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.

Old Homestead Trail

This trail is found on the north shore of Lake Watauga in northeastern Tennessee. The trailhead doubles as a boat ramp and some maps mark this as trail 603. It is theoretically blazed but a wildfire has wreaked havoc on that and this is a challenging trail to follow. The lake-side of the loop follows a high ridge that at times is not much wider than the trail. Once it descends it meets a forest road which makes up the other half of the loop and that is trivial to follow. We saw bears on the forest road and bear evidence everywhere. The views of the lake are wonderful.

If you’re hiking this, we’d recommend a map and compass even though you have the lake as a handrail on one side.

Beauty Spot / A.T.

We did this hike as an out and back from Beauty Spot to Deep Gap and back. That’s roughly 2 miles each way. First and foremost this hike was about flowers. Tons of them. It was like a living guide to Appalachian wildflowers. There is only one other place we have ever seen as many trillium as we did here and that was not all that far away, just north of the Smokies along the A.T.

Trillium along the AT
Trillium along the AT

Heading northbound from Beauty Spot quickly brings you down to Beauty Spot Gap, which is basically a fence and a near-road junction. There is no real parking here, the parking area is up at Beauty Spot. The hike follows the state line more or less and eventually reaches another open meadow area and another near road junction. That would be this meadow here with a nice view of Unaka Mountain in the distance.

Unaka Mountain
Unaka Mountain

Beauty Spot incidentally is just a bald mountain with stellar views of the surrounding ranges, including Unaka, Roan, the Blacks in North Carolina, the Balds along the border and the valleys down to Erwin, Tennessee. Here Alaric is facing into a stiff headwind. It seems like it may always be this windy up here. Beauty Spot is reachable by a moderately graded gravel road.

Beauty Spot
Beauty Spot

Laurel Fork Falls

It’s been a while since our last blog post. We’ve been doing some short hikes in Bent Creek that just don’t make very interesting entries. Young Alaric is ready for a real hike though so we took him out on the A.T. for the first time (that’s him in the carrier on my back). This hike is a fairly nice loop (‘lollipop’) hike into Pond Mountain Wilderness in Tennessee.

Starting from Dennis Cove Road, the trail runs along the Laurel River past several nice campsites. Eventually it winds down a section with some impressive cliff walls and this very nice bridge inside the wilderness area.
Just below this the river really starts to drop.

AT Bridge over the Laurel River


After a couple of slight climbs to cross over promontories the trail branches. The ‘high water’ trail continues about 300 feet above the river along the edge of Pond Mountain. We chose to descend to the river here. This is not an easy descent. The distance isn’t all that significant (for the A.T.) but it’s a steep slope across basically a boulder field. Footing is very difficult and treacherous. At the bottom though, Laurel Fork Falls is the reward. This is a beautiful falls and a beautiful area to hang out in.

Laurel Fork Falls


Continuing north-bound on the A.T. the main trail runs literally right along the river’s edge. There are some rocky ledges that it crosses, like this one that would be impossible to pass another hiker on. The trail follows the river past more nice campsites and then climbs onto a ridge where it meets the other side of the high water trail. Just up the high water trail from this junction is the Laurel Fork A.T. Shelter which is not the most spacious of shelters but it occupies a very nice ledge with good views.

'Low Water' Trail

From here we return on the high water trail and then the A.T. back to Dennis Cove Road. Roundtrip this is about 3.5 miles.

Double Springs / Osborne Farm

Our first AT hike of the year, we drove to northeast Tennessee and hiked three miles up to Double Springs Shelter from TN 91.
The lower portion of this hike crosses the Osborne Farm which is in trust to the A.T. This includes a couple stile crossings of pastureland.

Stile crossing on the Appalachian Trail
Stile crossing on the Appalachian Trail

After the farm the trail is wooded and winds up the ridge. Double Springs shelter is just barely off the trail.

Double Springs Shelter
Double Springs Shelter

A.T. – Spivey Gap to Chestoa

This section of the AT starts in North Carolina and finishes in Erwin, Tennessee.  We parked at Uncle Johnny’s Hiker Hostel in Erwin and he shuttled us up to Spivey Gap which is about 11 miles away by trail.

AT Sign near Spivey Gap
AT Sign near Spivey Gap

There’s a bit of a climb out of Spivey Gap and a couple short climbs further on in the hike but for the most part it’s downhill with an elevation loss of 2000 feet from the highest point.  There are plenty of stream crossings in the first half of the hike.   No Business Knob Shelter (yes, that’s the name of it) is almost exactly halfway through this hike. 

Mountain Laurels along the AT
Mountain Laurels along the AT

The last two miles of this hike is pretty much all down.   There’s a long series of switchbacks descending into Erwin.   To make up for this at every left turn (heading northbound) there’s a rocky overlook of the Nolichucky River with occasional views of Erwin as well.

View of the Nolichucky Gorge
View of the Nolichucky Gorge

With day-sized backpacks, this hike took us just a bit over 6 hours with two stops for food and one stop for a tragic shoelace emergency (thanks random thru-hiker with a lighter!)

Max Patch

Ok, so we were just at Max Patch a few months ago.   However, since we were unable to get up the road to Snowbird Mountain, which was our intended hike, we came back to Max Patch.  

Max Patch View

As always, the views are superb.   The meadows had recently been mown so there was more picnicking and camping than usual on the summit.   We hiked up to Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail from where it crosses the forest road.  After summitting, we followed the trail back down through a patch of forest.  Ultimately it follows a series of meadows that make up an equestrian trail on a parallel ridge. 

Roaring Fork Shelter is only a couple miles north of Max Patch Road.  It doesn’t have direct access to the Roaring Fork river but you’ll have crossed the stream a couple times getting there and its a good place to stop for a snack.

Trout and Mountains

On the hike back, we followed a combination of the equestrian trail and the Max Patch loop trail which stays below the summit but still crosses some big meadows and has excellent views into North Carolina.  Trout found meadow hiking to be altogether confusing as it’s difficult to determine where the trail is.

Brown Gap to Max Patch


Before our hike we spent a little time along Cold Creek in the Harmon Den area. There were hundreds of butterflies drawn to the salt deposits along the road so we have a few dozen pictures that look like this.


Mid-May is a great time to hike in the area because of the wildflowers. We headed north bound on the A.T. from Brown Gap, which starts with a decent climb but is relatively gentle and rolling after that.


The trilliums were particularly abundant.   They’re a bit hard to see in this picture but all those specks of white and pink are trillium.   It was pretty much deserted on this part of the mountain until we reached Max Patch.  We decided not to climb to the top on this particular day.   Instead we let Trout lie in a stream and cool off while we studied the map.  

We decided we could take an alternate route back to Brown Gap.   This started by taking the A.T. southbound for a quarter mile or so to the junction with the Cherry Creek Trail.   We then took the Cherry Creek trail for maybe a half mile or so until it intersected an old forest service road (named 3533 on some maps).  We left Cherry Creek Trail and followed the road along the ridge.  This worked out great for a while at least.  The road was broad and easy to follow and it was paralleling the A.T. about 200 ft below it.  This is how it looked with a dog in the middle:

Forest Road

About halfway back to Brown Gap the road ends. This was not entirely unexpected as our A.T. map also showed the road ending. Our plan was to orienteer from here by following the 4000 ft. contour line around the ridge until it intersected the A.T. which would be descending towards Brown Gap at that point. Even in May the forest was pretty thick and there was a lot of sharp foliage (blackberries in particular). So when we encountered a really old road bed we decided to follow that instead. This road bed was long unusued and had substantial trees growing in it as well as fallen across it. It was quite clear that bears and deer used it though. Melanie’s theory was that it would connect directly into Brown Gap as we had noticed an old road leaving from a campsite there on our way out. In the end, she was right although it’s a bit of a circuitous route it takes to get there. We did it all with the A.T. map, a compass and an altimeter but I think if we did it again, a better topo map might help.   On the other hand, it would be hard to get seriously lost in this area since everything on this side of the Appalachian Trail drains down to Harmon Den Road.

Dry Creek / Phillips Hollow

This hike follows the less popular trail from the Margarette Falls trail head near Bethany, Tennessee in Cherokee NF. 

The half mile gravel road that leads in from the parking lot to the trailheads has a high salt content in places and attracts butterflies.   These are pipevine swallowtails.

Phillips Hollow

The Phillips Hollow trail is dark blue blazed and leads across dry creek and up along the north bank.  Ultimately, this trail leads all the way up to the A.T. at the top of the ridge which is a very strenuous hike.   In the lower portions, to say that there are a few waterfalls might be an understatement.

trail crossing

At the first major stream crossing, a light blue blazed trail leads south across the stream and then winds up the valley with Dry Creek.   This would be the same Dry Creek (still poorly named) that Margarette Falls in on, although a different branch.  This trail is not listed on our map of Cherokee National Forest and the Cherokee NF website is more or less useless when it comes to trail identification.  Instead your best bet are some rocks at the trail junction which have been painted with names and arrows.  The trail up Dry Creek is identified on the rocks as Shoot Creek for reasons we can’t possibly explain.   Either way the further you go up this trail, the more impressive the waterfalls get and the more difficult the path becomes.   About 0.3 miles in, the trail crosses Dry Creek between ledge falls.

Dry Creek

There are plenty of good swimming holes along the way.  In fact, in several places it’s a lot easier to walk up the stream than it is to follow the trail over and around rhododendrons.   Somewhere along the way is Spruce Thicket Falls, which seems to be the only named falls.  We’re not sure which one it is but there is a 35 foot series of cascades about .6 miles in.   Above this, it becomes really difficult to travel further upstream.


Melanie became fascinated with the wide range of mushrooms along the way and might eventually put up a gallery of images on the site.  In the meantime, we’re mostly certain (after some time with the mushroom field guide) that this is a Yellow Patches.  If it isn’t, some mycologist out there can correct us. 

Margarette Falls / Dry Creek

The trailhead for this hike is in the vicinity of Greystone, TN.  It’s not the easiest place to find but there is a big parking lot once you arrive.  A gravel road leads about a half mile through a private land easement into Cherokee National Forest where trails split off in all directions. Several of these trails go up to the AT near Camp Creek Bald.  For Margarette Falls, basically follow the main stream of water, although the trail itself is blue-blazed and mostly easy to follow.  There are at least 4 stream fordings along the way and numerous small waterfalls.  There are also a couple decent pools for swimming if you’re so inclined.  About .6 miles up from the trail junctions the canyon will narrow and there is an enormous rock spire on the south bank called Cathedral Rock.  Cathedral Rock

Just upstream from Cathedral Rock is Margarette Falls which is about a 50 foot drop, most of it in a single cascade.
Margarette Falls

There’s a very nice deep hole at the base of the falls.  On our hike this water was far too cold for swimming, unless maybe you’re a dog.Margarette Pool

The trail ends at Margarette Falls but our hike did not.  To continue upstream of Margarette the easiest path is to scramble up the hillside on the north bank of the creek, cross the rock outcropping, and come back down the hill to the creek upstream of the falls.  (Usual Warning: The top of the falls is slick and very dangerous, you should give it a wide berth if you are hiking further upstream.)  Once above the falls, it’s easiest to ford back across to the south bank and bushwhack your way along the banks.  Why would you do this?  About a tenth of a mile upstream the two branches of Dry Creek come together.  Here you’ll find the 8 foot Glen Falls which is pretty but not spectacular.
Glen Falls

Glen Falls is nice but not really a reason by itself to deal with circumventing Margarette Falls.  The reason for that is another 0.1 miles up the stream.  If you’re standing at Glen Falls, that would be the branch on the left (i.e. the one that isn’t a waterfall). There is no way up but by canyoneering – walking, climbing, and swimming directly up the stream.  On our trip there were several pools that were 4 to 6 feet deep.  The rock walls of the canyon lend themselves nicely to traversing if you have even the most basic rock climbing or bouldering skills (or want to start).  In warmer weather, it wouldn’t be an issue to just swim the pools.  Not far upstream by distance (but a decent amount of effort) is the 45 foot high Bailey Falls which has at least three drops before pouring into the narrow canyon shown here.  Note that this would be a very bad place to be if a flash flood were possible. 
Bailey Falls

If you happen to do this hike with a dog make sure he can swim.  I ended up lifting Trout up over several of the steeper ledges anyway.