Now featuring over 25 photos and a custom trail map, this article will help you plan your next hike at this wilderness and recreation area found on the Alabama/Tennessee border.
Plan a hike at the Walls of Jericho and get ready to enjoy some moderately difficult trails that lead deep into a beautiful forest. You’ll see steep rocky streams, creeks, waterfalls, wildflowers, big hardwoods and some evergreens.
For most hikers, the main attractions are the tall limestone “walls” in the small, narrow canyon at the state line, and three small waterfalls and some peculiar caves that are just inside Tennessee. To visit that area, you must first go down the mountain slope from the Cumberland Plateau’s spine to the creeks in the small valley below.
Once you’ve completed the descent, you’ll cross Hurricane Creek and then Turkey Creek. There’s a low area between the creeks that’s often muddy. After crossing Turkey Creek you’ll come to a fork in the trail at the Clark Cemetery. To best experience the “walls,” especially on a first visit, you will want to take the lower trail that follows Turkey Creek into the small canyon.
NOTE: They updated the foot bridges that take you across the creeks in 2019-20. Previously, large trees were used as bridges.
The stretch of trail from the cemetery, through the canyon to the waterfalls and caves at the upper end is fantastic. You’ll be walking on the rolling, rocky slopes of Little Cumberland Mountain while enjoying the sights and sounds of Turkey Creek.
You’ll come to a point in the trail just below the first waterfall where it takes you right into the creek. On days following heavy rainfall, you cannot get across without walking through the shallow part of the creek, so rubber overboots are handy for that spot, and you may also want to use them back at the muddy area.
If you’re able to cross the creek you can make your way to a multi-level amphitheatre-like cliff and creekbed formation. You’ll have to climb a little to go beyond that point. If you do continue, you’ll reach the upper waterfall which is the largest of the three waterfalls and the end of the trail for hikers, as you cannot go any further without climbing gear.
At the upper waterfall, the water disappears into a horizontal cave. It comes out downstream at a vertical cave across from the amphitheater and forms the cascading middle waterfall.
For me, it’s easy to imagine that the area including the limestone walls, the amphitheater and the waterfalls is actually a cavern without a ceiling.
Why is the hike considered to be moderately difficult?
When it’s time to return to the parking lot, you will face an elevation gain of over 1,000 vertical feet. Luckily, the rise is gradual no matter which trailhead you choose. Take a look at this graphic that shows the elevation profile of the two-mile mountain section of the Alabama hiking trail between the parking lot and Hurricane Creek:
There are also several places north of the Hurricane Creek bridge where you find yourself walking up or down short but steep hills. For the entire hike, I would estimate that 55 to 60 percent of the path is on smooth surfaces while the remainder requires you to carefully walk on rocks or roots.
Where to start
There are four trailheads where you can start a hike that leads to the Walls of Jericho — two in Jackson County, Alabama — and two in Franklin County, Tennessee. Horseback riding is allowed at two of them, but horses do not go all the way to the “walls.”
As a horseless Alabamian, I always park at the Alabama hiking trailhead. Starting there is the shortest option for getting to the natural wonders mentioned above. It’s also the steepest, but just barely. Its parking lot is 66 miles from downtown Chattanooga and 54 miles from Huntsville. Of course, the others are good options, just a little longer in regard to total hiking mileage.
Walls of Jericho trail map
Download a larger version:
The shortest choice: Hiking to the gorge and back from the Alabama hiking trailhead
Measuring just a few yards over 6.5 miles, going in at the Alabama hiking trailhead is the shortest route to the main features found at the state line and just inside Tennessee.
Most people should allow about five or six hours to complete the hike including time for taking pictures and a couple of breaks. But faster hikers typically complete the round trip in about 3 to 3.5 hours.
About a half mile down the trail, the rocks start looking different. Near the top, all the boulders and rocks are made of sandstone. Below about 1,650 feet above sea level, you should notice that the rocks are light gray limestone. In the gorge, the limestone cliffs and boulders have a much different appearance than other gorges of the region such as Little River Canyon and Buck’s Pocket.
If you start in Alabama, most of the hike is in Jackson County which has over 3,500 charted caves — the highest concentration of caves of any county in America. You’ll see a small vertical cave and what looks like a sinkhole within the first mile of the hike.
Getting to the Alabama hiking trail parking lot: MAP
Details about the other trail choices
Each of the trailheads are right off of the same road which is Alabama Hwy. 79 south of the border, and Rowe Gap Road on the Tennessee side. All choices will get you to the foot bridge at Hurricane Creek which must be crossed to enjoy the natural wonders in the canyon.
Using the Tennessee hiking trail to get to the Walls of Jericho. Compared to the 6.5 mile out-and-back hike that starts at the Alabama hiking trailhead, starting at the Tennessee hiking trailhead will be about 1.1 miles longer for a total distance of 7.6 miles.
From the parking lot, you can go left or right on the Mill Creek Loop Trail. Either way will give you about the same distance, and provides a gradual descent. Either way, it’s about 1.5 miles before the loop meets the trail that will take you into Alabama and then down to Hurricane Creek.
It’s about 2.1 miles to the state line and then another 0.65 miles between the state line and where it connects to the Alabama hiking trail near the Hurricane Creek foot bridge.
Getting to the Tennessee hiking trail parking lot: MAP
Hiking to the Walls of Jericho canyon from the Alabama horse trailhead. You can use the horse trail to connect to the Alabama hiking trail. From the horse trail parking lot, you can take the path that parallels the highway to the north and then go left at the Alabama hiking trailhead. That hike will have a total distance of about 8.6 miles, out and back.
Alternately, you can take the path that goes south from the horse parking lot and take a loop that turns back to the north and eventually connects to the hiking trail on the mountain slope. The total hike distance, if you go out and back, would be about 11.6 miles. For even more distance, take a longer loop that eventually reaches the small valley near where Turkey Creek empties into Hurricane Creek. An out-and-back hike on that path would total about 12.5 miles. Of course, if you use either of those choices, you could go back on the hiking trail to shorten the distance back to the top of the mountain.
Alabama horse trail parking lot — MAP
Starting at the Tennessee horse trail parking lot. The last choice could shorten a hike that starts on the Tennessee side, but only by a total distance of about 0.2 mile. It offers a few options, all of which are longer than the 6.5 mile Alabama trail hike. You can connect to the Mill Creek Trail a short distance to the north, go south to connect to the Alabama trail, or take the long way on the horse trail which goes to the north before looping back to the south on Pitcher Ridge before descending to the Hurricane Creek area.
Tennessee horse trail parking lot — MAP
Remember that the horse trails are mostly on old logging roads.
The Bear Den Point Loop. There’s another trail that you can enjoy just across the highway from the Alabama hiking trailhead parking lot. A 4.7 mile hike, the Bear Den Point Loop allows you to enjoy some beautiful forest on the mountainside while following the contour of Bear Den Point out to Pruitt Ridge and through the northern slopes of Gifford Hollow.
There are some nice views of the distant ridges and valleys from a couple of spots in winter when the hardwood trees are bare.
The Walls of Jericho trails provide a great experience for hikers. It’s also a popular area for primitive camping. The 11 miles of horse trails also attract a good number of horseback riding enthusiasts. If three state parks were not within a half hour of my home, I’m sure I would make the 55-minute drive to the Walls of Jericho much more often.
It seems like only yesterday that the governor of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy — plus some officials representing the local area — assembled at the Alabama trailhead for a dedication ceremony. That was April 2005.
The 21,453-acre Walls of Jericho wilderness and recreation area is part of two big wildlife management areas — the 8,900-plus acre Bear Hollow Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee and the massive 60,000-plus acre James D. Martin-Skyline Wildlife Management Area in Alabama. You will sometimes hear the sounds associated with wildlife-management activities when it’s the season for it.
It’s one of the most remote areas to hike in north Alabama. The nearest city, Winchester, Tennessee, is 17 miles from the Tennessee hiking trailhead. Just 4.4 miles south of the Alabama hiking trailhead, the tiny town of Hytop has a nice park, and there are some stores and a restaurant 11 miles away in Skyline, Alabama.
If you enjoy scenic gorges like the Walls of Jericho, check out my article: Visit five different scenic gorges in one weekend.