By Anne Braly
Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of 56 state parks in Tennessee and one of only six that are considered resorts known as The Lodges at Tennessee State Parks. Several have undergone renovations, including the Lodge at Montgomery Bell in Burns, Tenn., and the Lodge at Pickwick Landing in Counce, Tenn. Fall Creek Falls in Spencer, Tenn., is one of two park lodges that were earmarked by the state for new construction. It opened in early January. The second, the Lodge at Paris Landing in Buchanan, Tenn., is scheduled to open in late spring. The two others Lodges at Tennessee State Parks are the Lodge at Henry Horton in Chapel Hill, Tenn., and the Lodge at Natchez Trace in Wildersville, Tenn.
The new Lodge at Fall Creek Falls is a stunning example of how a team of architects, designers and builders can create a building that seems to melt into its surroundings. The lake, the virgin forest, the shoreline — they all work together to bring the new lodge into focus.
As you come over the hill after a peaceful, beautiful drive down Park Road, passing rushing whitewater and stunning forests, the lodge opens before you, spread out at an angle so that every room has balconies overlooking Fall Creek Falls Lake.
“All of the rooms have a beautiful view. There’s not a bad view from any of them,” says Zonda Holloway, general manager.
The lodge opened in 1972, and at nearly 50 years old, needed a facelift. But it got more than that — a total teardown and rebuild. It took more than $40 million and four years, but now complete, rooms are beginning to fill.
When the lodge opened in January, only rooms on the first floor were available. In February, second-floor rooms were opened. And in March, rooms on the third floor opened, bringing the lodge to full capacity.
“We’ve been really overjoyed and excited about the interest visitors have shown in the lodge since the grand opening earlier this year,” says Kim Schofinski, deputy communications director for Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “And we appreciate the patience from the community as the project continued and have been eager to welcome locals and guests from beyond the area back.”
Surrounded by more than 28,000 acres and described by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee as “one of the most-beautiful spots in all of America,” the new lodge was built to be an ideal destination for individuals, families, groups and conferences looking for escapes in a natural setting, Schofinski adds.
The lodge features 85 rooms, a conference space, a full-service restaurant and a lounge. Visitors have varying options to accommodate any desired overnight experience – from primitive tent camping with 222 campsites available in five different area, to upscale resort-style rooms and cabins.
Rooms are larger and much nicer than what guests experienced in the former lodge. All king rooms have walk-in showers, and queen rooms have tub-shower combinations. There are rooms for families with bunk beds for the kids or trundle beds they’ll love, as well.
“Every kid wants a bunk bed,” Holloway says. “But sometimes parents don’t want them. This gives kids the experience.”
All rooms feature microwaves and televisions, along with private balconies.
The lodge also features three, one-bedroom suites — one on each floor — with wrap-around balconies overlooking the lake; a larger refrigerator than in standard rooms; dining and sitting areas; half bath off the foyer; and a separate king bedroom and bath.
The new restaurant takes full advantage of its position on the lake. It has a large dining area with tables and booths and two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water. A bar with seating is off to one side and has windows that open to a large wrap-around patio with ample seating. It’s a place where you can sit and watch as park guests play on the lake and in the pool. Or you may become an unexpected guest, looking down on a wedding happening on the pier below. According to Holloway, the wedding season looks busy at the park.
The menu currently offers a limited number of entrees, but there are enough choices to satisfy most any palate. Salads, burgers and sandwiches and more-filling meals, such as Low Country shrimp pasta, smothered chicken, fish and chips, and chopped steak are served for lunch and dinner. Expect an expanded menu as the park is able to hire additional staff. Just as most other restaurants and businesses, Fall Creek Falls needs more people to fill positions in the restaurant and the lodge.
Fall Creek Falls has 30 cabins total with 20 cabins on the lake. Ten are known as Fishermen Cabins. They have two bedrooms, a half bath and full bath, and balconies over the water, allowing anglers to walk out the door and wet a line from the comfort of the cabin — Tennessee fishing license required.
There are 10 three-bedroom cabins referred to as Villa Cabins ideal for families. They have a master bedroom with two queen beds, a private bath and a private balcony. Across the living room are two bedrooms that share a bath. One of these bedrooms contains two queen beds, while the other has a single queen bed. Villa Cabins are undergoing facelifts, as well, but remain open while work is being done.
Prefer a stay in the woods? Fall Creek Falls has 10 Landside Cabins, each one story with two bedrooms, gas fireplace, patio, picnic table and grill. Landside cabins have two playgrounds and a basketball court. Horseshoe pits are available.
Wi-Fi is available in all cabins, and pets are allowed in six of them — three Landside and two Villa cabins and one Fishermen cabin. There is a $20 per pet charge per night.
The lobby, with its handsome stone fireplace in the center, is the gateway to and from jaw-dropping scenery to comfortable overnight accommodations. A room off to one side has a few games for kids and a small library. The restaurant opens off the lobby, too, with a central kitchen that can also service the convention center with 5,000 square feet of space and state-of-the-art technology.
Outside, there are two fireplace areas, one in the front of the lodge with seating on large, flat rocks saved from the old lodge. A second fireplace is located on the large patio off of the restaurant overlooking the lake and pool with casual seating — the perfect place to sip on a cocktail and warm your toes after a day in the outdoors.
The park, one of Tennessee’s largest, has more than 50 miles of trails to explore, including a paved path that is now complete, extending from the lakeside cabins to Fall Creek Falls, an easy, three-mile walk. For more information or to book a stay at Fall Creek Falls, long onto www.tnstateparks.com and follow the links to a wonderful getaway along East Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, less than an hour from Chattanooga.