Once a year, my mom’s siblings and families gather along the North Fork of the Holston River for a two-day family reunion, and that two-day reunion happened to be this past weekend.  There’s something for everyone with a dammed up pool for swimming and relaxing on rafts, baby rapids on which the the little kids can ride their inner tubes, and an unusual hiking spot to a natural spring.


Photo from 2013


Big Spring Branch starts as a natural spring of ice-cold water bubbling up out of the earth in a most interesting way while cascading around rocks as the water finds its way into its very own stream.  Picture the side of a small mountain terraced with pools of water up to five feet deep, with water from each pool tumbling over rocks to the next pool below, and you can imagine the beauty of Big Spring Branch. 

Our annual hike starts soon after our lunch, and my cousin Teresa and I have become the hike organizers over the years.  She and I are the two oldest girl cousins and some of our younger cousins’ children look forward to us taking them on the hike.  This year the ten and eleven year-olds asked us as soon as we arrived if we would take them on the hike again this year.  My heart danced because they looked to us to lead them in the fun adventure. 


We hiked parallel to the river for about a half mile before crossing at the mouth of Big Spring Branch.  The river water was warm until we got to the other side and there it became instantly cold as the icy water mixed in. There were several extremely slippery large flat rocks in the river that we remembered from previous years that we had to maneuver around.  Eight inches of rain in July had the river flowing higher than normal and we had the additional challenge of water rushing around our knees as we tried to stay upright.   Walking sticks were a must and helped keep us from being knocked over by the current.

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I’m not sure how many water falls and pools we would have to climb or hike around to get to the spring, but downed trees and itchy weeds have made it nearly impossible to hike all of the way up during the summer.  Add to that the fear of startling a rattlesnake or copperhead, and early spring or late fall becomes a much more desirable time to make the hike.  I haven’t made the entire hike since my parents, brother, and I hiked up when I was about eight years old; but my brother and his friend made the full hike earlier this spring. 

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The cascading branch is on private property which flows into the river on my uncle’s property, and we have permission from the owners to hike to the spring.  Approximately fifteen years ago, previous owners of the property sold lumber, and the resulting logging took so many trees out that the overhead canopy was opened which allowed the sun through.  Prior to that there were only ferns, but the introduction of the summer sun brought weeds including a plethora of stinging nettle.


With unusually high amounts of water flowing out of the spring this summer, there were times that our balance was extremely difficult as we climbed the water falls to the next pool.  Hiking around the waterfalls and pools required cutting our own trail through the stinging nettle and risking stepping on or near a snake.  We have yet to see a poisonous snake on one of our hikes, but since they are indigenous to the area, we know they are around. 

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Because of the high water, we weren’t able to hike as far this year as usual.  If memory serves me correctly, we usually make it up about six or eight pools because we’re able to navigate over the rocks or around the sides when the water isn’t flowing as high. 

This was the first year we hiked on the hill above the water, and I admit that I watched every step I took while keeping my eyes peeled for snakes and loose rocks. We had no choice but to walk through the stinging nettle, getting itchier with every step.  Fortunately, a quick dip in the water washed away the itchiness.

The icy cold water kept the area immediately around the water falls and pools cool and crisp.  It was surprising how much hotter and more humid it got with each step away from the water we took.

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Happy to have another fun family adventure safely behind us, we finished our water hike with a jump lesson.  I think jumping must be a family trait because these girls were in sync and got some serious air!

Jump - Renegades on the Holston

Until next summer, dear cousins and Big Spring Branch…


  • Questions:
  • Where’s your favorite place to hike?
  • Does your family have annual reunions?
  • Did you race this weekend?