Written by Nathan Kernell, staff writer
DAYTON, TN – One of Dayton’s most celebrated attractions is the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area located just a short drive off of hwy 127. This area showcases the coal and mining industry that accounts for a large portion of Dayton’s history. Although the 2000-plus acre designation is a favorite of the locals and is unlike most other environmental areas because of the remnants left behind by the Dayton Coal and Iron Company, it sometimes casts a shadow over the other natural attractions near Dayton. Dayton is a great town for outdoors and hiking enthusiasts, not because of what is within city limits, but because of what lies just a short distance away.
Fall Creek Falls State Park
Located just 45 minutes away in Pikeville, Tennessee lies the tallest freestanding waterfall East of the Mississippi River. Fall Creek Falls offers wondrous and breathtaking views of the Upper Cane Creek Gorge, just a small portion of the vast Cumberland Plateau. Although the main attraction is the 256-foot waterfall in which the park is named after, five other waterfalls taller than 50 feet also call this park home.
Fall Creek Falls State Park houses more than just running water, but is home to the second most caves of any park in the Eastern US. Over 35 miles of hiking trails twist and turn throughout the gorgeous valley. Steep drop-offs allow for awe-inspiring views of the entire valley. Fall Creek Falls houses one of the Eastern United States’ most astonishing falls, while also offering other sights and activities to interest any nature enthusiast.
Just 45 minutes up hwy 127 towards Rockwood is a 110 foot waterfall nestled along Fall Creek in Cumberland County. Ozone Falls is just a short 15 minute hike from the trailhead. Rather than appealing to a wide variety of interests, Ozone Falls offers a quick down-and-back hike to a picturesque falls and swimming hole.
Located just over an hour’s drive from monkey town, aka Dayton, Greeter Falls offers a very similar experience to that of Ozone Falls, but with more hiking opportunities. Although this hike is a short loop, only about 0.8 miles, three waterfalls can be found along the trail, including the main attraction, 50-foot Greeter Falls, which lies below the two other small but equally picturesque falls. Labeled as an intermediate hike because some difficult terrain can be reached as the falls approach, a 40-foot sandstone cliff that sits just off the trail can offer some limited climbing opportunities for the avid rock-climber.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Cloudland Canyon contains possibly the most complete offering for the widest variety of interests in the entire region. Its main interests lie in two of its many beautiful waterfalls, 90-foot Hemlock Falls and 60-foot Cherokee Falls. The waterfalls trail, the park’s most popular hike, takes trekkers down over 600 stairs and descends over 400 feet to the two falls on a total loop length of around two miles. Although the hike is quite strenuous on the trip back up, the sights are well worth the struggle.
For those whose interests lie outside of the waterfalls held within the park, a long list of other activities and accommodations are offered including camping, climbing, disc golf, fishing and horseback riding.
Rock Island State Park
Rock Island, the furthest journey featured on this list, lies just over an hour away from Dayton. Rock Island can be compared to Laurel-Snow because of the historic ruins that are left behind, but this park shows a different history that involves a textile mill powered by the water that runs through the park. The 800-acre area features what is described by the park’s website as “a 30-foot horseshoe cascading waterfall, located below the 19th-century cotton textile mill that it powered over 100 years ago.”
Kayaking and hiking are what draw most visitors, with the waters offering some of the country’s best whitewater rafting opportunities. Although extremely difficult in some areas, the Caney Fork river offers rafting adventures for visitors of any skill level.