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.
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.
The Waterfall Project: Rainbow Falls
July 29th, 2014
About two months ago at the start of summer break, the SETTA team decided that we wanted to compile a list of the top ten waterfalls in Southeast Tennessee. Naturally, we were all so excited to get started so we could get out and test the trails for our readers. I won’t go into any of the long and tedious hours we spent researching waterfalls in our ten counties—trust me, there’s a bunch—and I definitely won’t go into the disappointing experience Melissa and I had on our first attempt at tackling this large project.
What I will say is that, before going on this hike, I had no idea Rainbow Falls existed. During my research, not once did this Signal Mountain jewel pop up on my radar, but thanks to my friend, informant, and hiking companion Will Taylor this gorgeous falls is the first official waterfall in our series. Now, let’s get to it!
At the beginning of the hike I was too excited to be outside on such a beautiful Saturday morning that I didn’t think anything of Will’s warning, “These steps are going to be killer coming back.” The steps he was referring to was a steep, twisting staircase that welcomed hikers at the Signal Point trailhead. This plunging descent into the white-blaze trail, which eventually crosses paths with the Cumberland Trail, was misleadingly easy on the way down.
Once at the bottom of the stairs, we followed the rock-scattered trail for about one-fourth of a mile until we came upon the overlook. (Side note: There are many things I wish I had done on this hike to better inform y’all about the path, one of which is take a picture of the actual trail so you can see what I mean by rock-scattered. There are very few places along any of the trail that are smooth and flat. Most of the trail is covered in broken rocks of all shapes and sizes so make sure you wear sturdy shoes that can withstand the constant changes in step size.)
Back to that overlook. It’s hard to put into words just how breathtaking this view was so here are some pictures instead.
(Nothing beats this view of the Tennessee River. The picture doens't even do it justice.)
(Meet Will, my hiking companion and red-headed friend.)
After a short photoshoot and chat with one of my high school English teachers that we just so happened to run into, we were back on the trail and headed for the falls. From the overlook, the falls is probably about half a mile away. (Side note: The other thing I wish I had done is actually track the distance. Sorry, travelers, but estimated distance will have to suffice.) Part of that half-mile, though, is easily the hardest and most dangerous portion of the hike—the descent down to the falls. Taking a sharp left where the trail forks, we were led down a muddy and slippery hill that I would guess to be angled at about 45 degrees. At such a steep slope the trail is lined with climbing rope for hikers to grasp onto on the way down. I cannot stress this enough—use the rope! This hill is extremely dangerous and, though it is the only way to get to the falls, I do not recommend it for everyone. (If you can’t get down this hill, don’t worry! There is a man-made dam at Rainbow Lake that flows like a waterfall and the trek is much easier.)
(It's hard to tell, but this is the beginning of the dangerous descent down to the falls.)
Once we conquered the difficult cable-lined slope, we were welcomed to the secluded beauty that is Rainbow Falls. The waterfall plunges about 40 feet or so (I'm not the best judge of height) into a small pool formed by surrounding piles of rock and is encased by a wall of rock on one side and forest on the other. Though we did not partake, the water pooled at the bottom of the falls was deep enough to swim in. The base of the falls was picturesque and surrounding rocks provided many different angles from which to photograph the water. After such a rigorous descent, Will and I rested for about an hour at the edge of the pool, chatting and skipping rocks. The cool, serene mist from the falling water was enough to recharge our bodies for the not-so-difficult-but-still-challenging climb back up the slope.
(The cold, rushing water makes it ten degrees cooler at the base of the falls than on the trail, creating the perfect cool-off spot for hikers.)
(Dedicated hikers can visit Rainbow Falls in the winter to see the falls frozen from top to bottom.)
Back at the top of the hill, we continued on the trail to Rainbow Lake, which was another half mile or so. Because there hadn’t been much rain, the lake was low enough that we could cross in order to reach a large boulder where we sat and ate lunch. We rested here to talk, eat, and watch the water flow over the man-made dam just a few yards away. At the base of the dam is another swimming area and at the top of the dam is an access where hikers can view the man-made falls from above.
(These rocks are usually at the bottom of a flowing river. In the back, covered by trees, you can see the man-made dam that works as a waterfall when there has been enough rain.)
The trip back to the car was easy until we made it to the homestretch—remember those killer steps Will warned me about? Killer indeed, but nothing compared to the cable-lined slope to reach Rainbow Falls.
Overall, I feel really good about the hike and hope y’all can make it out to Signal Point to see it too. Though the views at Rainbow Falls and Rainbow Lake are well worth the leg-strain, I’m hoping this hike is the most difficult in the series. But, who knows? I’m constantly surprised by the twists and turns nature throws at me and the unexpected journeys my job brings. So until we meet again remember that adventure is out there. Now go find it.
Directions from Chattanooga: Take 27 N to Signal Mtn. Rd. exit. Take Signal Mtn. Rd./US 127 for 5 miles to left on to Signal Mtn. Blvd. Follow 0.1 mile to left on Mississippi Ave. Follow for .8 mile to right on to James Blvd. for 0.2 mile to left on to Signal Point Rd. Follow 0.3 mile to parking area.
Taste of the South: Wineries of Southeast Tennessee
July 22nd, 2014
(While the DeBarge winery is located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, the vineyard is tucked away in North Georgia. Photo: DeBarge Vineyards & Winery)
One of the greatest American authors, Mark Twain, once said, “There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc.” Now, I’m not saying Twain was wrong—he did, after all, write one of the most respected novels of all time—but here in Southeast Tennessee there is definitely a standard for wine: sweet, elegant, and homegrown.
Though the wineries in the region are small, the quality of their locally produced wines fuses a small-town country feel with top-notch taste. From flavorful fruit and muscadine wines to country-inspired berry reds, these local wineries offer wine connoisseurs the opportunity to experience the charm of the south while sipping on the world’s most dainty beverage.
(Photos: Monteagle Winery)
Monteagle Wineryhttp://www.monteaglewinery.com/847 West Main StreetMonteagle, Tenn. 37356931-924-9400Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12pm-5pm (CST)
Perched atop Monteagle Mountain is this locally owned and operated winery and vineyard. Under new management since 2007, Monteagle Winery offers 19 southern-inspired wines that reflect the countryside where they are produced. Among the wines is customer favorite Purple Reign, a blackberry wine that is perfect for the summer months. Cumberland Plateau Red follows in close second and its sweet and spicy taste truly reflects the mountain air. While you’re in for a tasting, make sure to ask about the winery’s Adopt-A-Vine program. The program gives guests the opportunity to become foster parents to a grapevine in the on-site vineyard. All wines are produced and bottled on the premises and vary in price depending on type.
(Photo: Morris Vineyard)
Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Wineryhttp://www.morrisvineyard.com/346 Union Grove RoadCharleston, Tenn. 37310423-479-7311Open: Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 12pm-7pm
Tucked away in the foothills of Charleston, Tenn., is the family owned and operated Morris Vineyard and Tennessee Mountainview Winery. Established in 1965, this vineyard grows grapes as well as muscadines, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for its wines. Native only to southern habitats, the winery’s owner says the muscadine carries a unique flavor that is quite distinguishable from its smaller cousin. With 17 different varieties, Concord grape wines being the overall best seller, wine prices range from $9.99 to $15.99 depending on the style and fruit. Along with free wine tastings available every day, the vineyard also offers pick-your-own fruit during the various berry seasons. Check the Morris Vineyard and Winery Facebook page for updates on which berries are ready to pick.
(Photos: Ocoee Winery)
Ocoee Wineryhttp://www.ocoeewinery.com/5365 Waterlevel HighwayCleveland, Tenn. 37323423-614-5100Open: Everyday 12pm-8pm
Ranging from sweet, semi-sweet, dry and even non-alcoholic, close to 20 wines are produced and exclusively sold on-site at the Ocoee Winery in Cleveland, Tenn. Owner Steve Hunt says his top-rated wine is hands-down the Ocoee Red, a blend of Concord grapes that packs an intense grape-flavored punch and pairs perfectly with a slice of cheesecake. This customer favorite is sold for $11.50 according the winery’s website, but other wines, such as those made from blackberries, apples, and strawberries, range between $8.50 and $17. Established in 2006, this location offers tastings of their delectable wines and also carries locally-made cheeses, jams and other homemade goodies in their gift shop to compliment the drink. Also available in the gift shop are tools and supplies to create your own wine for those interested in attempting this southern tradition.
(Photo: Savannah Oaks Winery)
Savannah Oaks Wineryhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Savannah-Oaks-Winery/1382731174011817 Delano RoadDelano, Tenn. 37325423-263-2762Open: Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 1pm-6pm
Located in the beautiful Delano, Tenn., Savannah Oaks Winery offers a variety of wines for every palate. With a plethora of wines to choose from it’s difficult to choose an outstanding favorite, though Casey Davis says that, without a doubt, customers enjoy the muscadine wines best. All wines available at Savannah Oaks vary in cost depending on type and are cost efficient so you don’t break the bank buying quality taste. But Savannah Oaks doesn’t just offer wine—the winery and vineyard also hosts weddings and other special events. Music events are held at the facility year-round, as well, so be sure to keep up with the winery via Facebook.
(Photos: DeBarge Vineyards & Winery)
DeBarge Vineyards & Wineryhttp://www.debargewines.com/1617 Rossville Ave.Chattanooga, Tenn. 37408423-710-8426Open: Mon 12-6pm, Tues CLOSED, Wed-Thurs 12-6pm, Fri-Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-6pm
Named Chattanooga’s first ever urban winery, DeBarge is located in a restored historic building directly behind Main Street Fire Station 1, and is split into four separate sections. Adorned with a centerpiece barrel bar, guests are welcome to partake in complimentary tastings in the tasting room during business hours. Though there is a great variety to choose from, Candace Ledford, tasting room manager, says the two most popular wines are Chardonooga and the Trillium White, both of which are made from locally-grown grapes. Though grapes are imported from the DeBarge vineyard in Georgia, all processing and bottling happens on-site and can be seen through glass windows in the processing area and barrel room. Weddings are held at the vineyard pavilion while private events can be reserved in the event space at the Chattanooga location. Wines from DeBarge range in price from $15 up to $28.
(Photos: Georgia Winery)
Georgia Wineryhttp://www.georgiawines.com/shop/6469 Battlefield ParkwayRinggold, Ga. 30736706-937-9463Open: Mon-Sat 10am-6pm
Though it is not in Tennessee, this winery is just a hop and a skip away from Chattanooga in Ringgold, Ga. Founded in 1982, Georgia Winery is a family owned and operated facility that produces high-caliber wines from fresh fruit. Though the ever-familiar Concord is a customer favorite, the winery produces over 20 wines ranging from blush and rose, muscadine, and the traditional white and red. Depending on which you choose, wines range in price between $12.95 and $18.95, and specials are available on the winery website. Complimentary wine tastings are offered at the tasting bar and tours are offered every Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Those interested can also reserve to have their wedding or special event in the organic vineyard located directly behind the winery.
(From Morris Vineyard in Charleston, Tenn., guests can sip on wine while overlooking the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains. Photo: Morris Vineyard)
Calling all wine connoisseurs and history buffs:
Be sure to check out Wine Over Water, Chattanooga’s annual premier wine-tasting event on September 27th. All proceeds from the event go toward Cornerstones Inc., Chattanooga’s only nonprofit historic preservation organization. More information about the event and how to buy tickets can be found at http://www.wineoverwater.org/.