The road leading up to the parking area is a narrow gravel/dirt road with lots of potholes. Our van did fine navigating these but it would have been challenging with more snow. There are tons of spots along the road to park where you could have a picnic or play in the creek. We have had many fun afternoons just playing in the creek without even going on the trail to the falls.
There is room for about 5 cars in the parking area. There are also some places to park along the side of the road near the trailhead. This trail can get very busy on the weekends, so come early if you are going on a Saturday or Sunday. We went on a Saturday this last time, but it was on a cold February day so we only saw a few other people the whole time.
The trail is a slight incline on the way in with well kept blue blazes.
The creek follows the trail to the falls, so you have the peaceful sound of running water the whole way up. You will come to a fork in the trail approximately 3/4 of the way through. As I mentioned above, we always go left here to get to the big falls.
Just after the fork, there is one small creek crossing. In our experiences there, it has always been shallow enough that you can step on rocks to get across. There is one set of wood-plank steps after the creek crossing.
After this, you have a very short amount of the trail left before you reach the falls. The waterfall had such a strong stream of water this time compared to our last trip here in the summer.
Even though the water was icy cold, the boys had a blast skipping on rocks. We had the falls to ourselves the majority of the time we were there which is a rare occurrence on a weekend at Sill Branch.
The boys often ask us to come here specifically, so we know it is one of their favorites. It is a short and easy hike with a beautiful pay off. Even if you don’t feel up to making the trek to the falls, the creek is a lovely place to play in the summer.
One thing worth noting, the area surrounding Sill Branch Falls is apparently a “bear sanctuary” according to Syndey On the Trail. In the 18 years my husband and I have been hiking together, our first bear sighting was at the creek the last time we were here. If you read my camping post, you know that I have a pretty intense fear of bears while my husband has more of what I would call a “healthy respect” for bears. We are trying to instill the latter in our boys. There are many actions you can take to be “bear aware” such as; making noise so you don’t surprise a bear by mistake, not leaving food out in the open, never approaching a bear or bear cubs, looking out for bear tracks or droppings, not running away from a bear, and being observant of your surroundings, (which is smart to do regardless of bears). We carry bear spray with us for extra peace of mind. Remember, I am not an expert, so be sure to research any questions or concerns you have regarding interactions with wildlife. This is an excellent read (click) regarding black bears in Tennessee.
(We were in the car when we zoomed in to take this picture. ⬆️)
The day we saw the bear here, we had been playing in the creek for a couple of hours. We had just finished and everyone was loaded up in the car except our youngest dog. He was still tied to a tree by the water so we could more easily wrangle the boys. I turned, and a bear was walking right toward the creek where we had been playing. My husband quickly untied our dog and brought him to the car. The boys are LOUD already, so we had the “make noise” part covered. Then my husband and I quickly got in the car ourselves. That bear could not have cared less about us. It barely glanced our way and then kept going the opposite direction. It was very anticlimactic, (which I am thankful for), compared to the nightmares I make up in my head about bears. I realize that all situations are different, but the proper awareness and precautions can help you stay safe while you are in the woods.
This was the first time we had been back since we saw the bear. Granted, it is winter time so bears are hibernating. I am not going to pretend it wasn’t on my mind. Truly though, any place you go in the wild, you will have the potential to run into a bear. We have had bears in downtown Johnson City and our neighborhood before, so you have the potential to run into one anywhere around here. It will not keep us from adventuring to this beautiful spot. We will just continue to be “bear aware.”