Water is restless - always moving and always seeking to reinvent itself in Earth's magnificent cycle. Life-giving rains fall furiously upon a mountaintop launching millions of tiny droplets, each seeping and creeping downward in search of its next state of being.
Some beads nurture elaborate networks of roots while others find themselves whisked away in the rushing waters of rivers and creeks before plunging from precipices into frothy pools below. These waterfalls, surrounded by lush, green landscapes and beefy boulder gardens, rank among Mother Nature's most majestic creations. Their swishing, soothing waters sing soulful songs. Born from the grinding forces of plate tectonics and geology, the region's ridges, valleys and mountains provide ideal terrain and topography for waterfalls.
Whether you travel north, south, east or west of Chattanooga, these wonders of the natural world await your discovery.
EXPLORE LOVELY LAUREL FALLS
Just 50 miles north of Chattanooga, the Laurel-Snow State Natural Area near Dayton showcases two impressive waterfalls.
Laurel Falls, an 80-foot display of tumbling plunge and tiered waters, handsomely rewards ambitious day hikers for their 5-mile roundtrip journey. The moderate trail delivers lovely views as it meanders upstream along scenic Richland Creek, crossing three foot bridges before a steep zigzag ascension to Laurel Falls. The area around the waterfall offers plenty of secluded rocks and openings to perch upon and ponder all of life's mysteries and decisions.
Hikers with voracious appetites for more of nature's splendor can discover relics and remains of the area's logging and mining history, scenic overlooks like Buzzard Point and Dunn Overlook and Snow Falls, a 35-foot waterfall that cascades down rocky formations into a narrow gorge. These points of interest are worth seeing but will require even more trekking time and effort.
VISIT GLORIOUS GREETER FALLS
Greeter Falls is part of the Savage Gulf Natural Area - a trekker's trove of sheer sandstone cliffs, rugged canyons, waterfalls and other natural and historical points of interest.
The trailhead is 3 miles from Altamont, just off Hwy 56. The path passes a swimming hole and historical leftovers of the old Greeter homestead before descending along Piney Creek and taking explorers under some magnificent rock structures. Upper Greeter Falls tumbles gracefully over a 15-foot ledge, but the most prized destination of the 1-mile journey is Lower Greeter Falls. Accessed by a tall spiral staircase, the awe-inspiring lower falls plummet 50 feet into a tranquil swimming hole.
The area also boasts Stone Door, a magnificent 10-footwide by 100-footdeep rock formation resembling a giant door left ajar. According to legend, Native Americans used the natural passageway as a gateway into the wilderness area. The area around Stone Door is a wonderland of scenic overlooks, odd stone formations and mysterious sinks where flowing creeks disappear into the Earth.
BEHOLD BEAUTIFUL BENTON FALLS
Benton Falls is an easy, mostly level, 1.5-mile hike from McKamy Lake, at the top of Chilhowee Mountain, just 15 miles east of Cleveland. The falls are simple, but sublime.
Water cascades down a series of thin, tiered stone ledges falling 65 feet into a shallow, rocky plunge pool. The water stream is narrow at the top and fans out toward the bottom like a shimmery bridal veil. At the base of the waterfall, hikers of all ages and abilities rest, relax, gaze at the waters and pose for photographs before walking another mile and a half back to the campground.
Chilhowee Campground is a lovely area bordering 7-acre McKamy Lake. During the warmer months, the campground offers 80 camping sites with picnic tables, two bathhouses with hot water showers and flush toilets, a fishing pier and three other hiking and mountain biking trails.
DISCOVER DeSOTO FALLS
Just off the Lookout Mountain Parkway on the outskirts of sleepy Mentone, Ala., the western fork of the Little River rushes over rocky ledges-its stream cascading and freefalling more than 100 feet before crashing into an aquamarine pool of water at the falls' base.
The falls are accessible from de Soto Highway (County Road 89). From the parking area, a very short pathway leads to a railed overlook that delivers a great view of the gorge, falls and plunge pool. Other trails lead to more inspiring viewing points.
Six miles away, DeSoto State Park offers more than 20 miles of hiking trails, 11 miles of mountain biking trails, pristine picnic areas, a restaurant, lodge, cabins and chalets. Another nearby point of interest is the Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel, a 74-year-old church built onto a huge boulder of mountain rock.
SIX SECRETS For Better Waterfall Photos
Wondering how to capture the authentic beauty of falling water with your own camera? Chattanooga photographer Matt Baxter shares six tips for photographing waterfalls.
- Shoot your photos in what Baxter calls sweet light-the early morning or late afternoon hours when the lighting is moderate and even.
- Position your camera on a tripod for stability to ensure clear, crisp photographs.
- Move around and take photographs from different angles.
- Use a slower shutter speed to capture the soft, feathery motion of the water. Baxter uses a shutter speed of 1 second and adjusts his camera's aperture for the correct exposure.
- Use a cable release to snap the photograph and prevent camera movement.
- Consider including foreground elements like rocks, trees and plants in your composition for interest.