How to Find Waterfalls Part 4
Seeking Waterfalls in the Cumberland Plateau
Some time ago I wrote a three part series on how to find waterfalls.
It progresses from the first through third parts as beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
It was written as a response to the current political climate of government agencies wanting
to charge fees for public lands. I hope it has been interesting and helpful. I had said
I would write a fourth blog entry in the series for the ultra waterfall geek. I started out to
do it months ago. I reviewed the material and realized how unbelievably obsessive it seemed.
I put it aside awhile and let it simmer. I reviewed the material again and felt no better about it.
I finally deleted the entry on the first attempt.
Only four percent of persons who hike go off trail. I'd bet that only half those go to the extremes to find waterfalls that I do. That means only 2% of people will find the third and fourth blog entries
useful or helpful. I will write them and share them anyway.
Entry number four pertains to the place where finding waterfalls is an additional challenge:
The Cumberland Plateau. The plateau is karst country having nearly ten thousand caves.
The geology is fascinating and beautiful ,but presents special circumstances
for locating waterfalls. They may emerge from the ground, fall, then disappear
underground again. The falls may be entirely underground within a cave! Quite often the
streams in the plateau are not shown on maps because satellites map makers use cannot see them.
The stream may not flow above ground all year long.
I will tell my methods of doing this. Be warned! It is very geeky and technical and yes,
What is the Cumberland Plateau and Where Is It?
I'll start by explaining for the unfamiliar what the Cumberland Plateau is. It is a geographic region
that is the southern part of the larger Appalachian Plateau. It includes much of East Kentucky,
runs down through middle Tennessee, and extends further south into northwest Georgia and northern
Alabama. It is a table land that rises above the surrounding land to either side. It is not mountains, but some have described it as a set of "inverted mountains". It has deep canyons and here in this area they are known as "gulfs". The plateau has one of the largest areas of continuous forest land
in the eastern United States. I pointed out that it is a land of caves or "karst". I don't have a count that is one hundred percent accurate, but the last I read was ninety-five hundred known caves.
runs north to south, east to west.
Motivating Factors--Why Look for Waterfalls in the Plateau or Anywhere Else?
Why would anyone want to hunt waterfalls? Waterfalls create negative ions which are beneficial
to both people and animals improving mood, strengthening the immune sytem, and creating better
overall health. They purify the air in this way helping us feel better. Why hunt waterfalls
in the Cumberland Plateau? I can't say for others, but aside from the health benefits I can share
some of my motivating factors. I like the adventure. I like the challenge. I like the comparative
solitude of the region to the more heavily visited Great Smoky Mountains. I crave the isolation
of the areas where some of them occur. I enjoy the ruggedness and ungroomed character of the
terrain. I love them for their beauty. I appreciate the sense of wonder that comes from finding them.
Finding a waterfall that perhaps no one has been aware of carries with it a sense of newness
and a sense of discovery. Exploring and finding waterfalls that are unknown also has for me a
sense of freedom.
I am going to try very hard to not re-write the third blog entry, but a quick review of one key element is probably in order. I cannot bore the reader with repetition, but this is crucial.
Remember the lesson on How to Know a Waterfall Exists ?
You need to re-read the third post and make sure before you move on to this stuff that you
have the other understood. Know how to read a topographic map and "see" waterfalls on them.
The squared off U shape with the blue line crossing it still works in the Cumberland Plateau in many instances! Don't let my descriptions of the intriguing and difficult cause you to think the old
tried and true methods never work here, for they still do!
Above is the answer key from the Find the Waterfall map quiz. The red circles indicate
where the waterfalls are located. You can do the same thing in the Cumberland Plateau.
Resources to use are:
Topographic maps of the area,
DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for Tennesee, Kentucky, Georgia, or Alabama.
Google Earth--satellite view
Tennessee Landforms *
(pay close attention for this is gonna be on the quiz later and TN landforms is not going
to be ONLY used like you think! )
Websites for Cavers
Websites for Kayakers
ATV Trail Forums
Places to Look
Paper Company Lands aka Bowater or other timber company tracts
National Parks or Recreation Areas
Wild and Scenic Rivers
Wildlife Management Areas
Abandoned housing developments
Abandoned business ventures -golf courses, resorts
State Natural Areas
Locally Known Areas that are OK to Go and Are visited but not advertised or well known by outsiders.
Methods and Techniques
Now that I have listed the places to look maybe you're wondering how to make use
of them? How do I put feet on finding them? I'll give you some examples of ways to think
and habits to get in that will surprise you. When you go to a campground or resort to stay
a few days you'll no doubt need to check in to their office. Be sure to check their pamphlets
or brochure in the office or that they hand out to guests. Be sure to check their website for a
list of nearby attractions?
Campground and Resort Brochures
Some campground owners have waterfalls on their grounds.
They do not advertise them to outsiders, but they keep them under wraps for their own guests.
Some campground owners have agreements with nearby landowners to permit their visitors
to access little known falls. Some will even have pamphlets printed up with directions.
Example: Adventure Village in NC had brochure with Lemon Falls and Diamond Creek Falls listed.
I had never heard of either of those falls and they were right by the campground. They were very worthwhile to visit and so close. I later learned that some folks hunt and hunt for Lemon Falls.
Cathy and I used the brochure to go right to it. This is also an example of local knowledge!
Talk to People and Let Them Know What You'd Like to Find
Many folks will recollect areas they may have forgotten that are nearby and are Local Knowledge.
Places that are OK to visit, but maybe they've worn it out when they were in high school or college.
They haven't thought about the old party place in decades, but your mentioning looking for
waterfalls may bring it to mind. Thus they can feel good about sharing the knowledge with you
and perhaps tell you 1. Its ok to visit. 2. How to get there.
Folks often get caught up in the trap of being a purist.
I ride motorcycles. I don't hike. is an example.
We ride four-wheelers. We also hike. We bushwhack.
Consequently we tend to see places and find things not everyone does.
Our friends who ONLY hike or ONLY ride fourwheelers don't see or experience
the things we do by staying open. Don't allow yourself to be pigeon holed.
Many wildlife management areas or four-wheeling areas have beautiful natural features
Access their forums and read up or post questions if you like
Cumberland Mudders ATV Forums
Windrock ATV Park
Rainbow Falls and Cave above is an example of a falls that lies in a popular ATV and jeep riding area. It emerges from the ground and flows right back into the ground without a stream.
Wildlife Management Areas
Folks think of hunting and WMA's. They are actually multi use areas much of the year.
Activities permitted include hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding,
mountain biking in addition to four wheeling, hunting and fishing. Observe the rules and be familiar with when hunting seasons start and stop. Wear blaze orange when it is required.
Don't be afraid to utilize these areas for many beautiful waterfalls occur here!
Make use of and participate in area grottos or caving organizations.
Some waterfalls occur inside caves and in most cases regular folks lack the
knowledge of ropes, cave navigation and all around experience to find those.
That doesn't mean you should NEVER go or try. Let the grotto take you for a
test run and see how you like it. Caving is not for everyone, but some love it.
Tennessee has some awesome waterfall caves. Below are a few links to just SOME
of the grottoes to be checked out.
Upper Cumberland Grotto
Kayaking Websites and Books
Kayakers are crazy and awesome folks. They list and name practically every drop on a stream.
This is very helpful even if you do not kayak! They are the helper of the waterfall seeker whether they mean to be or not.
Waldens Ridge Whitewater--Creek Page
A Word About State Parks and State Forests
I've learned a few things about State Parks and State Forests. Be careful of assumptions
about state parks you have previously visited and believe you know well. Sometimes
state parks add on newly acquired tracts of land and they don't always share that information
with visitors immediately. They may be building trails, creating better accesses, constructing
parking spots, having maps made up. While they are doing this.. you can still access the
areas before the rest of the tourist crowds. Access is usually legal by then for they have purchased the land and it is state property. They just aren't going to direct you there yet. Examples of this are
Camps Gulf in Fall Creek Falls State Park, Dry Fork Gulf addition, Wheeler Farm addition. All accessible and all have waterfalls. State Forests usually lie nearby state parks and often
are not touristy or well known. They can contain hidden gems off the beaten track.
You won't know if you don't check. Some examples are Bledsoe State Forest, Scott State Forest,
Standing Stone State Forest and Pickett State Forest.
Paper Company Lands
I mentioned that the Cumberland Plateau is one of the largest continuous tracts of forest in the
eastern USA. Trees mean paper companies and tons of forestry services. Bowater has been
very willing to permit visitors for the purpose of hiking and recreation as long as you aren't messing with their trees. Check out maps and not always, but often, where there are paper companies and timber lands you can go to explore and hunt for waterfalls! Some of our prettiest state natural areas
were gifted to us by Bowater.
Abandoned Housing Developments and Resorts
Many areas of the Cumberland plateau have been attractive to developers of land.
The wide open spaces and cheaper land fuel their dreams of wealth, success and prosperity.
The reality quite often does not line up with their dreams. Lack of infrastructure. Relative poverty.
Lack of jobs to support a lifestyle. All these things factor in and cause housing developments, golf courses, and resorts to flounder. Sometimes these things come about because of outright swindlers.
Folks like that want to build near pretty natural features to take advantage of them as selling points.
Check to see if there are any in a given area and find out for yourself what is there. Some established, NOT abandoned housing developments have been built around pretty natural features.
These areas sometimes allow folks to visit and enjoy the views or waterfalls contained there. Doesn't hurt to check!
Review Guidebooks Especially Revised Editions and Updates!I have lots of guidebooks and I use them and read them all. I have found that having so many
and having done this waterfall searching thing for awhile has lead to some complacency.
I had Russ Manning's Tennessee's South Cumberland -40 Hikes Edition sitting on the shelf at my home. I did read it, but in re-reading it for the area I was planning on visiting I noticed something I had previously missed. It has hike descriptions that mention several waterfalls I have not visited and are not even on the database! Just because I had read it cover to cover when I checked it out of the library I believed I had a good knowledge of what was contained. I failed to realize until later that the book I bought was a revised Third Edition. It had some more good waterfalls tucked in there.
Check and check again! You may miss something.
Get out and explore, but before you do let me stack the deck in your favor with some useful
tools and techniques.
Before you go check out your maps, gazetteer, websites to research an area in addition to hiking guides.
Using Tennessee Landforms in Conjuction with Google Maps/Google Earth
Check out Tennessee landforms for the area.
Let me give you a demonstration of how I find some of the neat places I hunt up.
I'll show you what I do on here then I'll go and visit the place and let you know how it turns out!
Let's say I'm wanting to check out a waterfall on Tennessee landforms that does NOT have a photo.
No mention of its height or size. Just a waypoint. Hilliard Falls
is the one I pick to explore. I know it exists, but I don't know anything more about it.
The page lists it as Private. Not on publicly accessible land. Hmm... let me look a little closer at that.
Way point is 35.65056,-85.06111
Note: the above form of waypoint is metric and uses decimals. These are newer and work great with Google Earth or Google Maps.
Not knocking the google maps Tennessee landforms provides for each waterfall, but it lacks some features I like with Google Maps for easy use.
Let's take the Hilliard Falls waypoint and plug it in on Google Maps.
Make sure before you plug in the waypoint you are in "Terrain" mode.
This will show you not only the location of the waterfall, but the lay of the land.
You will need that to tell which way to approach it.
The star is the location of Hilliard Falls. It shows you which roads to take to access it.
One of them is Bowater logging road! That is good news. That probably means
they don't care if you go long as you don't cut down their trees or mess with their logging equipment.
(not sure why sharing the map didn't remain in topo view)
With that bit of knowledge lets switch to SATELLITE view.
Click on the green square in the corner and it flips over to that view.
When I switch to satellite view I can easily zoom in and out. I can see that there is a logging road, ungated leading from the road to a pull off. The logging road goes right down to the falls.
It appears it is being visited by locals. This is the kind of place I would take a chance to go down to see. This technique will open a lot more possiblities to you. It gives you the chance to see in reality
what a waterfall is near. If it is by a house where people live... or behind a gate I would not try to see it. Especially if it is posted. We use this feature on our Smart TV to check on areas.
Sometimes during heavy rain fall you can even see waterfalls that are NOT on the database period.
Unexpected Places to Find Waterfalls on Tennessee Landforms
You know now that Tennessee landforms contains categorized lists of waterfalls, arches, etc.
It also contains a few surprises. Don't fail to check out the Sinkhole List
Go down the list and pick them out for the plateau. Take the way point for each sink hole and enter it
on Google Maps terrain view as you did for the above waterfall. You can look and see if there is any sort of water feature in there? A blue dot or a stream in a sinkhole can offer a promising lead to finding a seldom visited waterfall! Remember though that there are a number of sinkholes in the plateau that do contain waterfalls and nothing shows up on the map! They are worth checking out if you like lesser known places. One way to check to see if the sinkholes listed contain waterfalls?
Check them out on World Waterfall Database.
The sinkholes are name. Enter the name of the sinkhole followed by "Falls" ex. XYZ Falls, Overton County, TN and that should bring up a waterfall with a name that corresponds to the sinkhole name. You can also be sure to check the location of it against the known position on the map.
I will warn you though. It is going to make your list of places to explore a bit longer.
It may also not be real easy to reach some of these places. We went and tried to reach a couple of these during warmer weather. Once the vegetation is grown up and it is hot and snakey it multiplies the difficulty level exponentially. One such place was evidenced by a grove of trees in the middle of an otherwise empty pasture field. No trail into it. Weeds and briars higher than your head.
I will go, but if I am going to get scratched up by briars at least I won't get snake bit to boot.
I found a useful tool it is good to check out before you get out and explore an area in real time.
Panoramio is a side function of Google Maps. It is free. You can create your own account or just use it to explore as a guest. I am interested in finding out of anyone has already been to see Hilliard Falls in Tennessee? I can enter the search term Hilliard Falls and it should bring it up for me.
If anyone has been and visited and posted photos it will display them! A good thing to do is to take your Tennessee landforms waypoints and use them to determine ahead of time if you are interested in going there. I have found a number of good waterfalls thanks to Panoramio. It is a fun tool for exploring and trip planning. One example would be Garrett Mill Falls in Livingston, TN.
I knew from the waypoint and map that the waterfall was supposed to be on Garrett Mill Road.
Enter that as a search term and it does bring up a good photo of the falls!
Garrett Mill Falls comes out of a cave and there are multiple drops to it.
I hope this blog entry will be a useful tool and inspire the reader to explore.
It brings me and my spouse and friends a lot of joy. I cannot guarantee you success, but
I can guarantee you it will be an interesting journey. Getting out exploring this way you will
see things you never expected and find beauty and humor along your path.
Feel free to email me to let me know if this blog entry ends up being useful to you?!
I'd love hearing what you found. Dana's Email Address
Also feel free to join those who appreciate the beauty of the plateau here:
Cumberland Plateau Facebook Group
I was serious when I said I would go to check out Hilliard Falls and report back what I find.
Photos, access, directions, if it sucks, etc. :-)