Located a little down yonder from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Snow Falls is without a doubt one of the most wild and scenic hikes in the area. With beautifully contoured trails leading past deep coves, blue holes, historic ruins, and breathtaking overlooks, the journey to the 35-foot Snow Falls is not one you'll easily forget.
Here's our step-by-step guide on how to get to there and how to enjoy it:
First, drive from downtown Chattanooga on U.S. Route 27, and head towards Dayton, Tennessee. That means leave the Whole Foods parking lot after stocking up on snacks for the day, and drive past Signal Mountain towards Soddy Daisy.
Take exit 60 towards Sweetwater, and keep the music blaring, as you follow Highway 68 west to Highway 27 before turning left (south) towards Dayton. Next, turn right on Walnut Grove Road (first traffic light). When the road splits, bear left onto Back Valley Road, and then, after 0.7 miles, turn right on the unmarked gravel road across from a small white church.
A small "pocket wilderness" sign marks the road. Follow this to the end of a large parking area. The trailhead is just ahead past the rocks. (Lat:35.52651 Lon:-85.02089)
The parking area is a spacious gravel lot, with plenty of room for multiple vehicles. We recommend taking a good day pack, a couple bottles of water, a few granola bars or trail mix, and a charged camera.
When starting a hike, especially a new one, it's always helpful to stop at the trailhead and look for any new and recent information on the access of the area. You never know, one wrong turn could leave you lost in the dark. And that's one call you don't want to have to make to your girlfriend's father. So check the map, and take a look at your watch before you start.
Now it's time for a glorious 9.6-mile out-and-back hike with beautiful views and a variety of terrain.
Start the hike by heading down the spacious trail alongside Richland Creek, where you'll be trumped by large ridge lines of the Cumberland Plateau. Along the way, you will be memorized by creekside vistas, whitewater rapids, and beautiful climbable southern sandstone.
When going to this wilderness area, it's good to note that this place is beautiful, and bountiful. So, just for time's sake, if you're going to do the full day-trip to Snow Falls, go ahead, and mark off about 6 hours on your calendar. This is a place that deserves a full afternoon dedicated to adventure and exploration.
There is good bouldering and sport climbing in this area, so if you're interested in learning more about the climbing access in this area, stop into Rock/Creek or High Point Climbing Gym before you go, to learn the local beta. The Rock/Creek and High Point staff are very approachable, and are always open to helping you plan a nearby climbing trip. Plus, they know the gear.
As you wander down the trail towards the Laurel Falls and Snow Falls spilt, you'll discover plenty of excellent spots to stop and take a break and maybe even relax and sunbathe on an exposed boulder. Maybe you go no further than here and decide to just hang out by the creek for the day? That's never a bad option, either. Just remember: where ever you decide to stop and enjoy the scenery, please respect these wild places and Leave No Trace.
If you're still looking to trek towards Snow Falls, keep on hiking along Richland Creek for over a mile. This trail is the same trail you'll take to either get to Snow Falls or Laurel Falls, so you're going the right way.
You'll even pass some really cool signs of mining history, as this trail was once an old rail-bed used for hauling coal out of the valley. Years later, the state was able to work with Bowater, a paper and woodlands company, to set-aside this area as a pocket wilderness and to begin building designated trails.
Continue to hike beneath the rugged hills and beside the crystal water of Dayton, Tennessee.
At mile 1.2, the trail begins to narrow, and the markers begin to guide you uphill. On the left, you can see the Dayton Reservoir, which used to supply water to the nearby town of Dayton.
When you've gone about 1.7 miles, you'll encounter a creek crossing over Laurel Creek. Generally, there is a bridge that is accessible. However, it is now closed. And when we say closed, we mean it's now a twisted, weird, and sketchy beast. So... what you should do is cross a nearby log, and not the broken bridge, just like the rules say at the trailhead.
When the trail forks after crossing the log, head left towards Snow Falls along the Cumberland Trail.
From here, travel 2.7 miles to finish the hike to Snow Falls. If you go right, you will head up towards Laurel Falls , which is an epic 80 ft falls that will never disappoint. There is also a campsite that way, along with two really cool views: the Laurel Creek Overlook and the Bryan Overlook. So if you want to bail on Snow Falls at this point and just hang out here, again, this is not a bad option.
Finding Laurel Falls is pretty easy. But Snow Falls can be a little trickier, and obviously a little longer of a hike. Be sure to follow the white blazes, and keep your head up for trail markers.
Public Service Announcement: While it will be easy to be distracted by the wildflowers and the creek, don't forget to keep a watchful eye out for snakes and craggy ankle-twisting rock gardens.
Once you've gone a total of 1.8 miles from the trailhead, you'll see a short path that leads to the Henderson Creek Campsite. It's tempting to stop the hike, and just stay here forever. Just be sure: if you do choose to do this option and want to go camping, make sure you register ahead of time . The gates lock at sunset, and all cars are marked by a TN official.
One of the greatest aspects of this area is that there is so many recreational opportunities. You can backpack, day hike, climb (boulder, and sport), and even paddle at Richland Creek . So next time, when you're not day-hiking to Snow Falls, you can come back to this area and try another activity; like checking out this sick little climbing problem found on the way to Snow Falls.
Once you're about a total of 2.1 miles in, you'll cross three really neat bridges over Richland Creek. This is a great spot to stop and take some photos. In the winter, the bridges can be icy, so use the cables and some gloves to keep your hands warm.
After crossing the bridges, follow a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge. Be mindful of the already marked trail, and don't cut through unestablished areas. It's bad for the environment, and leaves a bad example for new hikers to follow.
Once you've reached the top of the ridge, you can take a left for a .4 mile side-jaunt over to Buzzard Point, which offers a breathtaking view of East Tennessee. After checking out this view, return on the path and then take the right fork at the top of the ridge to head over to Dunn Overlook and continue your way to Snow Falls.
After taking some time to get inspired at the viewpoints, it's important to keep paying attention, as the trail becomes a little less clearly marked from here on out.
And not before too long, after crossing through a young, hardwood forest, you'll arrive at a creek.
That's right. It's creek-crossing time.
After crossing the Morgan Creek, follow the blazes and head straight up to the top of a small ridgeline. It can be hard to miss, so be on the lookout for the markers.
Once on the ridge, the trail will scatter into a few directions, all which will lead you down to Snow Falls. Generally, getting down to the falls, can be a little tricky. But, at the top of the falls, there is a pretty easy down climb to get to the base of the waterfall. Just take your time, and you'll be fine.
And voila, you've made it. Take your time exploring one of the most beautiful and wild places around Chattanooga. Once you've had your fill, it's as simple as retracing your steps on a 4.7 mile trek back to the parking lot. On the way home to Chattanooga, there are a few good Mexican restaurants and one really cool BBQ joint along the way. Once you arrive back to cellphone service, feel free to share your photos by tagging #rootsrated. Happy trails!