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.

Benton Falls Trail2
Sugarloaf Mountain is the pointy mountain, just off to the center of the photo.
Benton Falls Trail8
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)!

Benton Falls Trail16
What the path looks like most of the way.
Benton Falls Trail26
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.

Benton Falls Trail38
Benton Falls Trail40
Benton Falls Trail45
Benton Falls Trail49

Camping Trip

A few months ago, during the winter, Derek said to me, “I want to go camping.”

We have both camped in a number of ways. Derek was a Boy Scout. My grandparents had a camper, and they would have a reserved spot for the whole summer. We have both camped together during Civil War reenactments, in a canvas tent. However, this was the first time we have camped together on our own, with a tent meant for modern camping.

After purchasing the basic equipment, and borrowing quite a bit from my parent’s old reenacting stash, we booked a site at Chester Frost Park.

Chester Frost Park is a Hamilton County Park in Hixon, located on the edge of Chickamauga Lake. Dallas Bay is on the opposite side. The park consists of two islands, connected by a causeway.

Our camp site was right on the edge of the water. There are different types of campsites to choose from, including grass/dirt or gravel lots. Our lot was gravel. Some sites are more primitive than others. Ours came with water and electric hookup.

We bought a pop up tent, which is perfect for beginner campers like us. I was concerned that it would take forever to figure out how to fold it back up at the end of the trip, but there were directions to follow that were easy. The tent looks small, but it was just spacious enough for the two of us, even Derek who is six feet tall.

The camp site also had a fire ring with an attached grill and a picnic table. We cooked most of our meals over the fire, with the exception of dinner the night we arrived, and sandwiches for lunch the next day. We also made s’mores as well, and had plenty of cups of hot tea.

Our campsite had a two-night minimum stay. We arrived on Friday evening and left mid-morning on Sunday. I am not sure if there are other sites which allow one-night reservations.

Since we were only 20 minutes from home, on Saturday afternoon we went back home to feed our cats. I am glad we had this excuse, because we had forgotten some cooking utensils!

The only downside to Chester Frost Park is that there aren’t many amenities, activity-wise. There is a sand beach and a few playgrounds, but that was it. I think there may be more programs during the summer high season. I wish, being on the water, that there was a place to rent kayaks. You could only go on the water if you had your own and brought it from home.

However, we still had a good time, and it was a good first trip for us to work out the kinks.

For instance, we’re going to have to figure out the bedding situation. We both had ground mats, but those, with a ground cloth underneath, did not help to make the gravel pebbles any less hard under our backs. On the second night we slept on top of the sleeping bag and used our extra blanket as cover, which seemed to help a bit, but then the new problem arised of being cold! This will not be an issue as the temperatures rise, though.

Also, we want to figure out a better way to organize camp. Coming from a reenacting camp site, Derek and I are used to hiding all of the modern items with wooden boxes, bags of burlap, etc. We had items in various Walmart bags, and it looked trashy! We would like to buy wooden crates or something similar to hold everything.

We enjoyed walking around the park and checking the surroundings out. There is a disc golf course, if you have your own frisbees. There were also multiple pavilions, and even a little stage, where I imagine bands play in the summertime. A lot of people were fishing, either on the beaches, off the docks, or in boats. We spent a lot of time just relaxing by the campfire. I read a book and Derek watched a movie on the laptop. By the way, Chester Frost Park has WiFi, if you need to get some work done, or just want to stay up to date on social media.

I am glad that Derek spoke up and suggested camping. This is a new activity that we will certainly enjoy for years to come. I am looking forward to booking the next campsite!

Camping at Chester Frost Park1
Our campsite. The picnic table is out of frame.
Camping at Chester Frost Park4
Camping at Chester Frost Park21
Tea time in the early morning.
Camping at Chester Frost Park27
Camping at Chester Frost Park32
Camping at Chester Frost Park41
Walking around the park.
Camping at Chester Frost Park60
Chicken and rice soup for dinner, along with slices of bread from Bluff View Bakery.
Camping at Chester Frost Park79
The sunrise on our last morning.
Camping at Chester Frost Park84
I lucked out when this heron took off in flight right in front of our campsite!
Camping at Chester Frost Park89
We also had a lot of woodpeckers around camp. I was happy to get such good bird photos!

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.

Overlook Trail_1
A view of the canyon with Winter Falls in front.
Overlook Trail_6
Close up of Winter Falls.
Overlook Trail_9
Sitton’s Gulch is at the bottom of the gorge. We hiked down there in January.
Overlook Trail_14
Overlook Trail_16

A half-day in Trenton, GA

Trenton, Georgia is the county seat of Dade County, on the border of Tennessee and Hamilton County. I work in Trenton.

It is a rural county, and the town of Trenton is small, but there are some nice shops and good places to eat. Coupled with a visit to Cloudland Canyon State Park, you can spend about half a day there.

All of my favorite places to eat are all located on the square on Main Street. Corner Coffee has good soups and sandwiches. I ate there this past weekend and I got the grilled cheese sandwich with loaded potato soup. Lalitos is a Mexican restaurant. My favorite meal there is the #15 dinner plate: one chicken tamale, one beef taco and rice. Their chips and salsa are amazing! Thatchers is a BBQ restaurant. Their pulled pork sandwiches are awesome!

IMG_1258
The inside of Corner Coffee. The owner is really nice and enjoys chatting with everyone while waiting for their food.
IMG_1259
Indoor dining at Corner Coffee is currently closed, but expected to open again soon.

The historical courthouse is in the middle of the square. It is empty right now, but it is a pretty building and makes for some nice pictures.

On the other side of the square is a small park with a gazebo. A few times Derek and I have grabbed a meal to go and then have eaten it in the park.

IMG_1687
The Dade County Historical Courthouse.
IMG_1688
This park is located near the square and is right across from where I work.

If you like history, you can check out the American Legion’s War Memorial Museum, which is a great collection from local veterans. There are some really interesting items in the collection, including an original Revolutionary War drum, and bullets found at the various Civil War sites. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday, and by appointment.

IMG_1611
The American Legion War Memorial Museum.

Cloudland Canyon is just a few miles south of Trenton. One of the trail heads for Sittons Gulch is actually in a residential neighborhood of Trenton. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can just enjoy the view at the overlook, and check out the visitor’s center. There are a few different hiking trails to choose from, ranging from an easy 1 mile, to strenuous. I have written about Cloudland Canyon multiple times. Here is the most recent article.

There are also some antique shops scattered around the town, if that’s your type of thing. If you’re heading back home to the Chattanooga area, take Highway 11 north and stop at the Wildwood Depo, a great little antique shop with a unique collection of items.

IMG_1266
The Wildwood Depot.

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.

West Rim Loop Trail2

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.

West Rim Loop Trail19

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.

West Rim Loop Trail36
West Rim Loop Trail37

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.

West Rim Loop Trail15

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.

West Rim Loop Trail25

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!

Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_6
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.
Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_8
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.

Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_13
Mushroom Rock.
Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_15

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.

Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_20
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!

Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_24
Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_25
View from the suspension bridge.
Mushroom Rock and Suck CreekMushroom Rock and Suck Creek0_34

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.

Stringer's Ridge2
Stringer's Ridge11
Stringer's Ridge10
Stringer's Ridge17
Stringer's Ridge18
An old structure we came across on the Blue Loop trail.
Stringer's Ridge22
On top of Old Baldy. Lookout Mountain is in the background.

Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center

Yesterday we hiked the trails at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center for the first time.

One of Derek’s classes this semester, professional practices, is partnering with the Arboretum to help them with graphic design work, such as signage. A few weeks ago, Derek went to the Arboretum and met with the president.

He wanted to go back with me, and hike some of the trails, to get a better feel for the place.

The Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center is located at the foot of Lookout Mountain near Lookout Creek.

According to a blog post on the website, reflectionriding.org, “Named after a British type of park, Reflection Riding is devoted to creating an atmosphere of contemplation and tranquility amid the natural environment of the park. The term “riding” comes from British usage, meaning ‘a path of pleasure.’”

There is a lot to do at the Arboretum and Nature Center, but sadly, most of it is closed right now, due to the pandemic.

There is a treehouse, which you can walk through, but it can also be reserved for parties, weddings, etc., as well as a Blue Heron Wetland Boardwalk. There is also a Nature Center, which offers workshops, and field trips for kids in school. The Nature Center holds a native plant sale every fall.

There is also a native wildlife exhibit, where you can see animals such as bobcats, red foxes, red wolves, bald eagles, and many different kinds of owls. These animals are unable to survive in the wild, due to being kept illegally as a pet, sustaining an injury, etc.

With a lot of these extras being closed, I was prepared to be disappointed at my first visit. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The trails are quite beautiful, and I can only imagine they will be even more beautiful as spring arrives.

We hiked about 3.5 miles on multiple different trails, which are all connected. I will say this, the trails are labeled, but the map provided on the Arboretum’s website gives no indication of how long any of the trails are. The website does say that there are about 14 miles worth of trails total.

Some of the things we saw along the way include the outdoor classrooms for kids, lots of signage with facts and stories about the area, and two restored cabins belonging to Native Americans, Chief Walkingstick and Squincy Bird.

One thing that I enjoy about the Arboretum is that most of their plants and trees are labeled. It was nice to see a beautiful pink flower in bloom, and know that it was a camellia!

Visitors to the Arboretum have to pay a fee of $15 per car. This fee helps keep the place running, as they rely on support from the community.

A membership for two adults is $60, and offers some benefits, like discounts. Derek and I talked it over, and we would like to purchase a membership in the future, when things reopen. There are also family memberships, and student memberships.

I am glad that we found this place, thanks to Derek being involved with it this year. I am looking forward to coming back and seeing it in different seasons.

Reflection Riding Arboretum1
The edge of a horse pasture.
Reflection Riding Arboretum3
Flowers in bloom in January!
Reflection Riding Arboretum5
Reflection Riding Arboretum6
Chief Walkingstick’s cabin.
Reflection Riding Arboretum10
A meadow, which I am sure will be beautiful in spring.
Reflection Riding Arboretum20
Squincy Bird’s cabin.
Reflection Riding Arboretum26
An old well, with a patch of bamboo in the background.
Reflection Riding Arboretum27
Another path through a second meadow.
Reflection Riding Arboretum35
Reflection Riding Arboretum38

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!

Sitton's Gulch Trail3
Sitton's Gulch Trail25
Sitton's Gulch Trail14
Sitton's Gulch Trail19
Sitton's Gulch Trail39
Sitton's Gulch Trail73
Sitton's Gulch Trail74
Sitton's Gulch Trail64
Sitton's Gulch Trail67

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Yesterday we went to Cloudland Canyon State Park, located in Dade County, Georgia. Cloudland Canyon is a part of Lookout Mountain. This is about a 40 minute drive from where we live.

We have hiked a lot in the last six months, and Cloudland Canyon was the last major hike that was on my hiking to-do list. We hiked the 2 mile Waterfalls Trail.

This trail in particular is better after a large rain event, because these water falls are dependent on the amount of rain. The falls tend to be dry in the summer. The waterfalls are at their heaviest flow in the winter and early spring. This is why we saved this hike for last.

It rained all day Wednesday, and Saturday morning called for partly cloudy skies, so it was the perfect timing.

It costs $5 to get into the park, and you get a little tag to put on your windshield.

We parked at the West Rim Loop Parking Lot. We started off on the West Rim Loop Trail, before catching the Water Falls Trail. There is plenty of directional signage along the way.

Waterfall Trail70

You descend metal grate stairs to get down into the canyon. You reach a fork, with one direction leading to Cherokee Falls and the other to Hemlock Falls. We headed to Cherokee Falls first.

Waterfall Trail17
Waterfall Trail18

It was a cold morning, but the exercise quickly warmed us up, and we shed layers as we made our way down the canyon.

It is quicker to get to Cherokee Falls, with less steps, too. Plus, you can get close up to these falls, where the water cascades down into a pool. Because of that, I think more people probably go to Cherokee Falls.

Waterfall Trail41
Waterfall Trail41_1

After spending some time at Cherokee Falls, we retraced our steps back to the intersection, and then headed to Hemlock Falls.

Here you descend even further into the canyon, with many more steps. I wonder if anyone has ever counted?

Waterfall Trail22
Waterfall Trail56

Hemlock Falls is viewed from further away, on a wooden platform. I think that both falls are equally beautiful, but it’s a lot more work to get to Hemlock Falls.

Waterfall Trail61
Waterfall Trail63

Unfortunately, after viewing Hemlock Falls, it was time to turn back around and go up all the stairs that we just came down on. Here’s where the real exercise begins! There are plenty of sections with benches to stop and rest along the way, though.

We had a cold snap for two days, and because of all the recent rain, there was lots of ice everywhere, adding an extra layer of beauty to the surround nature. I enjoyed taking many photos of the ice.

Waterfall Trail31
Waterfall Trail50
Waterfall Trail51
Waterfall Trail52

I think this is one of my favorite hikes that I have done so far. There are different trails here, ranging from easy to difficult. There is a one mile overlook trail (half a mile out and back) that I think we will do next time, and combine that with just Cherokee Falls.