As you travel up the road to the Colditz Cove State Natural Area in Fentress County you might wonder what makes it so special to deserve protected status. The Cumberland Plateau’s rolling hills seemingly stretch out for miles and although beautiful and peaceful, it is hard to picture the “wild” wonders that lie just a few hundred yards away from the road.
The parking lot at Colditz Cove is only marked with a couple of small signs and not much more. One of the signs points to the trail’s beginning. Just beyond it you will find a map of the Cove’s trail system and information on what lies ahead of you. The trail winds down the hill and then parallel to the parking lot as it takes you deeper into the forest.
Before you know it, the main attraction of Colditz Cove is right in front of your eyes. Northrup Falls spills about 60 feet over a large rock ledge onto a stairstep of black rocks below. From this vantage point trees frame your view of this water wonder. However, Northrup Falls are not within your reach.
A loop trail begins at the overlook. If you are bothered by heights go to your right to get to the bottom of the falls. If large rock formations and thick forests are more your thing then go to your left. No matter your choice, the trail takes you to the same place. White markers on trees and other objects keep you going in the right direction. The total trail distance is about 2 miles and most of the trail is easy to walk.
The trail to your left takes you along the top of the “rock house” surrounding Northrup Falls. From several spots you can see down to where the trail runs along the base of this large rock formation. It’s about a 70 foot drop down to the other part of the trail, so don’t get any ideas about taking a shortcut.
Large rhododendrons cling to the rocky ledges along with hickory, oak and pine trees. As the trail wraps around the “rock house” and heads toward the falls the rhododendrons get thicker and when you look up it’s easy to see the tall trees clinging to the rocks and climbing toward the sky for a taste of sunlight.
Several “boardwalks” line the trail in spots where water spills off the rocks, turning the trail into a muddy mess. In just minutes you will find yourself under a huge rock ledge where Big Branch Creek takes its plunge. The trail officially takes a route under the ledge, behind a group of large boulders and behind Northrup Falls. Hikers have also made a trail that takes you straight down to the pool of water in front of the falls. Takes some time and enjoy both views.
Continuing on the trail will take you along side more of the large “rock house” in this small gorge. The trip at the top doesn’t follow as closely to the edge as the other part of the loop trail. There is a crossing over Big Branch Creek on a small wooden bridge just a few feet away from the top of Northrup Falls. (Be sure and stay out of the creek here!)
Colditz Cove State Natural Area is just off TN 52 east of Allardt, TN and just a few miles off U.S. 127. The sign at the road is small, but look for Northrup Falls Road which takes you right to the parking lot. Colditz Cove is just a little over an hour and a half from Knoxville. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and Historic Rugby are both close.
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