The Waterfall Project: Gee Creek Falls
November 18th, 2014

If there is one thing I have learned from my time at SETTA, and with this project in particular, it’s that Southeast Tennessee is an unpredictable place. When I started this series in the summer, I thought it was going to be easy. In my mind I was going to have my complete list of regional waterfalls, hike the trails, and write about them before the end of the year. Now, here it is almost Thanksgiving and I am only on the third waterfall, which wasn’t even on my original list of falls (shocker, right?). I don’t know what this says to you, but this unexpectedly complex process tells me that there is so much more to our region than meets the eye. It’s irregular. It’s out of the ordinary. It’s beautiful.

So, to honor our ever-changing area, I am going to change the pace a little bit and take y’all on a leisurely hike through the Gee Creek Gorge in Polk County. Everything about this hike was different from my first two adventures. I had a new hiking companion (two to be exact), different weather, and I wasn’t even expecting to come across a waterfall when I agreed to go on this trip. I went on this trip to get out of the office for a day and came out of it with a fun experience AND a blog post. Double whammy! Okay, enough talk. Let’s get to the hike.


My hiking companions. Meet Melissa Mortimer (left), saver of historic buildings and expert in all things Fossil. Introducing Jim Caldwell (right), railroad veteran and photography extraordinaire.

Though the weather has made a turn for the chilly recently, the day the three of us went on the hike was perfect—60ish degrees and slightly cloudy. Upon arriving at the trailhead, we began our hike down a wide trail shaded by trees adorned in fall colors. The trail itself was smooth with little rocks to begin with, but as we progressed it narrowed and became slightly rockier. About halfway to the falls is a gorgeous wooden bridge that sets the scene for a perfect nature photoshoot.

Because I'm a literature major and I love quotes, here's a random quote from Isaac Newton: "We build too many walls and not enough bridges." Mmmm. That's deep.

Photoshoot next to the bridge. Now I can check off model from my bucket list.

From this point the trail began to go uphill slightly, but not too much. There were no leg-busting hills or crazy switchback or hidden trails like our last hike. No, the only difficult part of the Gee Creek hike was a small section of the trail where we had to climb the side of a rock wall. Other than that, the trail is the easiest I’ve hiked so far in this series.

Melissa and Jim take on the dreaded rock wall.

The closer we got to the falls, the more secluded I felt. Hiking at Gee Creek was completely different than the other hikes I have been to so far because it didn’t feel like a trail. We were completely submersed in nature, completely isolated from the outside world. Rather than try to describe this hike further, I’m going to let the photos do the talking:


Collection of fall foliage photos? Why not!

Here comes the waterfall, and it looks like . . . could it be?


 They may be small, but the surrounding area is GORGEOUS.

Even though it’s starting to get cold outside and it feels like we’re in for an early winter, take time this holiday season to get outside and explore. You never know what is hiding in the woods or what treasures you’ll find in our beautiful region. Whether it’s Gee Creek or somewhere else in Southeast Tennessee, make some time between the turkey and stuffing to seek adventure in the great outdoors. I promise it will be a Thanksgiving to remember.

Wander on,


P.S. here's a photo of Melissa and me by Jim Caldwell. This picture may be hanging up beside my desk. [Insert "awww" here].

Directions:From exit 36 on I-75 northeast of downtown Chattanooga, take TN 163 east for 15 miles to US 411 near Delano. Once at US 411, turn right, south and go just a few feet to then turn left on Gee Creek Road. Follow Gee Creek Road over railroad tracks and stay right, continuing with Gee Creek Road as it turns back north and turns into Forest Road 2013. Travel for a total of 2.2 miles from US 411 to reach the signed trailhead, just before a left curve.


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Crisp & New: Fall Fun in Southeast Tennessee
September 30th, 2014

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes fall as a fresh start: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Life starts over. Think about that for a minute. We shape our lives around college football and midterms while nature completely changes its appearance around us. The passing of summer means an unveiling of brighter colors that were once faded by the haze of humidity. Fall means chilly breezes that blow my batons halfway across the football field. It’s that first, deep breath of crisp morning air that makes your lungs tingle with satisfaction.

All these great changes demand attention and Southeast Tennessee provides the perfect means to give that attention—fall festivals. From banjo strumming on the Tennessee River to launching pumpkins across acres of urban farmland, our region knows how to celebrate this breath-taking season. So take a break from the game and stress of everyday life for a family outing full of autumn adventure. I promise you won’t regret missing that big touchdown—it’ll be on tomorrow’s highlight reel anyway.


*All events except for the Etowah Arts & Crafts Fall Festival have a website link attached. Click the name of the event for more information.

Etowah Arts & Crafts Fall Festival

October 4 – 5
L&N Depot Park, 727 Tennessee Ave., Etowah, TN 37331

Help Etowah celebrate 41 years of fall fun at this year’s arts and crafts fall festival October 4th and 5th. Hosted at the historic L&N Depot Park, the annual event features local food and craft vendors that represent the talent and esteem of this community’s dedicated members. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday, ending at 5 p.m. both days. This is one small-town festival you are not going to want to miss. For more information on this two-day fall fest, call the Etowah Chamber of Commerce at 423-263-2228.

Fannie Moffitt Autumn STOMP

October 11
Altamont, TN

Named after one of Altamont’s most recognized citizens, the second annual Fannie Moffitt Autumn STOMP will take place October 11th in Altamont, Tenn. Created last year to celebrate the diverse culture and heritage of the town, the stomp includes a $5 breakfast, cruise-in, live entertainment, and quilt show. Local artisans and crafters will be present during the festivities to sell and show off their handmade goods, and there will even be a skit starring the beloved Fannie. The night will end in dancing with the stomp to honor the town’s Scots-Irish and Native American background. Check the Fannie Moffitt Facebook page for updates on the time and location of this great event.

Pumpkintown Festival

October 11
Market Park Pavilion & Knight Park, Athens, TN 37303

The small community of Athens hosts a fall festival every October to celebrate the history and harvest of the area. Pumpkintown offers much more than your average gourd get-together. The October 11th festival is packed with fun activities and events such as a pancake breakfast, a bicycle ride, 5K and 1-mile fun run, a mutt strut and doggie costume contest, and hours of live, musical entertainment. Educational booths will be set up along with food vendors so you can learn about the history of this historic community while savoring its local cuisine. Check out the Pumpkintown website for a full festival schedule and band lineup.

Cleveland Apple Festival

October 18 – 19
Bradley County Courthouse Square, 155 N. Ocoee St., Cleveland, TN 37311

Fall isn’t just about pumpkins and candy, but it’s also the season for apples. Embracing this overlooked fact, the city of Cleveland hosts an apple festival every year. This two-day autumn bash will take place October 18th and 19th and will feature only the best of Cleveland’s community businesses. Local artisans and chefs will be lined along the side of the courthouse square to sell their handmade crafts and delicious treats. There will also be pony rides and children’s activities to keep the young ones busy, while the adults enjoy the live entertainment. Admission to the event varies on age and day, and all proceeds will go toward non-profit organizations. Check out the website for gate pricing and a full list of festival activities.

Ketner’s Mill Country Arts Fair

October 18 – 19
Ketner’s Mill, Whitwell, TN

Ever wish you could go back to a simpler time where there weren’t any of today’s modern distractions? Then look no further than the Ketner’s Mill Country Arts Fair in Whitwell, Tenn. This two-day festival brings guests back to the days of cornmeal grinding and covered wagons at Ketner’s Mill, which was once a booming producer of cornmeal in the Sequatchie Valley. Though the mill no longer operates year-round, it starts churning again in time for the fair. Guests can tour the mill during the fair and learn all the ins and outs of cornmeal production. The fair is home to some of the best artisans and crafters in the region, bringing in a wide range of pieces from folk art and pottery to woodworking and jewelry. Other featured activities include a petting zoo, canoe rides along the Sequatchie River, and wagon rides. Directions to the mill and admission prices can be found on the Ketner’s Mill website.


October 31 – November 1
Rhea County Courthouse Square, 1475 Market St., Dayton, TN 37321

Looking to mix up your tired, humdrum Halloween routine? Head to downtown Dayton October 31st and November 1st for an alternative Halloween night you won’t forget. The two-day festival includes local food and craft vendors, as well as live entertainment. Guests can test their vocals in the “Scary-Oke” contest or put their autumn treats on display in the “Perfectly Pumpkin” desert bake-off. There will also be a costume contest with prizes for the best dressed in each age category. Finally, finish off the evening with downtown treating and a movie in the park after dark. A full list of PumpkinFest activities can be found on the MainStreet Dayton website.

Crabtree Farms Pumpkin Smash

November 1
Crabtree Farms, 1000 E. 30 St., Chattanooga, TN 37409

It’s November 1st and you have somehow succeeded in preserving your carved pumpkins all the way through Halloween. Now what? Smash them, of course! To bring in November with good cheer, Crabtree Farms is hosting a fall harvest Pumpkin Smash the day after Halloween. Bring your leftover pumpkins etched with witches and scary faces to the festival and launch them across an open field using the Pumpkin chuckin’ trebuchet. Along with this cathartic activity, guests can look forward to a traditional pie eating contest, a BB gun shoot out, tractor rides, and country games such as corn hole and potato sack races. Also be sure to bring your own food to fry at one of the farm’s fry stations. Admission to the festival is $2, so be sure to come out and enjoy some post-Halloween excitement at this urban Chattanooga farm. Crabtree Farms will be accepting whole or carved pumpkin donations for the smash everyday up until the day of the festival. Check out the farm’s website on how to donate or get involved with the smash.

Ocoee Grape Escape

November 1
Morris Vineyards (Charleston, TN), Savannah Oaks Winery (Delano, TN), and Ocoee Winery (Cleveland, TN)

Spend the first day of November relaxing with a glass of wine surrounded by the warm colors of fall at the Ocoee Grape Escape. This regional wine tour will take guests to three of Southeast Tennessee’s finest local wineries where they will have the opportunity to taste award-winning, 100% Tennessean wines. Apple Valley Orchard, Sweetwater Valley Farm, and Sweets n’ Treats will join in the tour to provide samples of their homemade food products to pair with the supplied hors d’oeuvres. Along with the local fare, guests will enjoy tours of the wineries and live, musical entertainment. Tickets to the tour are $25, which includes admission to all three vineyards and a commemorative wine glass. Tickets are available at the participating wineries or at the Polk County Chamber of Commerce. With Christmas right around the corner, the Ocoee Grape Escape is the perfect event to ring in the penultimate month of 2014.

Pumpkins, and mazes, and spooks! Oh, my!

How many times can we say the phrase “fall fun” in this blog post? Clearly not enough because there is literally THAT much stuff to do down here. Check out these awesome autumn attractions that are open through the month of October.


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The Waterfall Project: Laurel Falls
August 28th, 2014

Laurel Falls is a true secret of nature. Hidden away in the thick greenery of Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness of Dayton, Tennessee, Laurel Falls is a heavily-guarded 60-foot cascade that takes strength and determination to find.

The pocket wilderness is actually home to two waterfalls for which it is named—Laurel Falls and Snow Falls. I highly recommend doing your homework before setting foot on the trail for two main reasons. The first is because the trail is tricky to follow if you do not pay attention to markers. The path to Laurel Falls is marked with white stripes on the trees, which mean that the area is part of the Cumberland Trail. Another reason I don’t recommend hiking this trail without prior knowledge is because, well, you just won’t find the waterfall. When I say this falls is nature’s secret, I mean it wholeheartedly. Laurel Falls is difficult to find, but the best part is that you have me, and I’m spilling the beans right here, right now about how you can find this gorgeous cascade without the hassle Will and I went through.

(Warning: I, once again, forgot to track the distance from the trailhead to the falls. Yay for estimations! I promise I will remember one of these days.)

One of the awesome things about the Laurel-Snow trail is that it is completely shaded from the sun, which makes hiking in the August heat a lot easier. Will and I noticed, though, that the trail narrows as you head deeper into the wilderness so if you’re hiking with a group, be prepared to single-file it about a quarter-mile in. The trail also runs parallel to the river, providing hikers with a multitude of opportunities to veer from their trek and squeeze in a quick swim. Unfortunately, we were on a mission to find the falls and didn’t get a chance to wade in the refreshing waves.

(Views like this are common toward the beginning of the trail. There are many places along the first part of the trail that are perfect for swimming.)

As the trail starts getting closer to the water, we noticed that it looked like a dead end until we found a steep path on our right labeled “Main Trail.” Will and I had to pay extra attention here because the sign faces the opposite direction of the trail, meaning you have to pass the sign and then turn around to see it. You’ll easily find it if you keep an eye out for a side trail that leads up, but be careful because there are many different ones and the “Main Trail” one is probably the easiest elevation-wise. Once at the top, the trail levels out for a smooth hike until you reach the metal bridge. (Side note: The trail at Laurel-Snow is a lot smoother than our last Waterfall Project hike. Where that one was mainly all rock, Laurel-Snow alternates between dirt and rocks.)

So this bridge I mentioned . . . you can’t cross it. Due to a storm that hit the area in the spring, access to the bridge is blocked by large fallen trees. BUT there is a worn path to the side of the bridge that leads to the river. Crossing the river is simple because there are plenty of rocks to walk on top of (unless you’re Will, in which case you walk through the water next to the rocks). This river crossing is the start of the real adventure at Laurel-Snow and is where Melissa and I failed on our first trip to find the falls.

(You could cross this bridge, but you would either be extremely athletic or a wizard. Either way, I would be extremely impressed.)


(Once you've climbed up the river bank, you'll see this sign a ways away on your right. This handy-dandy sign is your half-way point! Melissa and I tracked it to be about 1.7 miles from the trailhead. Follow the sign to the right to go toward Laurel Falls. If you go left, you will be headed toward Snow Falls.)

Following right, Will and I came across tons of large boulders next to the river that towered above us. We had to climb over some of these and it can get a little confusing, but just keep following the white trail markers. A short distance from the fork among the towering rock formations is what I can only imagine is Lower Laurel Falls, though I am not one-hundred percent sure that is its name. This looks like a lower falls, right?


(You can't tell from the picture, but I was standing on a rock island in the middle of the stream to get these pictures. At one point walking out there I thought I was going to slip and break my camera. Adventure!)

After we took some time to admire the small falls, Will and I crawled through a cave—literally. The fun and scary part about the Laurel Fall trek is that it is definitely adventurous. There is a point after the lower falls that the trail looks like it ends again. A massive structure of rocks will be on your right and cave-like, arches will be on your left (Side note: I wish I had gotten a picture of this to make it simpler. Sorry, wanderers). Though Melissa and I thought you had to climb over the rocks, Will and I discovered that the trail continues through the unmarked arch. I’m not going to lie, there may have been a couple squeals and pitiful whimpers as I crawled through to the other side, but never-the-less, this brief climb is safe and easy.

So we crossed the river via rock hopping and became spelunkers for a hot minute, what else could there possibly be to experience? Two words: extreme switchbacks. Will and I were definitely not prepared for this. Though it doesn’t make any sense, the trail continues to the left out of the rock arch, away from the direction of the waterfall. For those of you who don’t know what the term switchback means, this is a hiking term for steep, uphill paths that zigzag. We came across many paths that led upward, but eventually realized that all roads lead to Rome, or in this case all paths lead to Laurel Falls. My advice is to take whichever one is the least steep—your legs will thank you in the morning.

Coming upon the falls off of the switchbacks, rock climbing, river crossing, and mentally exhausting navigation is probably one of the most awe-inspiring moments I’ve ever experienced. When we stepped onto the rocks and saw the falls for the first time, I was filled with an overabundance of emotions that I to this day cannot begin to wrap my mind around. With so many thoughts running through my mind, the only words that surfaced were, “Our Creator is so great.” This sight is too incredible, too majestic, too . . . . moving to put into words so here are some pictures (though they don’t do the falls justice at all).

(When we FINALLY got to the waterfall, I layed down on the rocks and gazed at its natural beauty. I have never been more relaxed.)

(One of my coworkers Michael took this killer picture on a much sunnier day than when Will and I went. You can't look at this and tell me it isn't gorgeous. I mean, look at it!)

Hiking back to the car was bittersweet because I wanted to stay at the falls all day and bask in its cool mist, but I also couldn’t wait to get back home to tell y’all about my trip. I can honestly say that I never would have found Laurel Falls if it wasn’t for my friend Will’s help, and to him I am very grateful. Though it is difficult and at times confusing, I hope this post inspires y’all to take a trip to Dayton to see this beautiful waterfall. Adventure is definitely out there at Laurel Falls, so put on your boots or Chacos and find it.

Wander on,



DIRECTIONS: From Chattanooga, take Hwy 27 to Dayton. Turn left at the light next to the car dealer and Bi-Lo. The road is marked with a green “4” sign. Next turn left on N. Delaware next to the Robinson Manufacturing park and cross over the railroad tracks. Continue past the baseball fields and elementary school until you come to a red light at Back Valley Rd. Go straight through the light. Turn left into Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness. The area a bit covered, but Bethel Holiness Church sits across the street as a landmark.

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