing a Lookouts baseball game” was impossible to cross off, because the entire season was cancelled. Likewise, we still haven’t taken a train ride with the Tennessee Valley Railroad. Trains are running, but I don’t feel comfortable going quite yet.

However, I did have a list of hiking trails I wanted to tackle, and that got completed, and then some.

We have hiked more in the last six months than I have hiked in my entire life. Some of the paths and trails we have done — ranging from easy flat gravel paths to moderate mountain hikes — were located at Big Soddy Creek Gulf, Greenway Farms, Booker T. Washington State Park, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Moccasin Bend, Prentice Cooper State Forest and Cloudland Canyon State Park.

It seemed like every time we finished one trail, we found another that we wanted to hike, and that is still the case now.

Getting outside kept me sane. It felt good to get our heart rates up, stretch our legs, make it to a gorgeous overlook, and feel accomplished.

We continued to hike as it got colder out, and we found that we quite enjoy winter hikes. I do not like winter time, as I get cold easily, but exercising like this is a good way to offset how our bodies feel in lower temperatures, and keep us more active throughout these months. I hope that we will continue to hike throughout January and February.

Hikes aside, I got a lot more exercise than ever before. I was averaging about three or four walks a day around my neighborhood. In September, I participated in a virtual 5K, and got a medal and a t-shirt for it. Walks were calming, and necessary for me, while I was going through bad bouts of anxiety.

Quitting my job was a huge risk, but it all worked out in the end. I was unemployed for about five weeks. Since Derek only taught two days a week last semester, we did a lot during the week days, to avoid crowds. We visited Wildflower Tea Shop for the first time, and it was nearly empty! We also went ice skating — something we had never done together — and there were only about half a dozen other people at the rink.

I hated working from home for my old job, but now I am thankful that I got to spend all of those months with our cat while she was still healthy, and I was home with her when she did get sick. All of that time that she spent on my lap every day are precious memories now.

I started my new job in early December, and I’m the happiest I have been in a long time. I thought I had wanted to leave journalism for marketing, but I discovered that journalism is where I am meant to me. This has put a lot of things into perspective.

I am cautiously looking forward to what 2021 may bring.

Falling Water Falls

On Christmas morning we did a short walk to see Falling Water Falls.

Falling Water Falls is just north of the town of Signal Mountain. It is about a 15 minute drive for us. Actually, it was about 20 minutes, but only because we had to take the long way around! W Road, the closest and fastest way up to Signal Mountain, was closed because of ice and snow!

It rained most of the day for us on Christmas Eve, and temperatures continually dropped. No snow by us, but up on Signal Mountain, it was cold enough for a little bit of snow! So in a way, we did get our white Christmas.

There is a small gravel parking lot at the trail head; Derek almost missed it driving by! About three cars can fit there. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. It’s a short walk to the falls. You’ll know you’re on the right track because you can hear the creek and the falls as you get closer.

The path follows Little Falling Water Creek, and ends at the falls. If you’re careful, and daring enough, you can lean over enough to see the falls cascading down. (I got down on my belly and looked that way!) If you’re scared of heights, you can still see the edge of the falls well enough by standing on the nearby rocks that offer a higher vantage point.

The whole walk there and back is about .3 miles, but you can extend that a bit depending on how much you explore. We walked a little bit down the creek, as well as taking an upper level path for a bit before turning back around.

Also, I need to mention how cold it was! We tried to wait a few hours until mid-morning for it to warm up a bit, but driving up the mountain, we lost those few extra degrees anyway. It was about 23 degrees up there! We were mostly fine with layers, but our faces were so cold!

It was a nice, easy way to get outdoors and get a little bit of exercise on Christmas morning. The holidays are usually quiet for us, so this was a way to make the day feel special. I feel lucky to live in an area where there are so many scenic places nearby.

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The trail leading to the falls. You can see the tiniest bit of snow!
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Little Falling Water Creek
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The edge of the falls.
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Derek takes a peek over the edge.
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The easiest hike with the greatest view

Yesterday we went to Snoopers Rock, which is within the Prentice Cooper State Forest, offering an amazing view of the Tennessee River Gorge. At that overlook, you see a bend in the river that curves around Elder Mountain.

From our place, it took about 35 minutes to get there. This is partially because once in Prentice Cooper State Forest, the road that leads to the trail, Game Reserve Road, has a 25 mph speed limit. I think the drive is well worth the view!

There is a parking lot on Game Reserve Road (listed as Game Reserve Road on the GPS, but signs there say Tower Road) at the start of the short trail to Snoopers Rock. Funnily enough, we accidentally took the “wrong” way! You can walk either the section of Mullen’s Cove Loop, which is on the right, or take Snoopers Rock Road, which is on the left. We didn’t know, and we walked the road. I suppose either way is fine, they both lead to Snoopers Rock!

It was a short walk, about 5-10 minutes, with some stops for photos of the season’s last fall foliage.

If you want an even shorter walk, there is a pull off spot with space for about 2-3 cars on Snoopers Rock Road, where you are just steps away from Snoopers Rock.

In the area, there are long trails such as the Mullen’s Cove Loop and Pot Point Loop, both of which lead to Snoopers Rock, so you can hike as little or as much as you want.

Since we went on a Wednesday morning, we were all by ourselves. We took as many pictures as our hearts content, and then ate our packed snacks on the rock while enjoying the scenery. With each place that we visit, I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful area. Chattanooga truly is the “Scenic City.”

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Snoopers Rock Road.
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I’m glad we got to see the last of some gorgeous leaves!
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A panorama shot of the view from Snoopers Rock.
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Enjoying all of these hiking adventures together!