Laurel Run Park
- ~ 5 miles
- 4:40 duration
- 1066 feet elevation gain
- 4 waterfalls
- 2 geocaches hidden
LakeBum (Rob) and I were wanting to get back into hiking condition after a summer of water activities, travel for me, wedding plans for him, and general busyness. We prefer to do our hiking in cooler weather for a myriad of reasons, and have a big hike planned for New Years that we want to be in shape for.
I had just returned from vacation the night before, but was happy to get out on the trails and stretch my legs a bit. We decided to visit Laurel Run Park in Hawkins County.
I picked Rob up at his house at 8:30 am and we headed for the park. Fall still had not fully arrived in northeast Tennessee, but a few trees were starting to show their color. Fall weather had arrived, though, and it was a chilly morning at about 40°. I was prepared with a jacket, hat and gloves. I hate for my ears to be cold, so was happy for the beautiful hat that my friend Dori had knit for me last year.
We hit the trail at 9:30 am, crossing the creek on the footbridge, and following the path past a couple of log buildings that have seen better days. Rob remarked that they really needed to do something about the roof on the first building, as it is starting to cave in. The floor is also being damaged by the elements. Although these buildings are no longer used, they have historical value and without some intervention they will fall to ruin soon.
Rob wanted to check on his cache hidden on the Canebrake Mountain Overlook Road (CMOR) trail. This trail meets the Laurel Run trail in two places creating a loop. We decided to pass up the first trail junction and hike to the waterfalls first, taking the loop on the way back. The climb from the first junction is shorter but much steeper than traveling in the opposite direction. Besides, we wanted to warm up a bit before starting to climb.
This is not to say that the Laurel Run Trail is nice and flat. In fact, there is a fairly significant hill to climb 3/4 mile into the hike. We had brought with us some containers to hide caches if we found good spots. Our friends Cache Cracker Jacks (Tom and Dori) will be holding a geocaching event here on November 3, and we wanted them to have some new caches to find during their event. When we reached the top of this hill, I decided it was a good place to hide a cache. This will give folks a chance to take a breather before continuing on toward the waterfalls.
I backtracked just a little to find a good place to go off trail, and then bushwhacked up the hillside above the trail. There, I found a nice hiding spot for the plastic ammo box I had in my pack. I hid it, shot coordinates, and then rejoined Rob on the trail.
We continued on until we reached the stream crossing shortly before the first waterfall. The creek was low enough that we were able to cross easily on rocks that have been strategically placed for this purpose. I have made this hike on other days when the water is up, and it is a little trickier crossing.
Just after the creek crossing, Rob found a place to hide the container he was carrying with him. While he was taking care of business, I noticed some flowers blooming by the trail and went over to look at them more closely. They turned out to be wild phlox, which generally bloom during spring and early summer. To see them this time of year is very rare.
When he was finished, we followed the trail to Laurel Run Falls. Many visitors to the park only know about this first waterfall, and turn around after visiting it. But, this park offers three more good size falls, along with some smaller (two to five feet) drops and cascades. We had both visited two of these on several occasions, but had never been to the third. All three involve following unmaintained trails or even bushwhacking at times. But, they are worth it.
We spent some time at Laurel Run Falls taking photos. Rob crossed the creek f and took photos from the opposite side for the first time. They show a totally different perspective of the falls, and turned out quite nicely.
Following Laurel Run Trail past the waterfall, we soon came to the spot where it doglegs and starts uphill toward the boundary between Laurel Run Park and Bay’s Mountain Park. This is also the place where Laurel Run and Kiner Creek join to flow downstream to Laurel Run Falls. At this point we crossed Kiner Creek and had a decision to make. Would we take the high route or the low route to Logger Falls?
Neither route is a clear path. Much of the low route takes you along Laurel Run, sometimes on dry land, sometimes crossing rocks in the creek. The high route follows what was probably a road at some time in the distant past. However, it has become clogged with rhododendron bushes over the years making it tough going. We decided to take the low route.
We arrived at Logger Falls to find it flowing better than we expected. After taking some photos there, we decided that it would be a good day to travel on upstream to see if we could find Upper Logger Falls. We had read about it online, but never made the attempt. The banks are too thick with vegetation to navigate on dry land. On previous visits the creek has been too high to rock hop. Today, the water level was low enough that it looked as if we would be able to make it without too much trouble.
We pushed upstream about 1/2 mile. Our journey consisted of rock hopping, climbing over blow-downs and occasional forays along the bank wherever the vegetation allowed. It was not an easy journey, and we began to wonder if we were ever going to find the elusive waterfall. We had passed a small cascade along the way, and wondered if that was actually the waterfall. However, we kept going, trusting that what we were looking for was bigger than that cascade.
Suddenly, Rob exclaimed, “There it is!” It was still a minute or so before I was in a position to catch a glimpse. Meanwhile, I could hear Rob saying, “Wow!” multiple times. Finally, I saw the falls and just stopped to look.
Upper Logger Falls is four-tiered and flows diagonally left to right down the rocks. It appears to be about 15 to 20 feet high. Rob climbed atop it to explore upstream while I stayed below to take photos. When he returned, he reported that he had seen an outbuilding, indicating that we were probably close to private property. We could also hear a dog barking somewhere nearby.
When we were finished exploring and enjoying the falls, we made our way back down stream to Logger Falls. Along the way, Rob pointed out some interesting growth on a rock in the stream. I had noticed it on the way up, but had not looked at it closely. On first glance, it just looked like the moss on the rock had been flattened in places. As I examined it more closely, I could tell that it was actually two different types of moss or lichen. Describing it is difficult, so I will let the photo I took show the differences. Perhaps a reader that knows more about moss can tell me what kind it is.
It was noon by the time we got back to Logger Falls so we sat on the rocks to have lunch. While we ate I was noticing the blue, blue sky above us, and thought of how it would look from below the falls. After I had finished my lunch, I went over to the base of the falls to take some photos looking up through the water toward the blue sky. I managed to get myself pretty wet in the process.
When we were ready to move on, I stuffed my wet jacket in my backpack as it had warmed up enough to hike without it. We made our way back down the creek to its junction with Kiner Creek. We then followed Kiner upstream to visit Kiner Falls. There is a bit more of a path to these falls, if you know what you are looking for. The key is to stay close to the creek the whole way.
Our journey upstream ended in a grotto with a beautiful view of Kiner Falls. This waterfall is a 30 foot free-falling stream of water that you can walk behind. That is the beauty of this park. Of the four significant waterfalls here, each of them is totally different. Each is in a different setting and has its own character.
Rob went behind the falls to the opposite side, and began looking among the rocks for a geocache that we have both found in the past. It was a metal ammo can hidden by local legend DMflyer (Dennis) in 2004. It was last logged in September 2017. Apparently, a muggle has stumbled upon it since then and taken it because neither of us could locate it on this trip.
We followed Kiner Creek back down to Laurel Run, and then hiked back down the trail until we reached its junction with CMOR Loop Trail. It was then a long, steady climb up it to the highest point, just above an overlook with views of the park and Holston River. Following the loop in this direction has an elevation gain of a little more than 200 feet in 1/2 mile.
We stopped off to check on Rob’s cache, and could actually see from the trail. It had either washed out of its hiding place, or the last finder had not replaced it correctly. Rob replaced it and we checked the coordinates to ensure they were accurate.
When we reached the overlook, we left the trail to check on the first stage of a multi-cache hidden by Cache Cracker Jacks that we had both found in the past. We found it in good shape and ready for visitors during the upcoming event. We then spent a few minutes sitting on the bench at the overlook and enjoying the view.
After our rest we headed down the trail to parking, arriving at my truck four hours and 40 minutes after we had started our journey. Comparing tracking devices, we found that my Garmin watch had recorded a distance of 5.67 miles. Rob’s phone app had recorded 4.6 miles. When we both checked the routes our devices had drawn on the maps we could see that he had a few perfectly straight lines where his phone had lost connection with GPS. I had some overly “squiggly” lines on my map showing that my device was trying to “find” itself on the map in places. We decided that since neither device appeared to give us a perfectly accurate record of the hike, that we would estimate our distance at five miles.
As we were pulling out of the parking lot we had one last surprise. Our friend G.I.* Geo (Kevin) had just arrived to do some trail maintenance. This was indeed a rare sighting, since Kevin has been much too busy in recent months to attend any events. It was great to see him in the flesh and chat for a few minutes.
Along with the two caches we hid during our hike, two more that were hidden later by our friend BackWoods Ang will be published the morning of the event this Saturday. That will be something to look forward to in addition to seeing great friends and meeting new friends.