Benton Falls Hike – Parksville Lake Campground
You will find plenty of camping and hiking opportunities just across the Georgia border.
I was lucky to have a number of days off during the Christmas holidays. So after the chaos that comes along with presents, family gatherings, bowl games and way too much food, I decided to take a couple of days and escape to the mountains. I was looking for something new. After a few quick Google searches, I settled on the Tennessee/Georgia border in the Ocoee area.
Plenty of hiking trails, several camping areas and at 3 hours the area was not all that far from the house. Too far for a day trip for me, but from Metro Atlanta it wouldn’t be a bad up and back.
I loaded up the gear early and headed toward Ocoee, Tennessee. The area is famous for whitewater rafting and was the venue for the canoe slalom course during the 1996 Olympics.
I followed Highway 411 out of Georgia to Ocoeee, then headed east on US Highway 64. The highway follows the Ocoee River and the northern edge of Lake Ocoee. After 10 miles you’ll turn left onto Highway 30. Parksville Lake Campground it less than a mile off 64.
I pulled up to find the campground split by the highway—tent camping on the right side and RV camping on the left side. I guess I missed reading this, but the tent campgrounds were closed for winter. Luckily the RV side was all but empty with only three sites occupied. I found a site along the creek, got my tent up, and I was quickly off to Benton Falls.
As I drove to the campground, I had passed the Ocoee Ranger District offices of the Cherokee National Forest and a sign for Benton Falls and Chilhowee Recreation Area. It’s maybe 3 miles back to the Ranger station and Forest Service road 77. This FS road is unlike most I’ve traveled, as it is paved the entire way and wide enough for two lanes of traffic. There are several switchbacks and overlooks along the route. Some amazing views of the mountains and lake.
Chilhowee Recreation Area is a combination of campgrounds, hiking trails and a day-use area for picnics and swimming in McKamy Lake. There is plenty of parking available, especially on a Sunday afternoon with rain in the forecast. Typical Forest Service routine for parking—get an envelope, fill in the information, tear the slip and put it on your dash. The fee was $3.
The trailhead for Benton Falls is next to the bathhouse near the parking lot. There are plenty of signs along the trail making navigating this area very easy. Also of notice was an abundance of “Bears Active In Area” signs in the parking lot and along the trail. I’m used to seeing these signs, but the number of them here had me on alert. I didn’t have any, but I’d say bring some bear spray when you go. That and a hiking partner you can outrun!
The trail to Benton Falls was mostly flat and easy walking. You don’t need to be in great shape for this hike, and the payoff at the end is pretty great. Eventually you come upon the sign for Benton Falls. Turning off the main trail you’ll quickly begin the descent to the base of the falls. This part is a mix of railroad tie steps, stone steps and this day muddy ground. It’s not far and for the most part this is the only real elevation change you encounter. After a couple of slight switchbacks you get a glimpse of the falls from the path. Within a minute you’re standing at the base of the falls.
The falls were flowing steady on the day I was there. There had been some rain earlier in the day which likely helped. There are several large boulders and smaller rocks which allowed me to easily get into the middle of the creek without getting my feet wet. That’s where I plopped myself down for lunch. The change of pace between the chaos of presents being ripped open days earlier and me sitting here alone with my ham and cheese sandwich staring at a 70-foot waterfall was dramatic and welcomed.
I had been lucky with the weather up to this point. After about 30 minutes, a light rain began to fall. I eased back out of the middle of the creek and back up the stone stairs to the main trail. Lucky for me the rain never picked up during my 20-minute walk back to the parking lot. As I was leaving I took a few minutes to drive through the two open campground loops there at the top. I think there are about 70 sites up there. Many of them have electric hookups. There are a few bathhouse with flush toilets and hot showers. There are water spigots scattered through the campgrounds, too. The bath facilities and water are not available during the winter.
As I drove back down the mountain, I got mad at myself for not stopping at the overlook pull-off areas on my way up. The clouds had rolled in now and the views had changed. I stopped anyway and took in the views that were available. I got mad doing that, too. I’m not sure what people are thinking, but the amount of trash and graffiti at these overlooks hacked me off. Is it so difficult to take your empty water bottle back to your car? Be better people.
What I Learned On My Trip To Chilhowee Recreation Area
The road to the trailhead of Benton Falls is paved and wide. The day-use area has plenty of parking, and McKamy Lake’s sandy beach area would be fun during the summer. There are 25 miles of trails, signage is abundant, and Benton Falls is the star of this area with an easy 3.4 mile roundtrip hike. There are 70 camping sites and several bathhouses. They aren’t open year round. Parking costs $3. Non-electric sites are $12, and electric sites are $20. Parksville Lake RV Campground is about 10 miles from the Benton Falls trailhead. There are 17 RV sites and 24 tent sites, which vary in size. The tent side isn’t open year round. The RV sites are and all have electricity. It’s $20 a night to camp. No water at the sites but some spigots are scattered around the loop. There’s one bathhouse with a men’s and women’s side—sink, toilet, warm shower. Fairly clean and well maintained. You can reserve sites in advance for both campgrounds via Recreation.gov.
I do plan to venture back to this area with the family this year. Will try to plan it around the water release dates for the dam system on the Ocoee River so we can see some whitewater. When I do go, I’ll report back in a future blog for Camp, Hike the Southeast.
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