Located in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, Black Mountain connects with the Cumberland Trail and provides hikers with stunning scenic overlooks, as well as a geologic wonderland of massive boulders and cliffs.
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Originally, my intention was to comb the rock bed along Richland Creek. Given low seasonal water levels across the Cumberland Plateau, I hoped to observe interesting underlying geological formations. However, things changed when I arrived.
You’ve probably never heard of Paine Creek. It’s a rather obscure creek streaming down a mountain side along the Laurel-Snow Trail, in Dayton, Tennessee. I’ve visited this park before, and traversed the rocky field of boulders along Paine Creek, though always wondered what was beyond the last waterfall.
Early into the hike, I approached a small wooden bridge over Paine Creek. Built upon stone columns erected in the early 1900’s by the Dayton Coal & Iron Company, the area has many remnants from that era, including old mine entrances into the mountain – one of which is situated directly under a waterfall. Once again, I opted to follow a trail spur uphill along the creek, beginning what would on this occasion become a 7-hour journey.
There are several small waterfalls upstream, each of which becomes increasingly difficult to access. Boulders ranging in sizes over 20-feet pepper the landscape, requiring hikers to go around, climb over, or, in some cases, traverse narrow passageways. It would be necessary at times to backtrack, as ones line of sight forward is often imperfect, routes of which subsequently proved impassable.
In addition to sufficient footwear, physical conditioning, food and water, I would suggest that perhaps the most important element for a hiker in such circumstances is discretion – knowing when to say no, so as to more closely examine secondary options. The cost of bad judgement can be high, and slippery moss-covered rocks were a dangerous and constant concern.
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Here are a few photographs of small waterfalls along Paine Creek –
Waterfall & Mine
The following photographs feature the furthest waterfall which I’d previously visited, until this hike. In this area, high walls of the gorge envelope the falls on both sides, while the ledge above the falls is beyond reach. A particularly interesting aspect to these falls is that, with the exception of high water levels, the flow of water originates solely from the interior of an old mine entrance. As I would later learn, water from the creek above seeps through an underground passage into this mine. Having a look inside, I could see the front edge of a pool of water, and the footprints of a small animal. Fortunately, no bears!
After enjoying this setting for a spell, it was time to move on – what was above this waterfall? As noted, I wasn’t able to climb the front of the falls, and, the gorge walls stood approx. 50-feet tall. So, I backtracked a short distance to the trail and continued uphill.
After a period of time, and with temperatures approaching 90-degrees, I began to wonder how much further I’d need to travel along this trail before reaching the top. It seemed as if I must have already ascended an estimated 300-feet in elevation, far more than I’d earlier assumed would be necessary.
Onward and upward, I continued my trek and would soon encounter a 30-foot climbing rope secured to a tree on the cap-rock above. After evaluating the scenario – assessing surface conditions as being slippery for footholds, as well as my tripod continually catching the underside of protruding rocks – I opted to remain on the trail, shortly thereafter finding a better way to the top.
Top of The Mountain
Finally on top of the mountain, the trail continued beyond where the climbing rope was affixed, to a ledge with an expansive, scenic view across the valley.
The view was great, although, however faintly, I could hear the sound of water in the distance – downhill, beyond the forest. This was my goal, and so I soon continued along the edge of the mountain as far as I could. At a point, though, massive cliffs forced me into the forest without any path to follow, moving cautiously through the trees, vines, and – oh, joy – a seemingly endless quantity of sharp-thorn bushes.
I was constantly having to untangle myself from the plants and trees, often needing to remove my backpack – again, my tripod was an issue – and, at times, both climb over & crawl under downed trees.
Patience. In such situations, it’s easy to become frustrated. However, rather than plowing through dense foliage to save time, it’s important to remain patient, particularly in an unfamiliar environment. Case in point – on two occasions, reminding myself to slow down allowed for an opportunity to observe rock ledges hidden behind bushes…so, heads up!
Albeit gradual, the sound of running water began to intensify as I continued downhill, until, finally, I could see the creek through the trees below! There was, though, one last obstacle – an 8-foot high ledge with no obvious safe path of descent.
At 56 years old, weighing 235 lbs., and with bad knees – as well as experiencing fatigue from the hike – a drop from that height would be ill-advised, potentially injurious.
Hence, I began searching back and forth along the edge of the ledge to assess my options. Of course, this entailed dealing with more difficult foliage during the process, but I soon found what I considered to be a safe means of descent. I determined that if I sat down on an appreciably steep area of the hillside – covered with a thick, relatively dry moss and dirt – that I could control my speed by inching forward to contact a closely situated tree using my feet. Thereafter, grasping the branchless trunk to climb down.
As anticipated, I moved slowly and the process unfolded without a hitch. It wasn’t until I set foot on the floor of the gorge, however, that the thought crossed my mind –
I really hope there’s an easier way to leave when it’s time to go.
Beyond The Last Waterfall
Yes – I’d finally arrived and there was in fact another beautiful waterfall tucked away in this isolated, pristine gorge! My first order of business, however, was to locate a hand-towel from my backpack, wet it in the creek, and wash away the sweat, debris, bugs, and – caused by the thorns – blood on my legs.
Soon thereafter, following a careful walk-around to survey the area, I heard a rumble of thunder. A light rain followed, lasting for nearly one-half of an hour, and so I took refuge under a tree and rested while enjoying a snack I’d brought along. I didn’t mind the rain, but realized that all rock surfaces would now be extremely slippery and that any steps in the gorge must be undertaken with heightened deliberation.
This video begins by overlooking what would be the spillway above the top edge of the lower waterfall, were a high-volume of water present. Next, a view of the upper waterfall is shown. Last, it finishes where the creek vanishes under a rock wall and into the mine below.
As it turned out, there was a 20-foot uphill scramble across the creek to the left of where this video concludes. Fortunately, the water was low – otherwise, access to this return route would not have been possible. I hiked into the forest, and, eventually, down hill and back to the Laurel-Snow Trail along Richland Creek.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this recount of my recent Adventure At Paine Creek. Thanks for visiting & enjoy the great outdoors!
This was my second visit to the park, and I’ll definitely be returning – there’s simply so much to see! My intent was to visit Snow Falls, a ten mile hike. However, soon after I began – at the first wooden bridge with a small creek – I opted to ascend the boulder-strewn mountainside, where to my delight I encountered a series of scenic waterfalls, as well as an old mine opening towards the top. This was difficult terrain but well worth the effort, though it added 2 hours to my hike…
Beyond an aluminum bridge at the 1.5 mile split, I headed left in accordance with the Snow Falls marker. Following another turnoff (stay right, as left leads to a campsite), I came upon a second creek crossing – an older metal bridge consisting of 3 fifty-foot connecting sections. Then, further along the trail, there’s an area which was poorly marked: rather than continue on the white blaze, hikers should make a short detour, following instead the orange ribbons posted on trees. This sidestep reconnects with the trail, which is clearly marked thereafter.
Missing this turn may cause hikers to spend the next twenty minutes scrambling up a steep mountain covered with slippery leaves. D’oh!
Thankfully, I found the trail again and continued on towards Buzzard Point…
While enjoying a great view to the east from Buzzard Point, I spotted several of these ugly birds effortlessly floating on thermal updrafts – 2 of which dive bombed me. Heads up!
After a brief rest to enjoy a peanut butter sandwich, I backtracked along the ridge on an old logging road which, at its terminus (a cable delineating property lines), has an unmarked trail into the forest at left. Thereafter, coming upon a fork in the path, I stayed left towards Morgan Creek (right leads to another campsite). To get to Snow Falls, one must cross the creek in order to rejoin the trail. However, the water was high, swift and cold…I waded in halfway to my knees, though could see I’d need to commit to crossing a depth over-knee deep (along a slippery, mostly flat rock surface under water), and bailed. Another time!
In summary, this was a very enjoyable hike of approximately 12 miles, though a rather long day. On the trail beginning at 9:45 a.m., I returned to my vehicle at 6:00 p.m., exhausted. Along the way, I shot a few more photographs of Richland Creek…
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Wow! I’ve hiked many areas in the state, but so far none can compare to the plethora of waterfalls as found along the Laurel-Snow Trail To Laurel Falls, located near Dayton, TN.
From the moment I stepped out my vehicle and on to the trail, the sound of running water was loud, present throughout my hike. Though alltrails.com lists the hike at 6.1 miles out and back, a placard at the trailhead cites the total distance as 5 miles. Whatever the case, I definitely added another mile or two exploring off trail – there were photography opportunities around every corner!
The road into the park is filled (no pun intended) with potholes – it’s somewhat of an obstacles course. Thus, drive slowly with caution around sharp turns near steep hills.
Richland Creek was full, with a wonderful blue-green coloration in deeper pools and dozens of small-to-medium size waterfalls visible from the trail. Other water sources – including Paine Creek – were flowing with waterfalls to enjoy while hiking. Also, huge boulders – some 30 feet tall – periodically peppered the waterside.
The trail, formerly a railroad bed of The Dayton Coal & Iron Company, Limited, was mostly hard-pack dirt and flat, though muddy in areas. Though the trail splits (a white blaze leads left along the creek, and, orange ribbons around trees mark a route into the forest, leading to the right), both trails soon reconnect before reaching a new, aluminum bridge. Thereafter, the trail becomes quite rocky, and signs are posted for Snow Falls (left) and the 80-foot Laurel Falls (right).
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Photograph (above, modified) & information (below) from placard located on site.
After the Civil War, saw and grist mills emerged in Tennessee’s Morgan and Cumberland counties. Corn meal, flour, logs, and other goods from the early lumber and pulp industries were shipped along this bridge.
The Cincinnati Southern Railway was built across the Cumberland Plateau here at Nemo in the 1870s. It became part of the Southern Railway system in the late 1890s. Many small extensions like the Catoosa Railroad were built to tap timber, coal, and other natural resources.
The epic flood of 1929 destroyed the means by which workers made a living, ripping up railway lines and washing away virtually every mill and building in its path – just as America sank into the Great Depression.
I recently visited Wartburg, Tennessee, where I enjoyed a 5 mile (roundtrip) hike along the Nemo Bridge Trail to Alley Ford. Located in the Obed Wild And Scenic River National Park, the trailhead begins at the Rock Creek Campground and continues 14.2 miles to the distant Devils Breakfast Table.
The hike to Alley Ford is rated as moderately difficult with several changes in elevation. There is also a very rocky downhill section of the trail near the end which requires deliberate footing. It was a cold 30-degrees when I began the hike, along which I encountered layers of rain-soaked leaves, creating slippery conditions and, periodically, effectively camouflaging the trail.
Along the way I enjoyed seeing many different sandstone cliffs, colorful autumn foliage, a large group of wild turkeys, and, at the end, the Obed River. Due to recent rains, though, many of the river-rocks otherwise visible at Alley Ford were covered in water.
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