Posting for archival purposes. This was our first and only featured trail from our now extinct Featured Trails page.
For the first trail highlight, I'd like to bring to your attention the many State Natural Areas across East Tennessee. That's right, trails aren't just in National or State Parks. There are other wilderness areas that have some of the most beautiful scenery, flora, fauna, you name it.
If you love waterfalls, then the Cumberland Plateau is the place for you. Of course the Smokies, Big South Fork, and many other parks in our area have some wonderful waterfalls in their own right. However, This past spring we traveled to a couple State Natural Areas on the Cumberland Plateau that featured some waterfalls that were to die for. These trails are very lightly traveled on most days. The one to highlight today is Stinging Fork Falls.
Stinging Fork Falls State Natural Area is located west of Spring City. Access to the natural area is via Highway 68. In Spring City turn onto Shut-In Gap Road and proceed five miles to the parking area on the right. The trail itself is only about a mile to the falls from the trail head. When you first start the trail it is nice and mostly flat and the terrain is pretty easy going. There is a little spur trail to a wonderful overlook of Stinging Fork Creek and the gorge it traverses through just before the trail descends into the gorge.
Once you get to the bottom of the gorge, the terrain softens and the space opens up a bit as you meander along the trail towards the creek. Along side the creek, there are several places to pull of the trail and take a gander at the flowing waters of the Stinging Fork Creek. There is one place in particular that would make for a great spot to picnic or let the kids play.
When you are done playing and/or picnicking, onward to the falls. From this spot the falls aren't very far. You can especially tell as you can hear it from this point. While I'm not certain the exact distance, I would guesstimate the falls to be a half mile or less. Of course the trail stays along the creek side and as you venture closer, the terrain become rooty and rocky once again.
Finally, the treasure of the trail shows itself and the reward is well worth the trip. Stinging Fork Falls is a 30' cascade water fall that is fed by the Stinging Fork Creek. Upon leaving the falls the waters, as you have realized by this point continue to travel down stream through chutes and cascade over boulders as it winds itself through the Stinging Fork Gorge.
Total trip distance is roughly 2 miles out and back. Total elevation loss/gain +/- 300ft. One other note of interest, there are plans already to have this trail connected with the Cumberland Trail. You can get more information and maps at the Cumberland Trail Conference website for the Stinging Fork Falls trail.