March 2017 – Looking for a sense of accomplishment? Well I have one for you if you know what your getting into before you start! North Alabama has a hidden gem known as the Walls of Jericho Trail that has two trail heads. One from Tennessee that is a bit easier on the legs and somewhat longer. The other is the beast… A 1000 foot decent into some of the most beautiful scenes that nature has to offer. However, Mother Nature can be deceiving… As she lulls you down into the canyon, she does not reveal the true challenge of this journey which is the hike back out that takes hours to get back to your car and a much deserved ice cold Gatorade waiting in a cooler in your car.
For this reason, you should consider your fitness level (CARDIO), know the trail by reviewing trail maps, a good set of hiking poles is your best friend, plan on 6 – 8 hours so you don’t run out of daylight (unless your camping), consider the weather, wear proper clothes and shoes, carry water or have the ability to filter, have snacks and food, have a safety plan and let someone you know where you are and when your coming out. This is not rocket science, but something that should be considered for all hikes.
As mentioned earlier, this canyon has a 1000 foot decent that requires a good bit of stamina to return to the parking lot. If you pace yourself and “hike your hike” on the way out, you can make it in about 3 hours from the bottom back to the car. Our trip started on the Tennessee side at the parking lot on Highway 79 just into the Tennessee side. The decent actually went very quickly and I would consider this section moderate skill at best because there are boulders and small creek crossings. The trail, which was a series of switchbacks, eventually leads to the canyon floor where there are river crossings. These are made easy by log bridges with railings (seen below). However, in the warmer months, I suggest getting your feet wet if you can safely do so.
The valley of this canyon is quite relaxing and a good place to take a break and enjoy the nature that abounds. At the bottom, you will come across an old family graveyard and field that was likely where crops or structures once were. The graveyard is wired off, so please show these early settlers your respect by observing from your side of the fence wire as you ponder the life of these people and what it took to have an existence in such a beautiful but inaccessible world by old standards . There are several established wilderness campsites that you could stake your tent if you choose. It would certainly make for some interesting ghost stories around the fire with the old graveyard in the background!
After passing through this section, you will likely find yourself around 3.5 miles in and will begin to see beautiful rock cliff that reach far into the sky. Thats when you realize that you have to get back up there to get home. But with all of the surroundings, you are quickly drawn back into your quest to see the prize. This is to see the waterfall, the natural amphitheater and rocks leading into Turkey Creek. It can be a little slow going because the trail tightens up leading into this section of the hike. If it has been raining, be particularly careful because the trail can be quite slick.
The “Island in the Stream”
So, you will eventually come to the final creek crossing that will enable you to traverse the final section to the waterfalls responsible for carving this beautiful area. If the water is low enough, now is a good time to cross onto the small river island and take a sit to ponder where you mind takes you. You will likely see several hikers in this area. They have all have always seemed quite friendly. Soon though, you will have the desire to go see the crowning jewel of this adventure.
After seeing the falls, you will realize that you have to leave at some point and also mentally acknowledge that your trip is ONLY half over. You have read or heard about that climb out, but not experienced it, so your mind will start to tell you stories about the upcoming PAIN you are about to endure. Along the way, hiking back through the valley out to the Alabama trail parking lot, there will be much more to distract you. The forest abounds with beauty.
Eventually, those flowers, flowing streams will again turn into log bridges and lead you to the “Walls” for which this canyon is known. I am sure some can make it faster, but this is where “hike your hike” develops a true meaning. Do not push yourself and rest when your body requires it. Keep hydrated and know that your lower body muscles will let you know that they are clearly aware of what you did to them by the the next morning. No pain – No Gain, but trust me… its worth it. It’s all up hill from here on a series of steep switchbacks with occasional flatter areas that only trick you into thinking “I MADE IT”. Those switchbacks will come back all the way to the car and that waiting cold Gatorade.
Don’t worry though, the human spirit is tough and you will make it back out. You will pass hikers descending into the canyon as you are hiking out. You will think two things: 1. Why are they getting such a late start? 2. Should I warn them of the hike out? Your brain says “No” as its to beautiful not to experience and you also want to share “your” trail pain with others in some warped sense of fairness!
But you will eventually make it, hobble to your car because your legs do not know how to react to this newly achieved level ground, unlock that car and drink that ice cold drink. Accomplished! Check that one off the bucket list, but you will think to yourself…. I am going to return and bring someone so I can watch their eyes light up at this beautiful land. Mission Achieved!
In addition to my advice at the beginning of this entry concerning what to bring, don’t forget what to take out. Mother Nature respects us when we respect her. Leave no trace, carry out your trash, pick up someone else’s. Don’t destroy the plants, move the rocks or leave your mark in a tree. The absence that you were there is rewarding as you know when you do return what to expect again in this little spot on Earth we call Walls of Jericho.