Rock Creek Trail
Rock Creek Trail is a 5-mile out and back hike over a mixture of gravel and rocky terrain, offering some of the best views of not one but two of Eastern Tennessee’s waterfalls. The trailhead is located at the Rock Springs Recreation Area in Irwin, Tennessee and begins at a paved parking lot with restrooms, a playground, and picnic tables. An approach trail begins about a half-mile on your left after following a paved road past the lake area.
The "approach" path has three markers, one for the Bicycle Path, Rattlesnake Ridge, and Rock Creek Falls. You could also continue to walk along the paved road and reach the beginning of the Rock Creek Falls but the “approach trail” allows hikers to opt for the more scenic route alongside the creek and take in the rushing sounds of water and wind whispering through the trees.
This section of the trail has green markers until you approach a sign stating Rattlesnake Ridge is to the left and Rock Creek Falls is to the right. Turn left, and eventually, you reach the official beginnings of the Rock Creek Trail.
Here, the trail begins a reasonable descent for the next 1.5 to 2 miles until the falls. Within the first mile of the actual trail, a wooden bridge on the left appears like the obvious way to go but will only take you in a loop and bring you right back to where you started. Instead, continue on the same rocky, dirt path and veer right.
From here, you will come upon four creek crossings before reaching the falls. Each crossing increases in difficulty in terms of finding large enough rocks to hop across and keep your feet dry. It was particularly cold out on the day we went, so the stakes were high for keeping dry. During the summer, this might not be as much of an issue, and I would have just taken my shoes off and walked across if it were warmer out. After the fourth creek crossing, some of the trail’s most intense elevation gains happen until the first fall.
The first fall will be on your left and is visible from the trail, but there is a dirt path on the side to get its best views, which leads to the fall itself. The dirt path of rocks and roots is an extreme descent down, so do take caution if you are not prepared to climb back up; the next fall may be an easier viewing option. Many hikers will unknowingly mistake this for the trail’s main fall, but the trail does continue to a second waterfall. The second fall is much taller and is located in a charming cove-like area. From here, the hike back to the parking lot is about 2.5 miles. Each waterfall offers an excellent location to eat lunch while taking in the scenery. Pictured below is the first waterfall. The waterfall image seen at the top of this post is the second waterfall. Overall I would rate the trail as moderate in terms of difficulty and give it 4 out of 5 stars just because the first portion of the hike on a paved road is not as nice, but the waterfalls are both worth your time!