Distance: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 111 ft.
Trailhead: Colditz Cove
Almost as soon as you enter the hemlock forest that shrouds the Big Branch Creek drainage, you can hear the roar of Northrup Falls.
At 60 ft. tall and with a steady flow of water, Northrup Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls anywhere in Tennessee, and out-ranks just about any other found in the Big South Fork region.
Northrup Falls isn’t actually located in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, however. Instead, it is in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area just outside Allardt.
If you’ve lived in this area for much of your life and have never been to Colditz Cove, you aren’t alone. Because it is small and isolated, this state-protected area is often overlooked in favor of the nearby Big South Fork and other natural treasures that dot the northern Cumberland Plateau.
Colditz Cove includes more than 150 acres of protected land around Big Branch Creek, which flows out of Allardt and eventually empties into Crooked Creek, which in turn empties into the Clear Fork River at Peters Bridge. The stream starts gently enough, then changes in nature when it plunges 60 ft. into the craggy, narrow gorge at Northrup Falls.
Northrup Falls is named for a family who once lived nearby and operated a grist mill just above the falls. The waterfall and the land surrounding it was established as a state natural area in 1973, by an act of the Tennessee legislature. It is named for brothers Arnold and Rudy Colditz, who spent much of their adult lives in Oneida. The brothers donated 42.5 acres to the original 30 acres in 1984, more than doubling the size of the natural area. In 2001, the State of Tennessee purchased another 93 acres to add to it.
The hiking trail that takes visitors to Northrup Falls is a combination loop and out-and-back hike, totaling 1.4 miles. It is a mostly level hike, and relatively easy, though entering and exiting the gorge can be a bit tricky. The hike features only 111 ft. of elevation gain, and will be one of the easiest hikes of the hiking challenge.
From an unpaved parking area at the trailhead, the trail meanders through a mixed oak forest until it begins a slight descent along an unnamed stream that feeds into Big Branch Creek. The forest type changes quickly, with hemlock and white pine becoming the predominant species, and Northrup Falls soon comes into view.
At that point, the loop section of the trail begins. Take a right, following the loop in a counter-clockwise direction around the top of the waterfall and across Big Branch Creek. The trail eventually descends into the gorge, works its way through boulders, and emerges at the waterfall.
The trail wanders into the rock house that the waterfall shelters, and behind the falls itself. The muddy ground can make for some slippery walking until the trail begins to climb up the rocks on the other side.
Once the trail climbs out of the gorge, it’s a short stroll back to the parking area.
Getting There: From Oneida, take U.S. Hwy. 27 south to Elgin, and S.R. 52 west to near Allardt. After 17 miles on S.R. 52, turn left onto Northrup Falls Road. Watch for a small sign signaling the way to Colditz Cove. If you reach the “giant pumpkin” water tower on the outskirts of Allardt, you’ve missed the turnoff. Once you turn onto Northrup Falls Road, it’s 1.1 miles to the trailhead, which is located on the right side of the roadway.
Fun Fact: Arnold and Rudolph Colditz were the sons — and among six children — of Maximilian Colditz and Emma Thieme Colditz, both of whom were born in Dresden, Germany but became naturalized American citizens. The Colditz family were among a group of Germans brought from Michigan to Tennessee in the late 19th century by Frederick Allardt and Bruno Gernt. Allardt was established as a German village. Arnold and Rudy Colditz later became well-known businessmen in Oneida, founding Colditz Brothers Motor Company and playing an instrumental role in getting both Greyhound bus company and Western Union telegraph to locate offices in Oneida. The Colditz Motor Company sold and serviced Chrysler, Plymouth and International Harvester Trucks.
Look For: You aren’t likely to see them — unless you look really closely and get really lucky — but Colditz Cove is home to several relatively rare animals, including the Black Mountain dusky salamander, the woodland jumping mouse, the smoky shrew, the pygmy shrew and the southeastern shrew. The jumping mouse is a particularly interesting critter, with an exceptionally long tail and the capability of jumping nearly 10 feet. It spends the winter in hibernation and is just beginning to re-emerge for the warm season.
Be Careful For: There are several wooden footbridges along the path that can be slippery when wet, and the area behind the falls is muddy and wet.
Make It Better: There’s really no way to make the hike better, but you can sight-see on your way home. Check out Peters Bridge along the headwaters of Clear Fork, detour into Historic Rugby, or return to Oneida by way of the Mt. Helen and Honey Creek communities, which will take you through the Big South Fork NRRA and into the Black Creek Crossroads and Mountain View communities near Robbins.
Share the Adventure: Tag your photos on Facebook and Instagram, #20WeekHikingChallenge, for an opportunity to win prizes (please be sure your post privacy is set to public in order to be eligible for a drawing; otherwise we may not be able to see your pictures).
Remember To: Take your trash with you when you leave the trail, and consider packing out anyone else’s trash you might come across. Remember the adventurer’s creed: “Leave only footprints, take only memories.”