Park ranger provides hiking tips

by | September 15, 2018 6:53 am

By Jacob Young, park ranger

Fall Creek Falls State Park offers over 50 miles of trails, stretching from the south end of the park near the Piney community to Virgin Falls, in White County. We offer hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and even some dual purpose paved sections of trail.

Over the course of the year, we experience over 1.5 million visitors, and many of them choose to check out a trail on their visit. With all that traffic, there are helpful tips that we would like to pass along, not only to make your hike more enjoyable but also to keep you safe and allow us to maintain a sustainable trail system.

Most of the trails at Fall Creek Falls are marked, and chances are if you are on an unmarked trail, it may be a game trail or a path that guests have created as a shortcut. We have placed easily visible Tennessee State Park markers along the trail throughout the park. These markers are shaped like an arrowhead, and the color will match the trails on the new map that can be downloaded using the Avenza Maps app. Please do not remove these markers from the tree, as this may hinder access in the event of a life-threatening emergency, such as a lost hiker. You will notice that many markers have been stolen by souvenir seekers, but they can be purchased through the Friends of Fall Creek Falls in their gift shop, so there is no need to take them from the trees. Because we have several trails in a relatively small area, we highly recommend that you either purchase the detailed map at our office locations or download the abovementioned interactive map for 99 cents through the Avenza app.

There are some inherent dangers associated with hiking on our trails, but most of them can be avoided if the hiker pays attention and follows the rules. One of the biggest issues that we have in the park is when a guest does not stay on the main marked trails. We understand there are reasons why you may want to veer off trail. Most guests look for a shortcut, they get turned around, want a better view, or simply want to explore. We certainly understand that, but there are some dangers. Other guests will get lost, as these new paths form because we will not be able to mark the new routes or block them. We have also provided safe-viewing locations at established overlooks, and new shortcuts can be very dangerous and could place you at the edge of a cliff abruptly. You cannot safely stand at the top of a waterfall and look down, and this is why our trails will not lead you into those locations. You may encounter snakes on the main trails, but the danger is enhanced when you go on a less travelled route or if you are hiking after dark. Just this last weekend, for example, my daughter took a side route off the main trail and almost stepped on a copperhead. The majority of the calls that park rangers receive at Fall Creek Falls consist of hikers who have gotten lost due to veering off the main trails or becoming disoriented because a sign is missing.

We are grateful for every guest that visits the park, and we invite you to come and hike (or bike) on the trails whenever possible, but we need your help. The more hiking that takes place on the marked routes, the less signage we will need. Staying on track will also keep the park healthier with less habitation destruction. Applying these simple measures will, in turn, help keep a safer environment for everyone using the trails. Know your limits. Please do not go into a location if you are fearful that you physically cannot make it back out. Please help us keep litter off the trails – if you see some, help pick it up. Have fun, of course! Enjoying a trek on our trails is one of the best ways to get in shape, as well as experiencing all the breathtaking nature that embodies this beautiful place. We want you to be safe, as we do not enjoy getting calls for lost or injured hikers. No amount of signage in the park can replace making a few good decisions. If we all work together, we can keep this resource wild, but yet accessible for everyone to enjoy.

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