Just south of Tellico Plains, Conasauga Creek winds more than 42 miles from the Unicoi Mountains to the Hiwassee River. The stream's valley was once used as the Warrior Path between Cherokee towns of Great Hiwassee and Great Tellico.
The most dramatic spot along the creek as it winds through the rugged hills of the Cherokee National Forest is a 30 foot drop at Conasauga Falls. The waterfall cascades down a series of steep drops until the water streams around several shallow pools of crystal clear water.
The creek continues its route into McMinn County where a small unincorporated community adopted the name Conasauga in the 19th Century. Conasauga Baptist Church was founded in 1842 and sits about a mile east of Etowah.
The name Conasauga is used several places in East Tennessee and Georgia. Another town calls itself Conasauga in Polk County near the Conasauga River. The Conasauga River is also in Georgia along with Conasauga Lake.
The frequency of the name Conasauga in old Cherokee settlements does not help explain what the word means. Cherokee historians are not sure exactly who, when, or why the creek and other areas were named Conasauga.
As for the definition of the word, several sources indicate it is derived from an ancient Cherokee word "Khanasagah." However, the meaning of the word was lost. Some publications indicate the word could mean "strong horse," "grass," or "sparkling water."
Sparkling water would be a fitting description of Conasauga Creek and Conasauga Falls. However, another shiny substance also attracted many people to the creek. The area was the site of a gold rush in the 19th century. Legend has it Cherokees hid gold along the Conasauga Creek near a waterfall.
While visitors may not find precious metals, the creek flows with a wealth of beauty where time has shaped rocks to blend into lichens, wildflowers bloom amid the mist of the creek, and the falls pour a priceless experience for those who encounter its ancient cascades in the Cherokee National Forest.
Directions to Conasauga Falls
Getting to Conasauga Falls will not take you entirely off the beaten path, but it does require some hiking.
From the intersection of the Cherohala Skyway and Highway 68 in Tellico Plains, head south on Highway 68 for approximately 2.3 miles. A brown sign will indicate where to turn right for Conasauga Falls.
After you turn right, you'll drive a total of around three miles before reaching a dead end at a trailhead. During the drive, the road will change from a paved surface to dirt.
From the trailhead, the 3/4 mile hike to the falls is almost entirely downhill. Once you are slightly downstream from the falls, some roughly constructed stone steps lead from the dirt trail down to the creek.
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