There are so many reasons to not take this trip to Burgess Falls. I went last year with Bill, my big buff hubby, who makes everything look easy. At one point, as I was awkwardly fighting the current, wading and stumbling over uneven river rock, my kayak in tow, he looked back at me confused like “What. Are. You. Doing? How can this be so hard?” Well, guess what, Big Boy? I’m not Bill Crosland so not everything comes easily to me.
So, in memory of that moment last year, I warn Tamara, my sister and Trisha, a dear friend who tolerates my loudness and grand schemes, about this stretch of the trip. “It’s a tough part but only lasts a blip and it’s over. We get through it and it’s smooth sailing,” I say confidently. They show up and follow me into this reality video game of sorts, a series of obstacles awaiting us.
It starts out beautifully. Hardly anyone is at Cane Hollow in White County so the water is still and calm and the mountains and trees serve as a frame creating a gorgeous picture. Cane Hollow has a gravel slope to Center Hill Lake. It is not a state park so you won’t find a paved boat ramp or restrooms just up the hill. However, on the weekends, it is packed with tent campers and people hanging out for the day. Bill and I used to live just down the road, so we frequented Cane Hollow often with our little I-hope-it-starts-boat.
Today we don’t worry about any boat starting. We just put our kayaks in and paddle across this glassy water into the slough right across from us heading for Burgess Falls. At the first sign of a bit of shade, we stop and eat our picnic lunch. We picked up sandwiches at Sheer Delights on the way to the lake but opted to wait and eat them until we were on the water because sandwiches always taste better on the water. After our lunch, we paddle on, winding around bend after bend, spotting blue herons, turtles, jumping fish, pink swamp mallow, and indigo buntings. Peaceful, relaxing kayaking.
Burgess Falls White Water
And then… BAM!…out of nowhere we hit a current running against us. We start paddling hard. No, I mean, leaning forward, digging in, pulling with all our might kind of paddling. We make it through and Tam and Trisha look at me, question marks on their faces, but I have no words of assurance because I can see more white water up ahead. It is going to get worse before it gets better. Yikes!
This next part requires us getting out and navigating slippery river rock while tugging our boats upstream. We try tying two of our boats together so we can help each other paddle. (Bad idea. Don’t do this.) We end up each paddling as hard as we can until the current finally wins and starts turning our boats around, then jumping out frantically to avoid losing ground, then wading over uneven river rock as the water pummels against us all the while dragging our kayaks against this watery force that threatens to cut our trip short of the prize.
More Burgess Falls Rapids
We finally reach smooth waters and feel as though we have won a level in our video game. We jump back in our kayaks and paddle a bit until we come upon another section of white water and repeat the combative process. I don’t know how many times we do this. What I do know is that we miss all of the scenery as we fight (and win, I might add) our battles.
I fear Tamara and Trisha revolting, but they keep saying they want to keep going. And, honestly, I am happy they are struggling because it makes me feel better about my big-buff-Bill memory of this very place. I do feel quite bad about getting them into this pickle. I really did remember it as a blip of a difficult part which means one of two things: 1) We will only remember this as a blip of difficulty once we get back home, safe and sound, or 2) There is a lot more water rushing through than there was when Bill and I came last year. At any rate, we finally do make it through this series of powerful-as-Thor currents that tried to make us turn around and quit.
Burgess Falls Boulders
Refreshingly, we find ourselves in a gorgeous serene area of the lake. Our arms are still burning from the war we just survived, but we are relieved that we are once again able to take in the AMAZING that surrounds us. And…we can hear the rushing of the falls! So loud. So exciting.
We park our kayaks when we can go no further and began the little hike to the falls. I didn’t even mention this part to the girls because when Bill and I came, there was a trail to the falls very near where we parked our kayaks. Well, because the steps from the top of the falls to the bottom were heavily damaged last summer, there is now no access for people to get down here (unless you kayak in). And since there is no one ever down here, the path is grown up. Didn’t think of that.
So we decide to walk along the edge of the creek, sometimes trudging through the water, sometimes scaling huge boulders along the side. The rocks are wet and we are slipping and sliding and feeling very old and I’m wondering not if, but when, the girls I once called friends that are trailing me are going to kill me for getting them into this. We catch a glimpse of the falls through the trees and our spirits lift.
Burgess Falls SNAKES!!!
We have almost conquered the treacherous path and won the video game when I see a snake shoot through the water beside me. “It’s okay. It went that way,” I say, after a gasp, feigning bravery and nonchalance. Then no more than a couple of minutes later, Trisha and I hear a shriek behind us. Tamara has stepped on a rock just beneath the water and a snake has come out, swirled around her foot and swam off.
She stands paralyzed save the full body shivers she is having at random intervals. This goes on for about 5 minutes and I realize our chances of conquering the castle and saving the princess are dwindling. I finally hike back to Tamara, once again faking bravery, and say while pointing, “Tamara, you have to keep coming. The falls are right there, just around the bend.”
“I’m coming. Just give me a minute.”
And then, “You all go on.” Surely she knows we aren’t going to leave her alone, stranded on a rock, in snake infested water. She must, because she shakes one last time and then starts moving forward. And we keep going until we see some of the most incredible falls in the WHOLE. WIDE. WORLD.
I’ve seen Burgess Falls many times before. Maybe it is more impressive this time because more water is coming over than normal. Or because we are there completely by ourselves. Or perhaps because together we have battled white water and scraped ankles and burning muscles and slick boulders and too many snakes and made it to the base of this majestic scene that we alone shared. We win. Game over.
And so we celebrate by taking videos and pictures trying to capture the incapturable. We watch the mighty water swirling at the base of the falls and take note of the ample greenery growing everywhere and give credit to our great God for what we now feel a part of…
Until we turn our backs on the falls for the return trip and remember we have to go back through the snaky water, over the boulders, and through the white water. Trisha is behind me and says, “Tamara’s praying.” I giggle but actually I am praying too. “God please protect us from snakes and don’t let Tam see them if they’re there.”
And then, lo and behold, if I don’t see a little head pop up out of the water. I think to myself, surely not another one, but the head goes back down and back up again. (Insert full body shiver.) I start waving Trisha back. Let’s go a different way. As I retrace my steps, I see Another Snake sunning on a rock. Aaaaayyyyy! I’m feeling a little bit Indiana Jones-ish. Get me out of here! We redirect our path and Tam never sees them, just like I had asked God (and probably she had too.)
We finally make it to our kayaks as Tam exhales and says, “Thank you God!” We all bend over laughing and prepare for the return, victory in hand.
The Return Trip
The trip back is much faster since we are traveling with the current. We only get stuck a couple of times then wind our way back to Cane Hollow. We load up and head back to the Green Market in Sparta where our 10 year old niece is selling flowers. We make it just in time and each pay $4 for beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers she has picked. Our great adventure over, flowers in hand, we agree it was a good day (and that we are still friends.) We have had a good workout, enjoyed one of God’s finest creations (the falls, not the snakes), and fought off old age for at least one day.
*Burgess Falls State Park is just off Burgess Falls Road right across the White County line into Putnam County. There are picnic tables and shelters and a playground and fabulous park rangers. I went there often when my boys were little. One time a ranger saw us wading through the water above the falls looking for crawdads and offered to show us all kinds of amazing creatures in the water with a net he had. Another time they brought out some type of large bird and snake to show the boys.
There was a nice hike down to the bottom of the falls but the rain last summer (2015) damaged the steps so now the bottom of the falls is inaccessible (unless you kayak in). There is still an overlook that is open. An afternoon at Burgess Falls State Park would be worth your time! And be sure to check out their website for special events they offer.