Ozone Falls is the first wilderness hike that Kairi ever went on. At the time, I was a new mom and still very nervous about anything other than flat surfaces while babywearing, so we didn’t even make it halfway. Now that we live in TN, when I heard about a trail clean-up day at Ozone it seemed like a perfect opportunity to give back, get the kids involved in trail stewardship, and finish the hike.
Located in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, Ozone Falls is only a few miles off I-40, and is thus extremely popular due to its ease of access. Fun note–It was also used in filming of the live action version of The Jungle Book, adding to its notoriety, along with its beauty. I have family very near the trailhead so have driven past a lot since moving, and it’s not uncommon to see both the parking lot and overflow lot across US-70 full on weekends.
The hike to the top of the falls can hardly even be called a hike–it’s about a tenth of a mile along flat slabs of sandstone to Fall Creek, where the water rushes quickly over a ledge. If you are careful, you can stand at the edge and watch the water crashing into the pool below, but getting in the water up here is not recommended; the current is strong, and there are deaths reported each year from people who go over the edge of the falls.
The hike to the base of the falls is short. Adults and older kids shouldn’t have an issue, but younger kids and babywearing moms will probably find it difficult, especially if there’s been rain recently. From the parking area off US-70, head west for about 100 yards, and after a short scramble down to the road, the trail turns left. From here it is very rocky, descending beside the sandstone bluffs you walked on if you went to the top of the falls. The rocks are very slippery when wet, and a small creek can form along the trail during rainy periods. About halfway down the trail levels out, leading to another view of the falls. To hike the rest of the way to the base, the trail continues its descent to the right of the bluffs, following another short rocky pass before leveling out again between the pool at the bottom of the falls, and where Fall Creek re-emerges from its brief journey underground a few feet west of the falls. Down here you can swim, picnic, or explore more along Fall Creek, before retracing your steps out to get back to the parking lot.
Because we were doing clean-up on our more recent trip we moved at a slow pace, but it had rained that morning, which meant Kairi needed extra help on the rocks. I had Sebastian in our Beco carrier and let him out halfway to the falls. He attempted the final descent on his own, but quickly decided he’d rather be carried after slipping and sliding several times on the wet rocks and muddy ground. Going back up, the biggest challenge was again the slick rocks.
Overall Family-Friendly Rating: 3.5. On a drier day, and with another adult, this would be a great challenging trail to do with kids. Kairi enjoyed herself quite a bit–the trail afforded plenty of opportunities for rock scrambling and puddle jumping–two of her favorite hiking activities–and the bluffs have a couple of recesses that look like small caves that she wanted to climb in. She did need a hand getting back up, but she made it down just fine on her own, and was upset when I told her we weren’t going to swim in the pool at the base of the falls. And Sebastian liked being on his own in the flatter areas–he is going through a “scared of everything” phase or I think he would have liked climbing the steeper, rockier areas as well, and adventurous toddlers should be able to do this trail with a grown-up close by.
However, the hazards here should not be overstated. I would not let a toddler on their own at the top of the falls, and was nervous having Kairi walking up there. There is a brief part of the trail where you are right beside US-70, and then of course if the rocks are slick there are fall hazards the whole way down. As mentioned before it can also get quite crowded here, so take into consideration your child’s comfort level around other people when planning this hike.
All that said however, the trail is so short, and the falls so beautiful, that as long as your family is adequately prepared, Ozone Falls is a great addition to any waterfall-chaser’s bucket list. And because of its proximity to I-40, is a great addition to any road trip through Tennessee!