Escaping the Summer Heat at Rock Creek

Follow along with outdoorsman and writer Johnny Molloy as he treks through the mountains of Northeast Tennessee.

Just outside of Erwin, lies terrain prime for hiking, camping, and maybe even a dip into the cool mountain streams. Located inside the Cherokee National Forest, Rock Creek Recreation Area makes the perfect mountain destination.

Craving cooler temperatures? The cove of timberland and clear mountain streams that nestle against the backbone of the Unaka Mountains make for the perfect backdrop.


Rock Creek Campground has a deep-woods feel. The white noise of the strong stream is your constant companion here. Loop A and B both offer electrical hookups, and share a modern bathhouse with flush toilets and warm showers. Loop C has a very thick understory for maximum privacy, with sites ideally suited for tent camping. The campground also has campsites large enough to accommodate an RV.


One of the most intriguing features of Rock Creek Recreation Area is the swimming area. The pool is a concrete-and-rock-lined basin of clear stream water, lying behind a small dam. A creek runs into the head of the pool, which is circled by a walkway. You’ll even find the occasional trout swimming with you.

Hiking and Waterfalls

Want to hike? Rock Creek has you covered. Take the 2.3 mile one way Rock Creek Trail to a series of waterfalls deep in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness. The narrow path enters a deep mountain chasm filled with bluffs rising among lush woods.

First you reach a 30-foot cataract called “False Rock Creek Falls” by the locals. Many hikers, in their eagerness to reach the real Rock Creek Falls, think is the main event. A heavily used trail leads to the base of this fall. Ahead, the Rock Creek Trail and Rock Creek come together at the lip of a 12-foot waterfall. Keep climbing.

The trail dead ends in a semicircular natural stone fortress at 2.1 miles. And 50-foot Rock Creek Falls cuts through the heart of it, first pouring over the lip of the cliff, hiding behind a rising rock face. Rock Creek gathers steam then spills again, splashing over mossy rocks, stopping its hair-raising ride amid slaty rocks. Stone bluffs frame the scene. It is almost always cool here, with the wind blowing down canyon, and the spray of the falls misting the mountain air.

Shorter Hike and Bike Trails

Other short hikes leave from the recreation area. The 0.4-mile Hemlock Forest Trail Loop and 0.2-mile trail of the Hardwoods Loop are both great for a quick trip through the woods. Bicyclists have the 0.8-mile Rock Creek Bicycle Trail to enjoy as well.

For any supplies you may need, the town of Erwin is less than four miles away. However, it feels like civilization is light years away, and that’s just how we like it!

Leave No Trace

Remember to leave our trails with no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime. Find out how you can make a difference with our leaders for litter-free Tennessee efforts.

Johnny Molloy is the author of many outdoor guides including Best Tent Camping: Tennessee, Paddling Tennessee, and Five Star Trails Tri-Cities: East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.