Why We Love It
Well, everyone likes snowfall in the winter, right? Ok, so this has nothing to do with actual snow, but this 2,259-acre state natural area does have two scenic waterfalls accessible by moderate hikes. This area offers an easy day-trip from downtown Chattanooga that takes you deep into the Cumberland Plateau and deep into the history of the area's mining era.
From a central parking area, the lone trail initially meanders along Richland Creek before forking to go to either of the two namesake waterfalls. The larger of the two, Laurel Falls drops 80 feet into the deep gorge and is accessed by following the right fork of the main trail which ascends a series of switchbacks following the course of Laurel Creek. Taking the left fork leads to the 30-foot plunge of Snow Falls and the trail features the massive 150-foot metal bridge spanning Richland Creek. Each trail choice is approximately 8 miles roundtrip with a moderate ascent of about 900 feet.
Now part of the Cumberland Trail, the Laurel-Snow Trail was the first National Recreation Trail designated in Tennessee. Signs of past mining operations from the 1800s and early 1900s are also apparent along the trail, including a large coke oven built into the rockface of the gorge. Overlooking the deep gorge and the creeks that cut through the rocky terrain are two popular sightseeing spots, Buzzard Point and Bryan Overlook (or Raven Point). Buzzard Point is reached by following the trail to Snow Falls and Raven Point is off the Laurel Falls trail, which forks to the right from the main trail.
Paddle It, Swim It, Camp It and Climb It
During the winter and spring months, the area is popular with creek boaters ready to try the Class III and IV rapids of Richland Creek. In warmer weather the creek's ledges and pools are popular for swimmers. Backcountry camping is also available by permit.