Rocky Fork State Park

Less than ten years old, Rocky Fork is one of the newest state parks in Tennessee. It is just off I-26 near Flag Pond, TN only a few miles from the NC border.

The park mostly protects the Rocky Fork watershed which comes down from the Appalachian Ridge along the state line. Trails mostly follow the Rocky Fork and side creeks.

Rocky Fork

Amenities are severely limited. There is a small gate to the left off of Rocky Fork Rd. It has an understated Tennessee State Parks sign on it and you should turn here rather than continuing on up the hill. Once inside there is a small gravel parking lot, a trailhead and that’s about it really. There are temporary bathroom facilities only.

The rocky fork trail heads up the creek and within the first mile there are three or four junctions with other trails (some of them with signs…)

Water in the Rocky Fork

Even by the stunningly clear water standards in the remote Appalachian valleys, the Rocky Fork has stunningly clear water. There are four foot deep pools where you can see every detail of the crayfish amongst the rocks on the bottom.

Bridge on Flint Creek Trail

Just under a mile from the trailhead is this bridge where the Flint Creek Trail crosses the Rocky Fork. Not far up the trail from here is an open meadow full of milkweed and blackberries which is marked as the Flint Creek Battle Site. We had to look this one up. It was a small battle between native Americans and the short-lived State of Franklin.

If you’re coming to hike in Rocky Fork, print out a trail map before you come. There is no map info at the trailhead and no facilities around. In fact, there’s a sign at the trailhead listing place where you can buy a map. It’s empty.

Schoolhouse Falls / Warden’s Falls

These falls are both located in Panthertown Valley and we used the trailhead at Cold Mountain road. When you reach the trailhead sign here you want the smaller blazed trail on the right, not the wider forest road beyond the gate.

This trail takes you down across a small bridge onto the switchbacks section of the Panthertown Valley trail. Continue along this trail until you can see the fairly major wooden bridge below Schoolhouse Falls (you haven’t seen Schoolhouse yet, but you probably heard it off to the left). Don’t cross the bridge! Instead take the trail to the right (Devil’s Elbow) which goes uphill. It will cross the power lines and give you a great view across the valley.

Not far past the powerlines you’ll re-enter the forest and then come to a small clearing. The main trail goes slightly to the right here and a very small trail goes straight ahead. This trail descends rather drastically and will leave you at the top of Warden’s Falls. This is a dangerous area, especially in high water. Do not enter the river here, turn right and pick your way down this bank along the faint trail here. You will come to a small bluff above a creek junction and from here figure out the best way down. You’ll have a partial view of Warden’s Falls here. To see it all you have to cross the river which is probably a wet crossing.

Warden’s Falls

This is a nice area but it is a difficult descent from the Devil’s Elbow Trail. From here we went back down Devil’s Elbow Trail to the bridge and this time we crossed it. Not far across it on the left is the Little Green trail which will take you directly to Schoolhouse Falls.

Schoolhouse Falls

This is perhaps the most popular destination in Panthertown and there are trails in all directions here. You can easily circumnavigate this pool to get behind the falls from either side, which is worth doing.

Behind Schoolhouse Falls

There is a small shortcut going back, from the opposite side of the river from the Little Green Trail an orange blazed trail leads up to the top of Schoolhouse (be careful here) and then reconnects with Panthertown near the bottom of the switchback section.

King Creek Falls / Spoonauger Falls

We did these same two hikes a mere 7 years ago (you can scroll back far enough to find it). So here we are again at Burrell’s Ford on the Chattooga River. On the South Carolina side there are two trailheads for these waterfalls as well as the Foothills Trail which comes through the area and the Chattooga River trail.

King Creek Falls is on the south side of the road or the first trailhead you reach (the big one) coming down from South Carolina. This is the bigger trailhead because there is a large hike in campground along the Chattooga River here. You can get to the falls in several ways. It’s easiest probably to get there by taking the trail next to the road. It leaves the parking area parallel to the main road and eventually veers off to the right. You’ll still come to a number of intersections with the Foothills Trail. When you get to the footbridge you are crossing King Creek. This is where you want to be, so just take the trail which goes upstream alongside it and you’ll find the falls. The top of this trail is difficult travel.

King Creek Falls

This is an attractive falls with a nice pool at the bottom.

On the way back if you want something different, cross the footbridge and turn left immediately which will take you down to the river trail where there are many campsites. The gravel road leads back to the parking area.

Spoonauger falls is about a quarter mile north of the road from the parking area slightly closer to the bridge. This trail heads into Ellicot Rock Wilderness Area but you don’t need to follow it for long. Just after a creek crossing, look for a small trail to the right with a small NF sign to spoonauger falls.

It’s a short but steep climb to the waterfall from there.

Spoonauger Falls

This is a more accessible waterfall if you were hoping to just basically stand in the falls itself. There isn’t much of a pool at the base here, but you passed some lovely access areas to the Chattooga on the way in (and out).

Mud Creek Falls

This waterfall is located in Sky Valley, Georgia, just across the state line from North Carolina. The trailhead (such as it is) is located in the Sky Valley community. If you head towards the Sky Valley Golf Course club house, there is a small sign just before the club house that says Mud Falls to the right. This road runs along the course for a while before curving down below the dam.

Mud Falls

Despite the name, it’s an attractive waterfall. The truth of it is, this is the highlight of the trail and it’s right next to the trailhead. The trail is easy though and runs along the creek towards Dillard, Georgia for a mile or so. There is a nature trail component to it with some identified trees and eventually (stay along the road) a covered bridge.

We also saw this friendly (as salamanders go) salamander at the falls.


Panther Falls / Angel Falls @ Lake Rabun

This hike in Chattahoochee National Forest is on the north shore of Lake Rabun. There is a small trailhead parking for maybe 6-10 cars on the north side of the road.

The hike is moderate to Panther Falls which might actually be more of an attraction than the higher Angel Falls at the trail’s end.

Panther Falls

There is a small shallow pool at the bottom of this multi-layered ledge cascade.

If you choose to continue on to Angel Falls, the trail becomes steep and basically ascends right alongside Panther Falls so be careful here. There are cables in some sections to assist on the climb. Near the top is a small loop that provides a couple view points of Angel Falls. It’s difficult to see all of it in one place (at least in the summer).

Angel Falls descending through the trees

Total distance to Angel Falls is about a mile and a quarter from the trailhead. Much of the climb is at the end of the hike after you pass Panther Falls.

Riverside / Bradley Creek

Anything involving Bradley Creek is a favorite summer hike for us as it involves multiple fords of Bradley Creek. Sometimes so many fords that it seems it might be easier to just walk down the river (it isn’t but it’s fun).

This hike starts at Turkeypen trailhead near Mills River. We took the South Mills Trail downhill to the suspension bridge which we did NOT cross this time but we do have a photo there anyway.

We continued along the Bradley Creek Trail (orange blazes) which soon involves fording the South Mills. This is still the stem of a ‘lollipop’ hike so we did this section at the end as well.

There’s a short but steep climb to Pea Gap, then a wet crossing of Pea Branch followed by the only really dry section of the hike as you descend to Bradley Creek. From here we branched off on Riverside trail. Riverside actually intersects with Bradley Creek at both endpoints making a loop.

Riverside trail crosses Bradley Creek multiple times and then crosses the South Mills multiple times. Some of these are challenging and were close to waist deep on me (I’m just over 6 feet tall).

Riverside Trail crossing Bradley Creek

This loop hike is about 7.5 miles in total. You could easily do it in reverse (counter-clockwise) which would be worth doing if you wanted to get most of the fording out of the way in the first two-thirds of the hike. The only real altitude comes going up to Pea Gap and then back to the trailhead at the very end.

Union County, South Carolina (ish)

We chose the Union County area to do a bunch of a short hikes in on a random weekday because:

  1. We had not really ever been to that part of South Carolina.
  2. It seemed like a place people wouldn’t necessarily flock to to hike during the Coronovirus shutdowns.

So first we went to Musgrove Mill State Historic Site which is actually a battlefield themed park but has some nice nature hikes as well.

Horseshoe Falls @ Musgrove Mill

The highlight is Horseshoe falls which is actually a very short hike (maybe 0.1 miles?) from the parking area on the north side of the river. This is a pretty section of river with sandy banks and easy rock scrambling at these water levels. It is also not a horseshoe at these water levels but looks like it would be at higher water.

Next up was Rose Hill Plantation, the former home of 1860s South Carolina governor William Gist. The house was closed due to COVID-19 but the grounds were open and there are a couple nice trails behind the home through the woods (formerly cotton fields). There are in the neighborhood of 2-5 miles of trails here depending on the loops you choose.

Magnolias in front of Rose Hill Plantation

Finally we went to Pacolet River Heritage Preserve which, for the record, is NOT in Union County but we had to choose a title for this entry and Union County won. Sorry Spartanburg.

Anyway, this is basically a small lot at the end of dirt road that will have your wife questioning if your directions are correct (mine did anyway). There is one trail here, it’s about a mile and half in length and ends along the Pacolet River at the site of a former bridge that was destroyed in a flood (interesting info on this at the trailhead).

Bridge remnants on the Pacolet River

The river area is nice, we saw a lot of turtles and there is a soapstone quarry site in the vicinity that has been used for thousands of years (literally). The trailhead also has info on that.

Nellie’s Falls

Nellie’s Falls is a difficult drive followed by an easy hike. It’s located upstream on Flat Creek. Beware of Google Maps on this one, it marks the falls in the correct location but it doesn’t connect any of the forest roads properly. To get here, turn west on Rock Bridge Rd off of NC 281 north of Panthertown. Follow the road until it ends at which point it will be FR 4662. There is minimal parking.

painted trillium

There are several nice creek access points here. You will need to ford it or take the log crossing. Head uphill briefly and take the trail to the left (not the forest road along the river). There are a lot of trails and roads around here so it’s worth making sure you are generally following the river upstream. There will be one left turn at an unmarked trail junction in a small pine grove as well. After that it’s a matter of following the trail down to the river and along the river. Ultimately you will have to cross just below the lovely little falls seen here:

a lovely little falls

We spent a bit of time here and found several small salamanders.

You can edge along the far side of the creek to go up and around the giant boulder and the really cool tree just beyond it.

a really cool tree

Now you have arrived at Nellie’s Falls. You can actually see Nellie’s from below the lower falls but it’s worth coming up around the boulder for a closer look. This area is very slick by the way.

Nellie’s Falls

There are supposedly routes to the top of this if you are interested. Usual disclaimer here about waterfalls being dangerous, they are of course MUCH more dangerous when you’re at the top. We liked the bottom just fine there are some nice deep pools here and an island with a log for optimal viewing.

Log for optimal waterfall viewing

Rhapsodie Falls

This hike took us up the West Fork of the French Broad River where it sort of magically becomes Dismal Creek. The trailhead is off of NC 281, north of Lake Toxaway. Turn west on Winding Gap Rd. and then immediately stay right onto the forest road track that looks like it might not be a road at all. This will dead end shortly at a gate with a trail beyond it. We believe there is an alternate trailhead further down Winding Gap Rd where the road turns south at the power lines but we didn’t verify the entire route so can’t really guarantee it. It seems like it would connect though.

Lots of nice falls on this hike, lots of good campsites. The first of each is at Aunt Sally’s Falls, about a half mile from the trailhead and up a small unnamed tributary. Nearly all the tributaries here are unnamed but the side trail is just before the 4th creek crossing.

Aunt Sally’s Falls from a distance.

This is a pleasant area to hang out in.

Aunt Sally’s Falls

Back on the main trail heading west, there are many creek crossings which make the hike a bit more technical but the altitude is relatively constant so it’s not too tough.

Showy Orchis

Eventually the trails crosses the West Fork of the French Broad where there are several more good campsites. Especially on the south bank where the trail doesn’t run right smack through the middle of it. From here, the trail becomes difficult. Be prepared for the possibility of hands & knees sections as it is very steep and the addition of mud on our trip made it more like a slide than a trail.

Regardless, not long after the up starts, you’ll reach a very nice waterfall at a trail switchback. Some people seem to call this Lower Rhapsodie and some people call it Trailside. I like the latter name because you hike along the falls and the really impressive chute leading up to it as you ascend past it. Either way it’s a nice spot.

Resting at Trailside (?) Falls
Lady’s Slipper

The steepness gets steeper here. You know you’re near the top when the large rocks appear. When the trail branches on the spur the left branch goes on into the Dismal Creek watershed (even more steepness!). The right branch goes down to Rhapsodie Falls which you can probably hear already. This is also a lovely area.

Rhapsodie Falls

We did not continue on to Dismal Falls on this particular day so we went back down the otter slide (trail) after leaving Rhapsodie.

Eastatoe Creek Heritage PRESERVE

The Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve is located on the west side of US 178 south of Rosman, NC, just across the state line into South Carolina. Foothills Trail parking access A4 is the ideal parking area for this. A fraction of a mile further down the gravel road is a gated forest road which leads south into the preserve.

The trail is yellow-blazed. They aren’t frequent. There are a couple signs as you enter the preserve and then the trail follows Narrow Ridge for close to two miles before switchbacking suddenly down into the Eastatoe Gorge (which you’ve been able to hear almost the entire hike).

Eastatoe Narrows Falls

The switchbacks eventually even out near the river and you’ll reach a very small trail junction (completely surrounded by poison ivy). Right leads around the knob in front of you to a very small overlook of the Eastatoe Narrows. The overlook might have room for four people, and there’s a small landing below it with room for a couple more. Be wary of that landing though, it’s overhung and a considerable drop.

Eastatoe Narrows

This is a fairly unusual rock-enclosed series of drops for the Carolinas but it’s a nice view. Back at the tiny trail junction you can go the other way (north / upstream) to a series of three primitive campsites and several nice places to hang out along the river.

There are also several more falls here as you might expect. The river has dropped almost 1000 feet in altitude from the parking lot to the narrows.

Eastatoe River

There are no other official trails in the preserve and the climb back up to the ridge is a bit of work. We saw a huge number of wildflowers on the hike, but the majority of them were after the descent begins.

High Falls, White OWl Falls

The Thomson river gorge is located between the better known Horsepasture River (Gorges State Park) just to the north and the Whitewater river just to the south. There seems to be a lack of naming ingenuity here as the two major waterfalls are named ‘Big’ and ‘High’. More on ‘Big’ sometime in the future. On this trip we visited High Falls and White Owl Falls.

There is no named, blazed trail to High Falls but the trail is clear and obvious. Park on Brewer Rd off of NC-281 and follow the gated forest road uphill from the intersection. This trail crosses a saddle and then descends. The trail to High Falls is tagged with pink ribbons as of this writing. You’ll be looking for a right turn shortly after passing a waterfall on Reid’s Creek. That smaller falls is on your left and you’ll hear it more than see it.

After the right turn the trail is pretty straightforward, you’ll be able to hear High Falls as you descend towards it. The trail ends just below the falls, there is a side trail that gives better access and you’ll have to ford the river somewhere.

High Falls of the Thomson River

This is a beautiful deep pool with several nice rocks to hang out on as well as a sandy beach.

Back up at the trailhead is a route to White Owl Falls, which is higher up the Thomson from High Falls and located just off the road. From Brewer Rd you can walk south on 281. The guardrail stops, when it begins again there is a trail that descends alongside the road. The trail was flagged on our trip and the falls is quite easy to find. There is a very small area at the base of White Owl.

White Owl Falls

Amicalola Falls

We visited Amicaclola in March and Appalachian Trail thru-hikers were definitely beginning their treks.

The full “height” of Amicalola is actually a series of cascades. The view from the top isn’t all that great (unless you’re admiring the views of North Georgia). The falls are better seen from below.

Amicalola Falls approach

There are several trails in the State Park. Most of them surround the falls and connect them to the visitor center (below) and the lodge (above). There is also the Appalachian Trail approach trail which connects to Springer Mountain.

Looking down from the middle of Amicaclola Falls

It’s right around 600 stairs from the top of the falls to the reflecting pool / trout pond at the bottom.

Triple Falls / High Falls

These are popular waterfalls in DuPont State Forest. We haven’t been on this hike in a while and it’s hunting season so it was time to do it again. First of all, the parking area at Hooker Falls is greatly improved with one of the nicer trail head restrooms in… well.. anywhere.

Hooker Falls is a small river wide ledge about 0.4 miles from the parking lot.

Hooker Falls

Triple Falls is a three-drop cascade about a half mile from the parking area in a different direction than Hooker Falls. It’s one of the more impressive waterfalls in the area.

Triple Falls, lower drop
Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest

High Falls was the final stop on our hike. It’s another half mile above Triple Falls but you can walk the two mile High Falls Loop from Triple Falls to avoid backtracking (and we always want to avoid backtracking, right?)

High Falls, DuPont State Forest

Chimney rock

It had been many years since we visited Chimney Rock (last time it had not yet become a state park). There were some evident differences. The admission is a bit high as state parks go, however the elevator is now included. If there’s not much of a line it’s worth taking the elevator just to go through the rock tunnel.

The views are still wonderful up there and the various platforms and stairs seem far better constructed than they did before. We took the elevator up and then hiked back down through the rock formations before taking the waterfall trail.

Hickory Nut Gorge Falls

The waterfall is high but not visible from any one place all at once. As you can see here, at low water there’s not a whole lot coming over, it might be worth visiting after more rain when this is probably very impressive.

Beech Bottom Falls

This was a last minute addition to our outing in South Carolina and we didn’t really know a whole lot about it. This was apparently formerly called Pinnacle falls and was accessible from the lower level via a difficult descent. The forest service improved the trail earlier this year and added an impressive overlook clinging to the side of the opposite mountain. The trail head is just south of the NC line, or just north of the ‘town’ of Rocky Bottom on Van Clayton Memorial Highway. The parking area is the same as the Foothills Trail parking here (the FH trail is a little ways up the road). Beech Bottom leaves from the parking area, crosses a ravine and then follows a forest road for about half the distance.

At around the halfway mark, you’ll leave the forest road, cross a bridge and follow a narrow trail along the mountain. It will eventually end at a switchback to a small observation deck. This is the view in early September but it’s clear the cascades continue both above and below this section. The total height of all of it may be as much as 150 ft but it’s difficult to determine. The hike is about one mile each way, possibly just a bit over that.

Clemson Forest

Clemson forest stretches mostly north of campus and includes a lot of lakeshore frontage. There are some pretty long trails in this area but they are intended more for biking than hiking. We did a couple short waterfall trips.

First we went to Todd Creek Falls. There is a very small pullout along the road here, maybe good for three optimally parked cars. The trail is a half-mile down the power line through meadow and a little bit of the river bed too. The falls will be obvious on the right side of the trail as you approach. The trail continues along the power lines but we didn’t go any further than the falls.

Waldrop Stone Falls

Next up was Waldrop Stone Falls, AKA Clemson Falls. This area has a loop trail of just under a mile in length which has a short spur down to the falls. The falls aren’t particularly interesting at low water levels but it’s a nice hike and they’ve labelled a number of local trees and shrubs along the way.

Riley Moore Falls

This is our favorite waterfall in South Carolina and not coincidentally our favorite swimming hole too.

It’s a river wide drop of maybe 12 to 15 feet into a series of rocks and then a large friendly swimming hole with a sandy beach on the near shore of the river. A little further downstream is an area we refer to as the kiddie-pool which was convenient when Alaric was younger.

This is the view if you’re sitting under the falls on the opposite side of the river from the trail / parking area / beach. You can swim over here or walk (carefully) across the slippery rocks.

These little mossy grottos are fun too but the water feels quite cold, even in mid-Summer. This is generally a safe swimming area but just for posterity remember that high water levels can change that fairly easily.

Gee creek

Gee Creek is a wilderness area near Etowah, TN. We were camping in the area so that we could kayak the Hiwassee River so on our non-river day we came here. The wilderness area is small, basically it’s Starr Mountain on the west, Chestnut Mountain on the east and the wilderness covers from ridge to ridge including the Gee Creek drainage between them.

The valley heading up is very scenic and remote. There is a foundation from an iron mine that used to be here and you’ll also pass a concrete sluice that encloses the river for a bit upstream of the mine ruins. The first river crossing is by bridge but once you enter the wilderness (there is no sign), all future river crossings are rock-hops.

This falls which may or may not be called Gee Creek Falls is near the upper end of the “trail”. From here the trail ascends, crosses the river again and sort of runs out in a hemlock grove upstream. There is a path beyond this which becomes increasingly steep and less traveled. Different maps show the trail going different distances but on none of them does it ever approach the wilderness boundaries. The cliffs here are substantial and it would be a very challenging connection.

Both Starr and Chestnut mountain have trails along the ridges which appear to be aimed primarily at horse travel (a horse camp is nearby).

Hiwassee River

This was our choice river for a first-time whitewater kayaking experience for our son, sporting his brand new PFD (having finally reached 50 lbs) and a brand new whitewater helmet, yay.

The class II run on the Hiwassee consists of six rapids in the II – II+ range. We used an outfitter at the bridge in Reliance (where all the outfitters are). It’s a short drive along the north side of the river to the put-in.

The rapids are fairly evenly spaced, they generally get bigger as you go down the river and the last two are by far the best if you hit them right. Funnels (the second to last) seems best to the left of all the sizeable islands, but then the rightmost of the channels in that gap. Devil’s Shoals – the final rapid just slightly above Reliance has a wonderful wave train on the far left side of the river underneath the overhanging trees.

Overall this is a great beginner river. There are people going down it in tubes — which happens everywhere these days — but this is probably a legit tubing river. There are a couple sections where the current is minimal though and without a paddle it could be a long float. We ran the five-mile section twice in one day, it took us about 80 minutes each time in no particular hurry.

Pond Mountain / laurel falls

I put Pond Mountain (Wilderness) in the title of this post because there are a whole lot of places named Laurel Falls in the state of Tennessee, plus several more nearby in North Carolina and Georgia. This is four mile loop hike from Dennis Cove which we’ve done before but not for several years and it’s always a favorite. We follow the AT northbound to the falls to start with.

This is a wonderful picnic spot and place to let the kids play in the river below the pool. The pool created by the falls is notoriously unsafe due to strong currents and there have been drownings here (several). From here, the A.T. makes a nifty passage through a gap in the cliffs alongside the river. This would be impassable at high water. We followed the trail to the shelter and then took the high water route back to Dennis Cover. Just hiking to the falls and back would cut this hike in half to about 2 miles.