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People are drawn to the Tennessee Overhill to explore its beautiful natural landscapes. One of the major draws is the many waterfalls located throughout the forest. There are over 50 waterfalls in the Tennessee Overhill, ranging from 5 feet to 130 feet. Those listed below are easily accessible by Cherokee National Forest trails. Keep in mind, waterfalls are beautiful, but they can be dangerous. In some cases people have been seriously injured or killed while climbing them. Avoid stepping into fast flowing water. If you must walk into a creek, be aware, moss covered rocks can be very slippery. Be sure to bring plenty of water and enjoy the experience. Please, leave no trace while hiking. All of these hikes are considered day-hikes.
Baby Falls 15’ – FS road 210 (Tellico River Rd). Located right next to the road, this waterfall is a favorite for kayakers. Rocks are slippery. Several people have been seriously injured here so enjoy the beauty from a safe distance. From Cherohala Skyway (Hwy 165) take FS road 210. (GPS: 35.3267, -84.1765)
Bald River Falls 90’ – FS road 210 (Tellico River Rd). These spectacular falls can be seen from the highway bridge on FS road 210. From Tellico Plains take Hwy 165 (Cherohala Skyway) about 5 miles where you bear right onto FS road 210 (Tellico River Road). From that point, it is about six miles to Bald River Falls. At this point, you can also hike on FS Trail 88 to see lesser known falls. The trailhead is located at the falls parking lot on FS road 210. The trail starts at Bald River Falls and works it way upstream. Along the trail you will find Kahuan Falls 10’, Bald River Cascade 10’, Suislide Falls 35’, and Shallow Falls 15’. All the falls are accessible along the trail. Rated easy to moderate. The entire hike is 5.6 miles one way but you do not need to go the entire distance to view all the falls. We do not advise anyone to swim or wade in the river above the falls. The rocks are very slippery and several people have been severely injured and killed when swept away by the water. Located in Bald River Gorge Wilderness. GPS: (Bald River Falls 35.324, -84.17761); (Kahuna Falls 35.3238, -84.1776); (Bald River Cascade 35.3213, -84.17566); (Suislide Falls 35.31886, -84.17462); (Shallow Falls 35.3187, -84.17462)
Benton Falls 65’ – FS trail 131. Located in Chilhowee Recreation Area, the water from Rock Creek cascades down 65 feet of step-like rocks to create Benton Falls. Three mile round-trip hike. Trailhead located at Chilhowee (MacKamy) Lake parking lot. ($3.00 day use fee) Rated easy/moderate. From Ocoee Scenic Byway (US Hwy 64) take FS road #77 to Chilhowee Recreation Area (GPS: 35.14047, -84.5961)
Coker Creek Falls 45’ – FS Trail 183. Three miles round trip. Series of waterfalls/cascades ranging from eight feet to 45 feet high along the trail. Trail connects to the John Muir Trail and Benton MacKay Trail. From Hwy 68 turn onto Bailey Road (located at the “new” Hwy 68 bridge over Coker Creek). Turn left onto paved FS Road 22. Pavement will end, continue for about 3.0 miles where on the left, you will see a Coker Creek Falls sign. FS trail 138 turns left and goes steeply downhill for one mile to trailhead parking lot. (GPS: 35.19727, -84.37028)
Conasauga Creek Falls 35’ – FS trail 170. Short 1-1/2 mile hike roundtrip. Rated easy to moderate. Traveling on Hwy 68 from Tellico Plains, drive 2.4 miles (sign on Hwy 68), turn right onto FS road 341. Look for the large Forest Service sign. Drive 1 mile on pavement, take right fork, travel 1.4 miles then turn right. This road ends after .5 miles at the parking area and trailhead for FS Trail 170. After seeing the falls, hike a short distance down the creek to see the cascade. (GPS: 35.30422, -84.3315)
Falls Branch Falls 55’ – FS trail 87. About 3 miles round trip. Rated moderate – difficult. From Tellico Plains take Cherohala Skyway (Hwy 165) about 18 miles until you reach Rattlesnake Rock Parking Area located on the left side of the road. From parking area follow the trail about 100 feet to a fork, take the left fork to Falls Branch Trail #87. Once at the falls, you may follow the creek downstream to see several cascades. Roundtrip to falls is about 3 miles. Rated moderate plus. Bonus: You can see a very impressive old-growth forest site with huge trees – poplars, buckeyes, birches, hemlocks, yellowwood, and black cherries. Trees are the largest seen outside of the Joyce Kilmer Forest. Be careful along the last section of the trail near the falls as the rocks will be wet, moss-covered and very slippery. Located in Citico Creek Wilderness. (GPS: 35.35479, -84.0644)
Gee Creek Falls 25’ – TN State Park trail 191. Round trip less than 2 miles. Rated easy. Turn off Hwy 411 in Delano, TN onto Gee Creek Road, which is on the mountain side of Hwy 411. Cross over the railroad tracks and bear right. Travel about two miles. Keep to the right on the road because of limited site distance. Paved road becomes dirt and ends at the parking area/trailhead for the Gee Creek Trail. During the spring the area is covered in wildflowers. At Gee Creek Falls is a small pool that visitors use for swimming. (GPS: 35.247, -84.5261)
Lowry Falls 10’ – FS trail 168. Short hike about 0.4 miles round trip. Rated moderate – difficult. From Hwy 411/Hwy 30 junction near Reliance, travel about 2.2 miles on Hwy 30. Park at Taylor’s Island parking on left side of road. Walk on Hwy 30 for about .15 miles. Sign for trailhead for FS Trail 168 is located on right side of road. Along trail there are several small waterfalls. (GPS: 35.2218m -84.5347)
Turtletown Falls 40’ and Lower Turtletown Falls 20’ – FS trail 185. Round trip 3 plus miles. Rated moderate – difficult. On Hwy 68, turn west at Farner post office, cross the railroad, turn left on Duggan Road, then bear left on Farner Road. FSR #1166 is the first road on the right. Follow the dirt road for 1.5 miles down to the FS Trail 185 located at parking lot. Trail is 3 plus miles round trip. (GPS: 35.1639, -84.35276)
Birds, Blooms & Butterflies
The Tennessee Overhill offers exciting opportunities throughout the year for viewing or photographing birds, butterflies, wildflowers, and other wildlife. From backwoods trails to paved scenic byways, there are plenty of vantage points where visitors can see everything from Sandhill Cranes to warblers. Wildflowers are tucked under the tree canopy of the Cherokee National Forest and scores of varieties of butterflies dip across forest trails and glide over open fields. Fall color extravaganzas, spring wildflower explosions, and winter snows form a colorful and ever-changing backdrop for your adventures into the “wild side of life.”
From backwoods trails to paved scenic byways there are excellent vantage points from which to see everything from Sandhill Cranes, Blue Herons, and other lowland birds to the colorful Warblers that skirt the mountaintops of the high country in the Cherokee National Forest. For those who crave the solitude of the deep forest, there are hiking trails galore. Explorers who prefer the comforts of an automobile will find scenic overlooks where they can sit in the car and spot warblers, woodpeckers, and an occasional eagle.
For a free Birding in the Tennessee Overhill brochure, call 877-510-5765 or click here
Cherokee National Forest
The Cherokee National Forest is home to 262 known bird species! The best time to spot a wide variety of birds is, of course, during the spring migration, which reaches its peak in mid April. Black-capped Chickadees, Ravens, Woodpeckers,and Warblers are in plentiful supply then.
Tips: During late spring and early summer, warblers are in their breeding plumage — their boldest, most vivid colors — and males are actively singing to proclaim their territory. Great places to spot warblers are the Cherohala Skyway, the Chilhowee Overlooks on the Ocoee Scenic Byway, and the Hood Mountain (Big Bend) Overlook on the Hiwassee River
This National Scenic Byway climbs to over 5,000 feet in elevation as it connects Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC. Winding across high peaks in the Cherokee and Nantahala national forests, birders will find numerous overlooks for parking and viewing as well as trails to hike on for a closer look.
Viewing Information: On the trails that lead off the Skyway, hikers can observe such northern birds as Black-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Winter Wrens. Other species to watch for are the Broad-winged Hawk, Common Raven, Wood Thrush, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting and Eastern Towhee.
Tips: At Whigg Meadow and Mud Gap, birdwatchers can relish in the beauty of a scenic grassy meadow overlooking the mountains from an elevation of 5,000 feet. The 1.5-mile hike to Whigg is moderately difficult but for the avid birdwatcher, sighting a Northern Sawwhet Owl is probably worth the effort in late April or early May.
Hood Mountain (Big Bend) Overlook
Located on FS 108, a paved road that follows the Hiwassee River, upriver from Reliance, TN. Good spot to see Eagles and Warblers.
Viewing Information: The drive alongside the Hiwassee River from the Hood Mountain Overlook to the end of the paved road at the Apalachia Powerhouse is known for Blue Heron, Kingfishers, and more.
Tips: Eagles have been spotted along this route for the past several years.
Chilhowee Overlooks(Ocoee Scenic Byway)
Located on FS 77, near Benton, TN. FS 77 is a paved road that is part of the Ocoee Scenic Byway. The overlooks and surrounding forest provide good places to spot Warblers and other species that are found in high places. Located near Chilhowee Lake (Lake McCamy) and campground, this Cherokee National Forest recreational area offers more than good birding and beautiful views — it is also a good place to camp, hike, swim, and bike.
Viewing Information: During spring and fall migration and summer breeding season, watch and listen for migratory birds like Scarlet Tanagers and Blackthroated Green Warblers. During the winter months, listen for residents like Golden-Crowned Kinglets, Pine Warblers, and Carolina Chickadees.
Chota Peninsula on Tellico Lake
Site of the early capital of the Cherokee Indian Nation, Chota Peninsula today provides ideal conditions for wintering waterfowl, including geese, mallards, widgeons, loons and horned grebes. Spring and fall are good times to spot osprey, double-crested cormorants and black tern. Ringed billed gulls are common in the winter. Year round, view white-tailed deer, wild turkey and muskrat.
Viewing Information: Tanasi Memorial and Chota Memorial provide convenient scenic views of the lake and bottomlands. Refuge area closed mid October through mid February. Use caution during small game hunting seasons.
Tips: Secretive rails, sedge and marsh wrens inhabit the wet areas.
Blythe Ferry Unit of Hiwassee Refuge
Mudflats, croplands and ponds near the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers offer outstanding views of large numbers of waterfowl, but the real wildlife spectacle here is migrating Sandhill Cranes. From November through late March, up to 7,000 of these regal, slate gray birds rest and feed on the refuge, the only sizeable gathering of cranes between Florida and their northern nesting grounds. Twenty waterfowl species may also be observed here in winter; most abundant are mallards and black ducks and Canada Geese.
Viewing Information: During the site’s open months, travel on foot along gravel roads and pastures toward Chickamauga Lake. Look for cranes feeding and resting on Hiwassee Island, in cornfields or in flight. Please observe cranes from a distance. An observation tower is here for year round viewing. Area open only to hunters during limited small and big game seasons; inquire with TWRA for dates.
Tips: High probability of viewing cranes and waterfowl throughout the winter. Bald eagles and northern harriers also visit in winter.
If you have never seen a pearly crescent spot or a red spotted purple, then you must visit the Tennessee Overhill in the warm months to view the wide variety of butterflies that dance through the forests and fields.You hear a lot about monarch butterflies, but there are many other kinds of butterflies, all shapes, colors, and sizes. Their names alone conjure up images of the exotic. Tiger Swallowtail, Question Mark, Meadow Fritillary, Painted Lady, Eastern Tailed Blue, Southern White, Buckeye — these are just a few names for the many kinds of butterflies found in the Tennessee Overhill.
Viewing Information: You can see butterflies here from early spring through fall, but if you are hoping to see Monarchs, come in late March and early
John Muir Trail
The John Muir Trail in the Cherokee National Forest is a great place to view and photograph scores of varieties of butterflies.
Tips: Just after entering the John Muir Trail at the Childers Creek trailhead on the Hiwassee River, look to your right at the grassy area to spot large numbers of zebra swallowtails.
Cherokee National Forest
Early spring offers the first glimpse of wildflowers in the Cherokee National Forest and the Tennessee Overhill. That’s when trees begin to bud and wildflowers begin to peep up through the forest floor. In March and April the region erupts with bloodroot, fire pink, trillium, and crested dwarf iris while redbuds and dogwoods shed white and purple blooms across the Overhill. Flowering is generally 6-8 weeks later at higher elevations, so you can follow spring up the mountains. These treasures can be seen from hiking trails that wind deep into the forest or along paved highways and scenic byways..
Viewing Information: Wildflowers bloom beginning at the lowest elevations in March and continue until autumn arrives in the high country. Start along the valleys and lower slopes of the Hiwassee and Tellico rivers, then explore a little higher each week until you make it to the top of the Cherohala Skyway. For fall, reverse the plan – start at the higher elevations then work your way to the lowlands.
Important Reminder: Folks visiting the Cherokee National Forest should not pick or dig up flowers and plants. Due to the increasing numbers of people digging plants from the wild, we are losing a great number of plant species; gene pools are becoming smaller and some species are becoming endangered. Scientists have discovered many wild plants are mutually dependent on other plants in the area and cannot live without the other. So remember take a picture, instead of picking flowers. They’ll last longer and everyone can enjoy the wildflowers for years to come.
Doc Rogers Fields
Located in the Cherokee National Forest, just off Hwy. 68 and the Joe Brown Hwy., at Coker Creek, TN. The fields are an historic farm field next to Coker Creek that is now planted with native, warm weather grasses. Here you can glimpse the kind of grasses that once grew in abundance in the Overhill before cultivation. Stop by the Coker Creek Welcome Center for more information.
Conasauga River Underwater Fish Viewing Area
Springing from the rain-soaked slopes of the Southern Appalachians, this relatively silt-free stretch of the Conasauga State Scenic River supports over sixty fish species, including the federally listed blue shiner, amber darter, and Conasauga logperch, as well as the state-listed trispot and coldwater darters. An exceptionally diverse community of mussels is also present. Guided snorkeling tours are available at select times during the year by calling the Cherokee National Forest at 423-476-9700.
Viewing Information: Equipped with mask, snorkel and a field guide to freshwater fishes, identifying these secretive and colorful fish will challenge adventuresome viewers. The Conasauga River Trail offers easy walking to river access points downstream from parking area.
Directions: From junction of Hwy 64 / 411 south of Benton, TN, travel south 6.7 miles on Hwy. 411. Turn left onto TN 313 (Ladd Springs Road, becomes Willis Springs Road).
Travel 4 miles, then bear right on gravel Forest Service Road 221 (Pea Vine/Sheeds Creek Road). Continue for 4.7 miles and turn right onto parking area for Conasauga River Trail 61.
Important Reminders: Always snorkel with a partner and wear safety flotation gear.
Please do not disturb or collect the sensitive fauna of this river.