Some days are just meant to be absorbed like a sponge in water. They beckon you to jump in and soak up all the goodness they offer so generously. It is one of those days. Bray and Anna Kate, my niece and nephew, leap into this day with me as does my friend, Margaret Luna and her daughter, Deandra.
We have decided to go to Fall Creek Falls State Park for a bike ride, hike, and picnic. We load up all the bikes and a picnic lunch and set out for our destination. The route to Fall Creek Falls State Park is an easy 40 minute drive from Sparta, TN on Highway 111 through Van Buren County.
Fall Creek Falls Bike Ride
We enter the park, go all the way to the Inn, then park on the left side of the parking lot nearest the lake. There is a path that starts there and we are eager to be on it. The bikes are unloaded and we all set sail on this lovely bike/walking trail along Fall Creek Lake. Bray and Kate wear their bike helmets as is required in all Tennessee state parks if you are under 16. Deandra barely makes the cut and takes advantage of her freedom.
This stretch could be the flattest piece of land in Tennessee. It only lasts about a mile and a half but is a blessing. The view is stunning. The peaceful lake is to our right. The wooded hillside is to our left. We are moving along nicely until Kate sees a dog and slams on her brakes. A used-to-be-young gentleman is at a bench overlooking the lake with his little dog. Kate always brakes for dogs. We all stop and pet the dog and chat with this man who is on a stroll to loosen up his joints. Then we continue our journey.
We come upon a charming stone wall that extends throughout a small part of our route, separating us from the water, something I will be thankful for later. Then we encounter a big 180 degree curve in the path and I can see Deandra and Bray and Kate on the other side of the water as they are quite a way in front of us.
Hopefully Kate will see a dog to slow them down a bit. We reach a fork in the road and all go to the right except Bray, who wants to go to the left to see if he can beat us. He does but we get to experience a great adventure. A tree has fallen over our path but has not fallen to the ground so we have to lean over, and ride under it to avoid hitting our head. I should have followed Bray.
Margaret said if I had been a tad higher, I would have a concussion. But I wasn’t a tad higher, so we carry on.
Fall Creek Falls Picnic
We reach the picnic spot, park our bikes, and head to the lake shore.
The kids find random lures and tons of little fish! We decide to save some bread from our lunch to feed them.
We pull sandwiches and chips and cookies from our backpacks, bless the meal, and eat on a picnic table overlooking the lake thinking of all the fish waiting on us. We compile a baggie full of bread crusts, stale teddy grahams, and some leftover cheese, just in case fish like cheese. Then we offer up our banquet. The fish do not disappoint and come from everywhere to feast and to entertain us.
Out of food, we get on our bikes once more, cross the road carefully, and continue on to the falls. This part of the trail is not quite as flat but is a breeze…on the way in.
Keep in mind it is just about a half mile. The best part of this section is the little bridge we cross. It is delightful and somehow makes the ride more fun. Before we know it, we are at the falls. THE Fall Creek Falls. We park our bikes at the bike stand and make our way to the falls.
Fall Creek Falls Hike
By the way, you can reach this part of the park by car. There is also a convenient and nice bathroom here which we take full advantage of. If you are not healthy enough to complete a full hike to the bottom of the falls, by all means, do not miss the view of the top.
If you can walk about 50 yards, you can make it to an overlook of the gorge and the falls. It is so pretty and stunning. Don’t miss this even if someone has to carry you.
We linger at the overlook and begin our trek to the bottom. Energy is high at this point. We are going down…with gravity… so we make quick work of the half mile trail. (Don’t let the “half mile” trick you. This is a difficult hike with uneven terrain. When you reach the top again, you will question the “half mile” and insist it is longer.)
The hike requires our attention as the rocks are uneven and would never meet code with one of our New Homes in Sparta. You will be tempted to look down the whole way and miss your surroundings. Take your time and be sure to stop and look up.
There are rocks and banks covered in green moss. The ferns throughout the forest are magical. The sunlight through the trees is like icing on the cake. We come to huge boulders which offer an opening between them.
This is not part of the path but is like the ring to Frodo. We have no choice but to enter. Bray goes in without hesitation, not even looking back to see if we are following…but we are. The temperature drops probably ten degrees between these rocks. No kidding. We round the bend and do some climbing and find ourselves overlooking the trail and on top of the world. Don’t do this. We had to do some real climbing here and then could have easily fallen to our deaths from this ledge. Looking at the pictures, I feel like Frodo after he takes off the ring. What was I thinking?
But it’s really cool to be up there just maybe a little dangerous for your niece and nephew. Don’t trust me with your kids.
We move along until we reach our next adventure. Our path leads under a huge rock overhang.
I feel like we are in an old cowboy movie and should build a fire and look for pictures scratched into the rock wall. If there is a storm in the movie, this is where we will go to escape it. I take a picture of Kate as she pretends to be holding up the rock and Bray looks for etchings.
THE Fall Creek Falls
As we continue, the rock face straightens and rises high above us, dwarfing us. We are close to the falls now and can hear the water rushing which causes us all to pick up the pace. We catch sight of the falls and climb down to the bottom. There is a pool of water at the base of the falls.
I crane my neck up and see the water dropping off the ledge 256 feet above my head. Amazing. I glance back and the kids have climbed upon a huge rock in front of the falls.
I take their picture and then we start looking for crawdads. We find some small ones but are too slow to catch them. Where is Cade? My 17-year-old has always been the go-to guy in times like these. From a very early age, he could catch crawdads like I pick tomatoes off the vine. Cole, my 16 year old, had to work his nerve up.
“Will it pinch me?” Bray asks like Cole used to. I don’t think Cade ever asked. Maybe Cade is exceptionally brave. Or maybe there is a normal thought process and his just skips over a step. This summer my sister had a snake under her outdoor refrigerator. Just the tail was sticking out so Cade grabbed the tail and started pulling. It was working until the snake’s head popped out right beside Cade’s hand. “Two ends to that snake, Cade.” Fortunately, Cade’s thought process told him to release quickly at that point.
“No, the craw dad is too small,” I tell Bray. “It won’t hurt even if he tries to pinch you.” Eventually, he masters the craw dad catching technique, just like Cole did, and we catch a few before releasing them. This ends up being Bray’s favorite part of the day. Deandra hikes behind the falls and Kate hops some rocks that lead to the middle of the pool of water. We could have stayed quite a bit longer but I know the hardest part of our trip is before us and time is getting away.
The Return From Fall Creek Falls
Up we go, this time against gravity. We pass the tall rock face, the cowboy movie rock, the boulders, and the uneven rock path. The half mile back up seems more like 2 or 3 but the kids press on, a little less spring in their step, but no complaining. At the top, we rest on a bench and drink some water and eat some grapes and cookies. Forget the healthy trail mix. We have earned the cookies. The kids are eager to get back on their bikes so we mount our steel horses and giddy up.
So it seems that while we were hiking, this path has turned into an uphill battle. “I don’t remember this being downhill on the way in,” I tell Margaret. She agrees. So maybe I am making a mountain out of a mole hill here but…I’m just saying, the little path is a bit more challenging on the way out. Kate pushes her bike a few times. Her bike has no gears so we talk about momentum and she does a great job pressing on.
Eventually we cross the road. I offer to stay with Kate and let Margaret come back and pick us up. Kate refuses. She wants to finish. Good girl. Margaret takes Kate’s back pack for the rest of the trip. Another family is using our picnic table, enjoying the view of the lake, so we mosey on. The good news is that the remaining part of our trip is potentially the flattest piece of land in Tennessee (remember?) so I am convinced we can make it.
At the fork, we continue straight on, no one even asking if they can go the other way. When we reach the charming stone wall, Kate is swerving a bit, making me a hair nervous. The stone wall is like a net around a trampoline keeping her out of the lake and safe on the path. A squirrel crosses in front of us. Turns out, Kate brakes for squirrels too. It climbs a tree RIGHT beside us and is at eye level clinging to the side of the tree. Kate is mesmerized. I try to get my phone out to snap a picture but end up scaring it off.
Everyone has left us, too tired to see what the squirrel would do next. Kate and I pedal on discussing a good name for the squirrel and find the others at the bench. The older gentleman and his dog are no longer there so we claim it for ourselves and sit a spell. We are super close to the end so our rest lasts only a few minutes and we are at it again.
Hallelujah! We reach the trail head and our truck is waiting for us! After loading back up, we climb in and return to Sparta. We pass deer in a field on the way out just before the kids settle in and get quiet. A little nap for all three is too hard to fight off and they succumb if only for the brief ride back. We take in the grand view of White County as we come off Spencer mountain then are home before we know it.
After dropping off Margaret and Deandra, Bray and Kate and I discuss the falls. We talk about how amazing it is that the water just keeps rushing over the edge. Where is it coming from and why does it never end? No matter what we do or how distracted we get with crawdads and climbing rocks, the water is always just pummeling over the rock ledge.
We decide it reminds us of God’s love – how it never ends, no matter what we do, no matter how distracted we get, no matter how good or bad our circumstances, God’s love just keeps gushing over the ledge upon us. It’s always there whether we acknowledge it or not, believe it or not, want it or not. Maybe that’s why He created it – to remind us of Him…and to help us soak up a perfect day.
*The bike trail we were on is all paved but the first part from the Inn to the picnic table was a bit bumpy. I had a road bike but a mountain bike would be better. Keep in mind that walkers/hikers share the trail so be careful and maybe give your little bikers a heads up if they tend to go in front of you.
*Fall Creek Falls was my family’s sole vacation destination for the first ten years of my life. Located only about 40 minutes from Sparta, TN, it made a perfect little family get away. We fished, hiked, swam, and rode paddle boats. We ate sandwiches for lunch and for supper we ate at the restaurant in the Inn. It wasn’t fancy but it was fun. And I loved it.
*Quick access to Fall Creek Falls State Park is a great benefit to living in Sparta, TN. If you like the sound of it, we would love to talk to you about a New Home in Sparta and other perks of our little town.