Stinging Fork Falls State Natural Area
Given that the greater Nashville area will be holding steady in the mid-to-upper 90s for the next couple of months, you can bet that you’ll find us heading east to the trails along the Cumberland Plateau, Smokies and Blue Ridge Mountains for cooler temperatures and scenic vistas this summer. Thus was the case when we headed out for a day of hiking waterfalls in Tennessee’s eastern region. Our first destination on our day trip from Nashville was Stinging Fork Falls State Natural Area in Rhea County.
- Scenery: 3.5
- Difficulty: 3.5
- Length: 2.2 miles
- Dog Friendly Factor: 3.0
- Convenience: 1.5
- Bonus Funtimes: 2.5
Scenery (3.5 out of 5.0): The beginning of this trail can’t be much more opposite than the end when you reach the waterfalls. Starting out, this trail is almost arid with a mix of evergreens and prairie grass on the dirt path. The terrain starts to get a little more lively during the quick trek on the spur trail to Indian Head Point. Here rocky terrain starts to replace the dirt path. The overlook actually didn’t provide us any really good views — this might be a different story in early spring or later in fall when the trees along the valley aren’t as filled in with leaves. However, from this overlook we caught the first sounds of a soft rumble from the hidden creek below.
The descent down to the waterfall is when the scenery started taking a substantial turn for the better. The rock-strewn path becomes heavily shaded by the forest. The more you descend during this short hike, green moss starts taking up residence over the small “boulder fields” that become the path. Closer to the creek, you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the smaller falls, about this time we also started seeing lots of mountain laurels in bloom.
At the base of the creek is Stinging Falls, one of the many lovely spots for waterfalls in Tennessee. The day we were there, there was only a trickle streaming down over the falls – but that didn’t make it any less scenic. The cove was quiet and very serene. The little bit of water from the falls tumbled into a swimming hole that was equal parts clear, blue and green. No doubt the serenity of this spot changes dramatically after a rain storm, but the day we were there it was pretty much perfect for taking a dip in the cool, calm waters.
Difficulty (3.5 out of 5.0): The short length of this trail makes judging the difficulty slightly deceptive. Once you begin the decent, the trail becomes very rocky so it’s critical to keep you eye on your footing.There are a couple of spots where the state installed short staircases to help with some of the steeper parts of the descent.
On the way back up from the falls is where our legs really let us know about the difficulty. A couple of short spans left us a out of breath and pausing for a few breaks. However, the good news about those spots are that overall the trail is very short, and while it can be taxing in spots, you’ll be back to the trailhead in no time flat.
Length: 2.2 miles (It took us about 90 minutes, with plenty of time to linger at the base of the falls)
Dog Friendly Factor (3.0 out of 5.0): The dog friendliness of this trail may depend directly on how much your dog pulls while on the leash. While Ezra and Coltrane stayed home on this hike, I imagine they would have made the descent a little tricky by trying to pull on their leashes as we tried to navigate the unsteady, rocky path. Aside from that aspect, this would be a good trail for dogs as there is plenty of chances for a good refill at the watering hole near the waterfall.
Convenience (1.5 out of 5.0): It took us over 2 hours to get to this trailhead from Nashville. For those in eastern Tennessee, however, this is a much more convenient location.
Bonus Funtimes (2.5 out of 5.0): This trail is pretty much out on its own, but there are some great opportunities to linger by the creek and take a dip in the swimming hole near the base of the waterfall.