The Gilbert Gaul Trail located in Fall Creek Falls State Park is a pleasant hike through the woods and along the shore of Fall Creek Falls Lake.
Directions to the Park: From Nashville, follow Interstate 40 East to Cookeville, and take Exit 288, Tennessee 111. Follow 111 for 45 miles south to Tennessee 284 East. The park entrance is on the left. From Knoxville, follow Interstate 40 West to Exit 322 at Crossville/Peavine Road. Turn left at the exit and take Tennessee 101 south. When you reach the 4-way stop at the junction with Tennessee 392, follow 392 through the first traffic light at the junction with Tennessee 127. At the second traffic light, take a left onto Tennessee 101 South and follow for approximately 30 minutes until it dead ends. Turn left on 101 South and drive 4 miles to Tennessee 30. Turn right on Tennessee 30 West. The Park entrance will be on the left in about 5 miles at the junction with Tennessee 284. From Atlanta: Take Interstate 75 North to Chattanooga and follow Interstate 24 toward Nashville. Take U.S. 27 north toward Dayton and then follow Tennessee 111 North to the park entrance on the right at Tennessee 284.
Gilbert Gaul Loop Trail
Distance Round-Trip: 4.04 miles
Named in honor of the painter who once owned a studio on property in the vicinity of the meadow, this hike is a pleasant ramble along the ridges of the Cumberland Plateau and along the shores of Fall Creek Falls Lake. Though Gaul (1855-1919) is known for the Civil War paintings he did for “Century Magazine,” he was also an avid traveler who chronicled his adventures in the American West as well as Mexico, the West Indies, Panama, and Nicaragua.
Caution: This is a relatively new trail and to-date, is well maintained and easily followed. The dirt road can get a bit muddy in places, especially in wet weather. As of this posting, the park has yet to publish an official map of the trail. You will find my rough sketch below.
Trail Directions: The trail begins near Group Camp #2, just past the inn on the left. There is a parking area for the trail and for the Piney Mountain Bike Trail.
Begin the loop to the right, following the dirt road [1: 35º 39’ 22” N/85º 22’’ 51” W]. Follow the deeply rutted and eroded dirt road. I had the pleasure of finding the perfect feather, nearly a foot in length, from a Red-tailed Hawk while walking down the road. There was a very clear presence of birds along the trail from hawks and owls to blue jays and other more domestic species. In addition, there were numerous animal droppings giving testament to the fact that a variety of wildlife use the road during their nocturnal perambulations.
At .937 mile, you will leave the road when you reach an open field close to the site of the Gilbert Gaul homestead [2: 35º 38’ 57” N/85º 23’ 31” W]. Cross the field using the trail markers (to the right) in the field to guide your path. At 1.04 miles, you will leave the field and re-enter the woods at the Gilbert Gaul trail sign to the left.
At 1.2 miles, you will reach a sign to Link Trail to your right. Continue on the Gilbert Gaul Trail, reaching the head of the lake at 1.25 miles [3: 35º 38’ 48” N/85º 23’ 18” W]. In about a tenth of a mile, you will cross a wooden bridge over a seasonal creek, and at 1.57 miles, cross a second wooden bridge over a seasonal creek. The trail winds around the shore of the lake and you can often see evidence that beavers have been at work gnawing trees. Deers, squirrels, and chipmunks are among the wildlife that is most frequently seen. Canada Geese, mallards and other waterfowl can occasionally be seen on the waters of Fall Creek Falls Lake.
At 1.75 miles, you will cross a third wooden bridge over a seasonal creek, and less than a half mile later, you will reach the Frazier Run Shelter, which overlooks the lake [4: 35º 38’ 44” N/85º 22’ 46” W]. Continue to amble along the ridges that border the lakeshore and at 3.41 miles, reach the Cabin Access Trail [5: 35º 39’ 4” N/85º 22’ 21” W]. You will see the cabins scattered along the shores of the lake.
Turn left on the Gilbert Gaul Trail and away from the cabins to finish the loop back to the parking area. At 3.53 miles, you will pass a sign marking the trail at the top of a hill. As you ascend the hill, you may notice an abundance of ferns to either side, which has given this section of trail the nickname, “the fern line.” Shortly after the sign, you will reach an old road that you will follow. In about a tenth of a mile, another trail sign to your left will point you in the direction of the Gilbert Gaul Trail, and at 4.04 miles, you will reach where the loop trail begins.
- Start [35º 39’ 22” N/85º 22’’ 51” W]
- Open meadow [35º 38’ 57” N/85º 23’ 31” W]
- Head of lake [35º 38’ 48” N/85º 23’ 18” W]
- Frazier Run Shelter [35º 38’ 44” N/85º 22’ 46” W]
- Cabin Access Trail [35º 39’ 4” N/85º 22’ 21” W]
- End [35º 39’ 22” N/85º 22’’ 51” W]