We woke up this past Saturday morning to a predicted high temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit. I immediately realized we needed to spend as much time outside as possible, taking advantage of one of our last weekends before school starts, and perfect East Tennessee weather.
We’ve been lazy about hiking in East Tennessee recently. Saturday morning commitments, master’s courses, and grocery shopping kept us from planning any hiking adventures this past school year. Also, in an effort to avoid visiting the Great Smoky Mountains on the weekend because of traffic from Pigeon Forge and overcrowding of trails, we can be daunted by choosing a hike that offers something unique relatively close to home. Clearly, given the geography of the region, East Tennessee must have hidden trails and hiking spots nearby, but they can be difficult to locate simply using a google search, since all the trail information is not collected into one comprehensive website.
Thankfully, we recently learned of the website Roots Rated, which compiles information about top rated hikes and outdoor experiences in your area, and then recommends hikes based on difficulty, features of the trail, length, and location. One useful component of this site is the detailed information about the trail head location of each hike. More than once, Andrew and I have been frustrated searching for the promised parking lot that allows us access to that fantastic ridge hike we’ve been dreaming about. Roots Rated, based in Chattanooga, keeps the frustration out of planning a day hike, and lets you spend more time hiking, and less time planning!
Saturday morning, after 30 minutes of research using Roots Rated, we decided to hike at Piney Falls State Natural Area. An hour away from our house, Piney Falls is located near Spring City, in rural East Tennessee. Upon arrival, we ventured to Lower Piney Falls first, and spent considerable time trying to figure out if we could hike to the bottom of the falls (you can’t). From here you can see a few slow moving rapids leading up to the larger falls, hop across the stream on the wide, smooth rocks, and creep to the edge of a sizable waterfall. Once we clambered back up the steep dirt hill, we turned right to walk along the ridge of a shelf rock. Not too many folks explore up here; we kept fighting with sticky spiderwebs!
We trekked back to the split of the trail, and this time directed to Upper Piney Falls. Once again, we found the top of the waterfall quickly, but were hoping to see the falls from the bottom. We crossed the stream at the top of the falls, and followed a narrow trail along the ridge of the bowl of the waterfall. Since the trail was not well-marked, we weren’t sure our efforts would lead anywhere. Sure enough, we found a rope rigged up to help adventurers down the side of a steep hill to the bottom of the falls. I didn’t expect much, even after reading about the hike from Roots Rated, but the falls awaiting us plunged from way above. The water pooled at the basin, and if we’d have been prepared, this would have been a great swimming hole for a hot day.
We walked behind Upper Piney Falls, and found a trail that makes a loop back to the Lower Piney Falls trail that you can then follow back to the parking lot. In total we spent 2 hours hiking around at Piney Falls. We were impressed with the beauty of the falls, and glad we weren’t pushing past other outdoorsy people like we would have been at Abrams Falls, which isn’t nearly as fun to explore or as grand. We planned to picnic after our walk, and did, but there isn’t a picnic area here, which was one small drawback. The only other critique I had was that the trail wasn’t well-marked, but that did lead to some extra exploration for us, which made our afternoon that much more fun!