Let’s start with the last of those first: reducing the camping fees for TN state parks as much as feasible. While comparing and contrasting our TN park options and finalizing our stay at Fall Creek Falls I noticed that the TN state park camping fee schedule, in addition to adding a couple of bucks to weekend versus weekday costs, was charging an extra $7 to $9 per day for sewage hook ups. Most parks have a pretty big jump in price from dry camping to serviced sites, but this is the steepest I can recall for simply adding sewage on top of electric and water connections.
I didn’t notice it while making reservations for our first TN state park, Cumberland Mountain, but having spotted it here we ended up saving about $50 for our six day stay at Fall Creek Falls. For anything under a week, I don’t see much value in constant sewage connections when I can just dump at the station on the way out of the park; either way I have to connect and disconnect the big hose once.
Every state or county campground system has idiosyncrasies and rate variations, but some are more impactful than others, and I find it worth my time to pay attention and learn a few of the ins and outs of new systems, and revisit those from which we have long been away. Long time readers of this blog may remember when we discovered the Texas State Park “Gotcha” Fee, i.e., the camping costs did not include the actual per person entry fee, thus turning the actual rate from $20 into $30 a night.
Or you might recall Michigan’s even more egregious “double double fee system” in which the camping fee did not include the $9 per day vehicle “passport” cost for out of state visitors, a fee which applied to both the motorhome and our tow vehicle! Of course, both Texas and Michigan offered annual passes that, with enough additional visits, would “pay for themselves” and thus incentivize follow on stays at their state parks. We went with that option in Texas, but Michigan’s system seemed so unfair (and a bit predatory) that we went the opposite route: Grand Haven is the last Michigan State Park at which we have stayed.
Let me be clear: Tennessee’s fee structure is not unreasonable or surprising, but it does reward a bit of research and planning. Moving on…
Waterfalls! Truly one of nature’s coolest displays, and something Rose and I regularly seek out in our travels. Fall Creek Falls has dozens, several of their best readily accessible from the campground, while others require a significant hike for the right overlook.
We satisfied ourselves with some of the easier to access, particularly the park’s name sake, a set of consecutive falls near the visitor center. Turn left behind the center and you end up at a nice set of cascades good for swimming, a bracing “shower” or just photo ops. Turn right and it’s a longer hike down hill to the base of the main falls and a nice swimming pond. We opted for the former, but also made a day trip along with a short hike to one of the secondary falls in the park.
Fall Creek Falls also has a good number of structures dating back to the Civil Conservation Corps era, and we visited several of them during our drives and hikes. We also ran across several structures during our geocaching outings, of which there were several during our stay.
Our trusty Geo Tracker, Loki, came in quite handy, again, during one such venture that took us up some fire trails, ending in a short hike to one of the areas remaining fire towers. I’m not gonna lie: I bet this structure gets condemned or at least blocked off to the public within a few years since parts of it are getting pretty crusty. The girders, stairs, and landings are in solid shape, but the rails at the top and wooden cabin at the top are probably unsafe. We avoided those sections.
The climb rewarded us with a fantastic unobstructed view over the tree canopy. Oh, and a completed virtual geocache, of course.
Another cache outing took us into the woods behind an old CCC pump building, if I recall correctly, while another took us for a hike along the river, and then across via swinging cable bridge.
Given the size of the park and the wonderful things we saw during just a few outings and with little effort, I believe we barely scratched the surface of what Fall Creek Falls has to offer. I would recommend the place as either an excellent detour along the way to other places, or a regional destination on its own.