While doing some research on hikes in Alabama, I came across the Walls of Jericho, a three-mile out and back, six-mile roundtrip hike with waterfalls at the end. It was listed as one of the better day hikes in the state, and it is located on the Alabama/Tennessee border somewhat near where we would be making our next stop with the RV.
Today's plan was to do the six-mile "Walls of Jericho" hike on the Alabama/Tennessee border. It was listed as one of the best day hikes in Alabama, and it is also one of the reasons we decided to stop in Stevenson for a few days.
The reviews I read said to allow for about six hours, and I knew it was approximately 45 minutes to the trailhead, so the plan was to leave at 9:00 a.m. this morning so we could be on the trail by 10:00. We left at 9:00, but then we ran into a little snag.
I had looked at the Google map, and we were given three potential routes all taking approximately the same amount of time.
The route in blue on the map above was about 11 miles closer and it looked like there might have been some interesting twists and turns going through a mountain section. So, that's the way we went. Eventually, however, we made a turn and there was a sign that indicated "No Outlet". Hmm. Does that really mean "No Outlet" or does it mean the pavement ends and we'll be taking a gravel forest road?
I'm always curious and up for an adventure. and we were in a Jeep, so rather than taking the sign at its word, we continued on for about seven miles. Sure enough, there was a road, but it looked like it didn't get much use, and there was another sign that said "No Trespassing" and all unauthorized vehicles are prohibited with the penalty of prosecution and fines. Contrary to our Google Map GPS, the road was closed to the public. We weren't quite that adventurous, so we had to backtrack through the rural countryside dodging the chickens in the road.
We ended up going south to go north and took the middle of the three routes using Hwy 33. Now Hwy 33 was mostly fine, but there is a section of sharp switchbacks where signs admonish trucks to "take an alternate route" and where most RVers would freak out a little.
Eventually, we made it to the Alabama trailhead for the Walls of Jericho. Two things to keep in mind. First, there is a Walls of Jericho horse-back riding trailhead about a mile south of the hikers' trailhead, so you want to continue past that if coming in from the south. Second, there is a Tennessee hikers' trailhead about two miles north of the Alabama trailhead. The trail from Tennessee is longer, but the elevation change is not as steep, so it is an option for those that don't mind exchanging extra distance for less strain. With that said, the Alabama trailhead seems to be far more popular.
While Linda made a porta-potty pit stop, I checked out the trail kiosk ....
and the signs behind the kiosk, one of which pointed to the trail.
Though we didn't meet my original 10:00 a.m. start time, we were on the trail around 10:45.
The trail starts with a nice downhill walk on a well-worn path with red blazes on the trees guiding the way. I had read that the first part of the hike is all downhill with a drop of about 1,000 feet into the gorge.
Fortunately, it was an easy downhill with no stress on the knees or toes. There were just a couple of steeper sections, but Linda was praising the trail construction for the gentle descent. We passed a small stream where there was a bench to rest - it was relatively early in the hike, so went on by noting it for the climb back out.
We continued on following signs and the blazes.
There was one rocky section on the way down. It was a little dicey and slippery but we squeezed through the rocks seeing blazes on the trees below.
However, upon further review, we could have gone around this section on the left, and made it a bit easier for ourselves. Continuing down, the trail makes a series of long, gentle switchbacks all the way down to Hurricane Creek which is supposedly about two miles in. We didn't have our GPS, so I wasn't able to confirm the mileage.
That part of the trail, was, in fact, all downhill, with a good mix of fairly level sections mixed in. Of course, that means it will be all uphill on the way back, but it wasn't as daunting as some of the trail reports I read had indicated. We've done much worse.
A sign at the bottom points to the right to follow the creek.
After a very short distance, we came to a log bridge with a handrail.
It's a pretty spot for a rest, and there is a bench on the other side.
After a quick stop, we continued on. Another sign pointed the way.
We noticed that the red blazes decreased significantly from that point on, but the well-worn trail was pretty easy to follow. After a short climb, the trail leveled out.
We passed this often-photographed tree that is hollow with holes all the way through but still has new growth up above.
After that short, level section, we came to another log bridge. This one crosses Turkey Creek.
The trail remained level as it followed the creek until we passed a primitive camping area and took a left at a barbed-wire fence next to a cemetery. Another sign pointed the way.
From there, the trail continued to follow the left side of Turkey Creek, but it went up and down along the side of a hill. The climbs and descents weren't too bad, but there were some narrow, slick spots. Today, the trail was damp and slippery in spots. On a wetter day, I can imagine it being a bit more treacherous with mud and the combination of wet rocks, roots, and leaves.
Eventually, the rock walls started to close in on both sides of the creek.
The soothing, running water got a little louder as we eventually came to a series of tiny cascades.
At that point we were pretty sure we were close to the end, and I could see the pool I had seen in other photographs. We carefully crossed the slick rocks in the stream ....
and dropped our packs next to the pool where there was a small waterfall. It had taken us less than two hours to get there.
We enjoyed a peaceful lunch and happily agreed to take photos of other hikers with their phones. The pool itself is a nice reward for the hike.
After relaxing for a bit, we scrambled up above the small waterfall, and I took more photos.
This section is known as the "amphitheater" and has more cascades as the walls pinch in.
It was very pretty with the bright blue sky above.
Linda decided she liked it there, so she found a place to sit in the sun and enjoy the flowing water around her. I knew there was more to explore beyond the rocks in the center of the amphitheater.
It's a little more difficult to scramble up to the next section which is hidden in the photo above. After I figured out the safest route, I managed. Here's a shot looking back down toward Linda from the upper section.
The first part of the upper section was dry except for a couple of potholes of water. At the end of the upper section is where a 30-foot waterfall flows in the Spring and after heavy rains. From checking out a few recent trip reports and hearing from other hikers, I knew that the falls were dry right now, so with that knowledge, I wasn't disappointed.
Here is a photo taken in March 2014 from the website Hiking With Lipstick that shows what this waterfall looks like when the timing is perfect.
Photos like that one are what drew me in when I first learned of this hike. If the waterfall had been flowing like that today, this hike would have garnered a higher level of enthusiasm from me. Oh well, maybe another time.
Still, it is an interesting place. With no water in the pool, I scrambled down the rocks into the hole.
When full, this is not a good swimming hole, as the water escapes underground and there are currents that can suck you down and get you caught in the crevices.
Here's a shot from under where the falls would be.
After some nice alone time there, I climbed out and made my way back down to the amphitheater. I was quite proud of myself for being careful and not getting injured. As I walked toward Linda, I stepped on a slick spot and went down. I had been carrying my hiking poles rather than using them, and I was just holding my DSLR camera rather than having it strapped around my neck. The poles and the camera went flying landing with a loud clatter on the rocks.
Except for feeling incredibly stupid, I was fine. More importantly, my camera was unharmed except for a couple of superficial nicks on the plastic casing. Once Linda knew I was okay, she just shook her head as she is always telling me to put the camera strap around my neck when I'm off exploring.
After an hour or so at the Walls of Jericho, we gathered up our packs and started the 3-mile trek back around 1:30 p.m.
The first mile had those ups and downs and the two creek crossings. And then we started the all-uphill climb back to the trailhead.
Linda is our pace-setter, and she was hoofin' it back up the switchbacks. We joke that she goes into "turbo" when we hit the more level spots. But after another mile, she down-shifted and the pace slowed for the last mile. Still, the hike back out only took us two hours, and we managed to pass a family that had started a good 45 minutes or more before us. We were tired and our hearts were pumping, but it wasn't bad for a couple of fifth-somethings that are in decent hiking shape but far from the best physical shape.
Our temperature today was in the upper 70s and the trail is shaded pretty much the whole way. Still we drank almost three liters of water each, and that hydration certainly helped.
The roundtrip six miles can definitely be done in four hours or less, but then add an hour or so to spend at the pool and waterfalls. For those with less hiking experience or not in very good aerobic shape for the climb out, it could take an additional hour or two.
The Walls of Jericho is a nice Alabama day-hike. It's not that exciting getting into the gorge, but the creeks are pretty and there is a nice reward at the end (an even better reward if the taller waterfall is flowing). It was certainly worth doing on this gorgeous Fall day.