text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” -Zig Ziglar
Motivation is a powerful thing. I’ve been in super-motivation mode all summer. My goal the whole summer (something I believed to be realistic and doable) was to hike every weekend. Well, I’m going to end up with a “participation” trophy this year, but I give myself an “A” for effort.
Even though I didn’t hit my mark, I still hiked more this summer than any other. That motivation stuff can be a powerful tool, and now I plan on prolonging this mindset into fall and winter. But, summer isn’t done with me yet. Even though the weather may be cooling down in Colorado, it’s still good and toasty in the mid-west. Which brings me to my next topic: humidity.
Just The Facts
- Trail: Tioga Falls Trail
- Difficulty: Super easy
- Elevation Gain: 200 ft
- Distance: 1 mi. (2 mi. round trip)
- Trail Use: Hiking
- Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
- Bring Your Dog: Yes
- Access: Open Year Round (Great spot for fall leaves)
- Trail Map: www.radclifftourism.org
- Entrance fee FREE
Bringing The Heat
In my neck-of-the-woods (Colorado Springs), humidity isn’t that big a deal. Sure, we will get some days when the mountains look a little hazy, and the sun feels extra intense, but it’s usually gone by late afternoon. Not so much in Kentucky.
Mid-August finds me traveling to Fort Knox and spending some of the last days of summer in about 3000% humidity. I’m not a meteorologist, but I’d say that’s a pretty accurate guess—maybe slightly exaggerated.
If you’ve never experienced that level of humidity, count yourself lucky. Imagine you’ve just washed your favorite cozy blanket. It’s been in the dryer for about 15 minutes, but you can’t wait to wrap yourself in it again. So, you open the dryer, grab it and swathe yourself in the still damp, hot, heavy cover…and then go for a hike. Sounds wonderful…right?
Am I In The Right Place?
Since I’m always on the lookout for a good hike, I wasn’t about to let the afternoon boil deter me. Lucky for me, Tioga Falls Trail is close to Fort Knox. So, oppressive heat or not, I was hitting the trail. Getting to Tioga Falls Trail is actually pretty easy—once you know where to go. I found most of the information, highlighted “Bridges To The Past”, which sounds like a fun walk to do—especially if you are a Civil War buff. You'll access Tioga Falls Trail from the same parking lot, so if you find one, you’ve found the other. My focus was on the prospect of waterfalls and the bridges will have to wait for another time.
Stay On Track
The trail sets straight off into the cover of deciduous trees, immediately crossing a fork of Tioga Creek. Dappled light, from the late afternoon sun, breaks through the dense veil—which provides just the right amount of shade. Northern Red Oak, Yellow-Poplar and Maple trees stand tall along the hillsides. Scraggly ground cover and decaying leaves coat the floor of the forest. Cicadas rhythmic chorus fills the air adding to the music of other insects and various birds. The constant sounds of nature envelops you, and is only broken by the distant alert of an approaching train. The trail parallels the Paducah and Louisville Railroad—which you'll cross over—and is still quite active, so be careful before crossing the tracks.
While the trail is well used and is an easy hike, it can be slick with mud (especially after heavy rain). There are lots of loose rocks to navigate. Just watch your step and prepare for a rocky patch before and after crossing the tracks. Even though the ascent is gentle, the humidity left me looking like an out-of-shape mess. I should’ve sported a more breathable hat—I’m not sure if the one I wore will recover from my sweaty brow.
After about a half-mile, the trail descends toward the sound of flowing water. The splash against stone building as you step closer and closer. As you round a bend you'll find yourself at the base of the lower falls. Tioga Spring—more than a hundred feet above the trail—delivers a constant flow over the tiered, limestone shelves. It isn’t a substantial amount, but enough. If you happen to be here after a good rainstorm, I can picture the scene to be much more showy. Still, it’s a waterfall and that’s always worth seeing.
The upper falls drop to a rocky pool and drains over the wide, smooth stone. Time and an uninterrupted stream of water has carved both tiers into sweeping crescents which shower and spray the walls around them. The golden sunlight filters through the water and sparkles off the droplets suspended in the air. An enjoyable spot to spend the afternoon.
My only disappointment with the trail is the trash. If you have read my Leave No Trace post, then you know I’m sensitive to keeping our environment clean. Styrofoam cups, chip bags, old flip-flops; these don’t belong on the path or around a waterfall. Tioga Falls Trail is a great little hike and one that just needs a little TLC. I hope some like-minded residents can spend some time cleaning it up because I would like to visit it again—just not when it is so humid.