Lower Loop Overnight Trail is a 13.2 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Pikeville, Tennessee that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
dogs on leash
If you are considering hiking this trail, please take this review into consideration. It is going to be lengthy, but it is information you need to read before hiking this trail. I recently backpacked this trail with my parents last month (October 2016). After our experience on the trail, I felt passionate about giving a recent, accurate, unbiased review of this trail. Understand that I am an experienced hiker---my idea of hiking is 20 mile day hikes at high altitudes in the rocky mountains.
Prior to our hike, we had to stop at the nature center to get overnight permits. Campsite #2 was full, so we were told we had to stay at Campsite #1 (about 2.5 miles in on the supposedly 13 mile trail). We were given a map of the trail. I am 26 years old and have great vision, and could hardly tell what was on the map. It was hand drawn, no mileage markings, nothing truly helpful on the map other than the general outline of the trail.
To get to the trailhead, we drove a couple of miles down a road leading away from the nature station. The grassy parking area for the trailhead was behind a ranger housing area. We started on the trail. It was grown up in some areas, but not too bad. The trail was easy and flat and winded through the woods. Soon, we crossed the road that we were driving on earlier. The trail continued through the woods. Very flat, easy hike. There was a small foot bridge that crossed over a dried up creek bed. The foot bridge was a nice little sight considering there hadn't been much scenery other than trees, trees, and more trees.
After about 2.5 miles, we came to a sign that said "campsite #1". At the sign, the trail forked, and it was not clear which way the actual campsite was. We continued on up what was the main trail about a tenth of a mile and came up on some other campers. We assumed this was the campsite and we found a secluded spot to camp. The sights were not labeled or anything. You could just tell where people had camped before. The campsite was a nice, flat, woodsy area for camping. There was no water available at this campsite, but there was an outhouse.
The next day, we got up early and continued on. We knew that it was only about 2.5 miles to campsite #2, and figured we would be reaching it pretty soon. So far, there had been no signs on the trail informing you of mileage, so we were using the campsite as a gauge.
Shortly after leaving our campsite, the trail started to descend into the gorge. The descent was very steep. I had to be very careful not to slip. I am 26 years old and in shape, and I almost lost my footing several times. It seemed like it took forever to reach the bottom of the gorge because we were being so careful with our footing. When we reached the bottom it was rocky, and the trail was VERY poorly marked. There was a pretty cool suspension bridge that went over a large, dry creek bed. We continued on. I can recall about 5 or 6 times where I, along with my parents, had to literally spend several minutes looking all around, searching for a trail marker. We were also baffled because it seemed like we had gone AT LEAST 2.5 miles, and were wondering where campsite #2 was. We figured it was pretty close and continued on.
We began our ascent out of the gorge. Just like the descent, the ascent was VERY steep. Again, it was very poorly marked. There was a time where it looked like trail ended. There were NO markers anywhere. There was another couple of hikers behind us and we all literally had to walk around for 5 minutes trying to figure out where the trail was. I could have easily gone in the wrong direction, and almost did. Once we found our way, we continued hiking up very steep, slick inclines.
After we finally made it to the top, the trail flattened out again and winded through the woods, similar to the beginning. We kept our eyes out for campsite #2, but still hadn't come across it. We left campsite #1 at around 7:30 that morning, and it was around 12:00. Regardless of how steep the trail was, there is no way that it took us that long to hike 2.5 miles. We were definitely starting to feel slightly concerned, knowing that there was still about 8 or 9 miles to go considering we had not even reached campsite #2 yet.
So, we walked, we walked, and kept on winding through the woods. Where is campsite #2??? We had to have walked for another HOUR AND A HALF before we got to campsite #2, and by this time we were walking quite briskly knowing that we didn't want to get stuck on the trail at night. It was about 2:00 by the time we reached campsite #2. Now, how in the world had we only covered 2.5 miles since 7:30 in the morning? THIS IS NO EXAGGERATION.
There was a water spicket at campsite #2. There was no sign about the water, so we assumed it was clean. It was. Campsite #2 did not look as nice, but it is a flat area good for camping. The trail continued on through the woods on what I think was a dirt bike trail. Nothing scenic. Just more woods. I wa
Definitely isn't a hard trail. We started in at 3 and hit our camp site at 5. We camped between site 1 and 2 at the suspension bridge. Lots on firewood and the sound of the river/creek all night was fabulous. The next day the hike was much longer. Quite a scramble to get from our site to camp site number 2. Confusing trail twists at times but nothing to get overly excited about. Getting back to the parking lot was a bit confusing. We ended up going to nature center and walking the road but it was pretty scary with hardly a shoulder and speeding vehicles around the curves. Would definitely do it again.
Most of the trail was great-- very clear, well marked, etc. But the gorge (the hardest part of the trail) was NOT clear or well marked. Many sections were straight up inclines with little to nothing to help keep your balance.
Have done this trail twice now. It is quite vigorous climbing if you're going up the trail from paw paw. Better going down the rock mountain by starting at Piney. We pushed it both times to do it in about 6 hrs but plan to slow down next time and enjoy the beautiful scenery more.
I just completed this 13 miles as an overnight camp at campsite 2. It was moderate with a little strenuous climb back up the 6-700' elevation to reach camp. We detoured to other trails making it a 15 mile hike total but can be less depending on your route. Beautiful overlooks, creeks and falls. it is well worth it!
Contrary to what the overview says, the lower loop is 12 miles total. We broke it into a leisurely two days with intention of hiking down to the falls, the Paw Paw trail, all overlook side trails, and the upper loop. We opted out of the upper loop since there wasn't much to it.
It's about 2.5 miles to the first overnight campsite and the first stretch is not really difficult but there were a couple of times that we had to scramble off trail because of downed trees. Some of the fallen trees had white blazes on them, so be sure and keep a look out. Despite this, the trail is very well-marked. There was an additional 2.5 miles from campsite #1 to #2 and there is a moderately rigorous climb (about 500 feet over a half mile).
Although there are about three creek crossings, one of them the larger Sugar Cane Creek, these are all dry. It was a drag crossing the suspended bridge over a huge bed of rocks and almost being out of water - but I suppose that's the season. Fortunately, campsite #2 has a really cool working pump well. Overall it's a nice campsite with a small open field. Problem is, people have been trashing it. I took my trash-bag liner out of my pack and picked up at least 5 pounds of trash, possibly 10. Please clean up after yourselves and keep this site nice.
To be completely honest, I wouldn't do this one again at this time of the year. Either way, hiking any trail is better than nothing.
We took this trail with the plan of camping but had to cut our hike short after crossing paths with a timber rattlesnake. Other than that, the first part of the trail was easy (I am new at hiking). It's very well marked with white reflective papers however there are lots of downed trees and it's hard to crawl under and over with a heavy pack on your back. We did see deer which was awesome but could t complete the trail bc of the huge timber rattler. We had zero cell phone reception and was too far away from any road or help from anyone so we just turned around and went back.
Since they do not really a review for this loop, here is what I hiked.....Paw Paw to Lower Loop to Upper Loop to fire lane to TN 284 to get back to the car. It was 6.02 miles to form this loop. There was several area where trees had fallen across the upper trail and had not been cleaned up. 2hr 10min Had my 7 year old golden dragging his tail at the end!
I'm a little baffled by people who are saying the trail is well marked. There are a few places crossing creeks where it can be difficult to find your way. The trail is moderate but very boring overall. I did this trail in the summer and it was extremely hot and buggy. Piney falls was a welcome site...there is actually a side trail under the suspension bridge that has older blue diamond markings that has since been overgrown, that will take you to the edge of the falls if you cross the creek. We were so hot we actually waded through the creek and ate our lunch on the edge of the falls. Campsite 2 has an ice cold well pump that is absolutely amazing. It really was like heaven after an extremely hot hike. Look out for Granddaddy long legs when picking your camping spot. They were everywhere.
This trail was boring. We did enjoy the well pump at camp site 2. The rocks were slippery and there was a difficult climb between campsite 1 and campsite 2. The trail was nicely marked and had no problem staying the course.
What is not to love about this trail except for the instant where you are not 100% positive you will make it out of the gorge. Ahh, the Fall creek falls gorge, going down isn't so bad, it felt like we stepped into a rain forest upon arrival at the basin. This trail gives you such a plethora of ecosystems that it overwhelms your senses with intrigue and a desire to come back for more. The falls at the gorge with the bridge, is breathtaking. The trail up out of the gorge to the second campsite is dangerous so equally breathtaking but in a much less desirable way. Most markers are nonexistent due to what you start to wonder is a purposeful mess of lumber with what was left of a marker buried under rubble. The footing is unstable due to being on top of a rocky bluff. Getting lost is inevitable, because there is virtually no trail for some 500 feet on all boulders. Slipped, got a hefty puncher wound that immediately started gushing blood. It's still visible now after a couple months. It finally regains some similitude of trail after rigorous exploration to find a fallin marker among debris and climbing your way up out through rock and timber. And leaves you wishing you had started earlier so you would not be so pressed for time getting to the second campsite in time to set up before dark. Should I expect any less from Fall Creek Falls, I've learned that I should not. If its an adventure you seek, you are in luck. Maybe they've replaced the markers by now, however from what I am told probably not. Do yourself a favor when you get to the nature center; find a park ranger to give you a ride back to your vehicle or in our case a local country boy who is not afraid of dirty hikers. By this time you are sufficiently exhausted and you're not missing out by foregoing the paw-paw trail, 3 miles through boring trail seems much more than 3 miles at the end.
great trail...pace yourself
This was a fun but brutal hike for me. It was my first hike that wasn't just a couple of miles and I wasn't in shape. It was well worth the tiredness though! The trees were beautiful!
A tough little nut of a trail. Didn't get 5 stars because of several key areas where the trail was poorly marked.
First off, you need to stop at the Nature Center to get an overnight permit. They'll ask if you want a fire permit too. I started at the maintenance building parking lot and hiked 5.5 miles to Campground 2. Campground 1 was only about 2.5 miles in. Both campgrounds are well marked, spacious and are equipped with an outhouse and a well pump.
The first couple of miles was a good workout, but nothing compared to what we encountered after the first suspension bridge. Wow. Boulders. Rocks. Uphill. Downed trees. It was a scramble, and I had a 25 lb pack on my back which made it even more fun. Plus, the trail blazes are hard to see and there is no discernible trail, so pay attention going through here. Once through that, you pop out at a waterfall overlook. Then on to camp 2.
Day 2 was about 6.5 miles, but much less technical/strenuous than day 1. And the sun came out (we were rained on all day and night day 1). There were TONS of spider webs and I think I broke everyone of them with my face - yuck. That aside it was a pleasant day 2.
When you get back to the falls, nearing the Nature Center, there is no sign for the Nature Center - so at the 3 way split, go down the stairs and cross the suspension bridge and there's the nature center. I was pretty tired at that point, so a sign would have been helpful. Again, once you get to the nature center, you should be able to pick up the trail again to get you back to your car. Good luck. I never found a sign or the trail back to the parking lot, so had to walk the road.
FYI - people speed through the park like crazy, there's no shoulder on the road most of the way, so this tactic can be pretty dangerous. But I was pretty much done at that point and just wanted to get back to the car. A sign, people? Would have helped me a lot.
Overall a great trail with some great views of the waterfalls. We didn't see many animals save for a few deer. At night we heard coyote and owls, but it was pretty quiet. We went during the week and we were the only ones out there, so that was nice too. The suspension bridges - I think there are 3 total - are fun too.
A brief overview here, but I'll do an extremely detailed review on my blog. First, I had such a hard time getting a grasp of what to expect for the trail. Reviews were scant - from it was boring to hard as h*ll. Ratings were difficult... After my 1st solo backcountry (Coosa) with bear encounter, blisters & the inclines - I was nervous.
Despite lack of really good maps, the trail is truly well-marked. As someone who gets lost all the time, I did not get confused at all.
The trail is not even remotely difficult. There were 2 very small segments approaching campsite 2 that were a bit slippery or involved lss than 10 mins rock-hopping up an bit of an incline. The only time I was out of breath was at the views.
I started at 9amCT and got to campsite 2 before 1pm. I was not rushing - I was taking a lot of pictures & entering gps data. (It was sleeting & got very cold/windy so I spent several hours collecting wood.) Campsite 2 is not blissfully remote as I heard 18 wheelers barreling nearby all night/day. If I hadn't had 30# pack on, I could have easily completed the Loop in one day. But don't do it. Plenty to take in on 2nd section
Wear shoes with good traction. Bring trekking poles for the rock section - they were quite wobbily. Water at campsite 2's pump was brown, but I filtered w/ my Katadyn (& boiled to make coffee) - i didn't die from it. Wood for campfires are plentiful, but it's a good distance from campsite.
Lots of deer at sunrise & racoons at night. A lot more on my blog...