Yes, OK this is a weird title for a post. SC 107 is a relatively short stretch of north-south road in the extreme northwest part of the state. It provides access to Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area, White Rock Scenic Area and several Chattooga River access points. We spent the weekend camping at Cherry Hill which is directly off of 107. It’s a small (20-some sites), quiet, relatively unused campground with hot showers and several creekside sites.
Just north of Cherry Hill is Burrell’s Ford Road which runs down to the Chattooga River. North of this is Ellicott Rock Wilderness, south is the walk in sites of Burrell’s Ford campground and a bit in from the Chattooga is King’s Creek Falls.
To the south from Cherry Hill is Oconee State Park and the Yellow Branch picnic area. This is Yellow Branch Falls which is about a 2 mile hike from the picnic area. There’s a small loop trail through Yellow Branch and the falls trail branches south off of it. There are several wet crossings on the loop trail.
Yellow Branch Falls has a nice sandy beach area on the far side from the trail and a couple nice pools.
Both of these locations are on the Big Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains NP. Big Creek is located on the eastern edge of the park on the North Carolina side, near I-40. There’s a ranger station, a horse camp, a group camp and some walk-in tent sites located at Big Creek. Big Creek Trail is one of several that lead out of here and as a horse accessible trail it’s relatively wide and an easy grade.
Midnight Hole is a fantastic swimming spot about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) up the trail. This a deep clear pool, good rocks for sunning and jumping off of (at your own risk of course) and a spectacular setting in the forest. In late May, this water is also rather on the chilly side.
Another half mile (0.8 km) up Big Creek Trail is Mouse Creek Falls. You can just barely tell that the noise of Big Creek has gotten slightly louder but there’s a horse hitching rail just before the viewpoint of the falls. Mouse Creek is a tributary that flows in from the south and falls most of the last 100 feet or so into Big Creek. The trail continues from here another three miles to Walnut Bottom Campgrounds and a junction with several other trails, we however did not.
Mount Noble seems to be a practically unknown hike despite its prime location. It sits just on the southern edge of the Smokies but it is not within the park and no park trails connect to it. The main hiking trail leaves from the very top end of the ‘Unto These Hills’ parking lot in Cherokee. Just keep driving up until you see the private road sign. There’s a red sign pointing towards the trail to Mount Noble.
We saw these turkey tracks in several places near the top of the hike. The lower 80% or so of the hike is an unrelenting climb. Never particularly steep but it also never lets up. It’s a climb of about 1800 feet (550 m) from the parking lot to the summit in just 2.4 miles (3.8 km). There are a couple of nice creek crossings but really no good picnic or stopping spots until you are fairly close to the summit.
The namesake lookout tower is at the top. We decided not to climb it since about half the supports were broken or missing and clearly people had been using it as target practice for some time. There are also several large cell towers up here and an assortment of broken glass, barbed wire, mangled fencing and so on. It’s a very nice view of the Smokies, the Nantahala mountains and the Plott Balsams, but the summit itself could use some work. Unfortunately that seems to be true of almost every peak around here that can be accessed by a road / four-wheelers.
We’re back! After a lot of bad weather this winter we are finally out hiking again. This is a short hike we did on our way to Charlotte. Tom’s Creek Falls is just off of 221 about five miles north of Marion, North Carolina.
This is only about a half mile hike along an easy path from the trail head to the falls. There are several nice access points to the creek along the way and a lot of mica scattered all over the place. There is an old mica mine just downstream from the falls (on the opposite of the river from the trail). The falls is quite impressive, especially in March with no foliage.
Since we were already at Oconee State Park for an orienteering meet, we decided to visit a couple of waterfalls nearby.
Issaqueena barely qualifies as a hike. The top of the falls is practically visible from the parking area. There wasn’t a lot of water flow at this one when we visited but there was some good fall color and you have a view looking out to the south towards the town of Walhalla.
Spoonauger Falls is located just inside Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. The hike in is 0.4 miles along the Chattooga River Trail from Burrels Ford Road, then 0.1 miles switchbacking up to the falls. There’s not really a swimming hole at this one but you do have to hike along the Chattooga to get there. We went in November so swimming wasn’t an option. Instead we spent our time there trying to get Alaric to look at the camera for the picture.
Catawba Falls is now a relatively accessible hike. The Foothills Conservancy has put in a nice new trailhead with ample parking and pit restrooms at the end of Catawba Falls Rd. near Old Fort.
The trail is gentle for most of the hike and follows the Catawba up towards the falls. There is a crossing of the main stream a short distance from the parking area. This can be rock-hopped at normal or low water levels.
There are several falls in this area. Lower Catawba Falls is actually almost impossible to see in the summer due to trees. We don’t have a very good picture of it so here is the river flowing through an old dam instead. There are a couple of old dams along this hike and several ruined power stations and out buildings. This area is a relatively new inclusion to Pisgah National Forest.
The upper falls is not officially accessible on this trail but there is a trail up from the lower falls. I’m told it is dangerous and difficult requiring aid from fixed ropes. Not something we would attempt with the baby carrier.
From the parking area to the lower falls is about a mile and a quarter. Most of the altitude gain is at the very end, or beyond the very end if you’re continuing to upper falls.
High Falls of the South Mills river. It’s a beautiful spot especially with rhododendrons in bloom. There’s quite a lot to say about this one.
First of all, the name is just terrible, this is one of the least ‘high falls’ in Pisgah forest.
It’s also pretty remote. On a hot day when the cars at Looking Glass and Sliding Rock were parked a mile down the road, there was no one at all here. Of course, that may be because there are no marked trails to get here.
The ‘unmaintained’ trails are pretty well marked though and while fairly strenuous hiking, there isn’t much altitude change. The easiest way to get here is to come down the South Mills trail from the Wolf Ford road on the east side of the Pink Beds. At the S. Mills River crossing, follow the unofficial trail up Billy Branch (you can see the confluence from the bridge). Shortly up that trail there is an easy crossing of Billy Branch and the trail returns to the S. Mills. There is also a harder crossing of Billy Branch immediately after leaving S. Mills trail if you’re impatient and like climbing mud banks. This trail crosses one saddle but otherwise stays along the mills eventually crossing it. The crossing is wet and slippery. The falls is not far past that. The river trail does continue to Wolf Ford where it branches with both options rejoining the South Mills trail in different places.
And now – a complete and utter digression about baby carriers. Those of you who could care less about baby carriers can just quit reading right now.
We normally take Alaric for hikes in an Ergo backpack carrier. It’s comfortable (for me), has a similar feel to a well packed backpack and there’s no real danger to him. On the negative side, he can’t see much beyond my shoulders.
On this hike we tried a Kelty carrier (see picture). It has a crazy high center of balance. Alaric is free to lean over one side and then the other so it’s like 20 pounds of randomly shifting gear. His head is as high as mine so low branches are an issue. All that twisting and crouching gets tiring, but he liked being able to see more. So basically, I’d consider using this carrier again but not on a narrow trail or a hike with any sort of bushwhacking / orienteering and difficult footing. On those I’m sticking with the Ergo.
Burgess Falls State Park is just a little south of Cookeville, Tennessee. The park itself is rather small, upon entering it you are almost immediately in the parking lot. There is a playground, picnic area and access to the river above the upper falls which consists of a lot of little uneven ledges and mini-cascades. This is a popular swimming and play area with kids.
A trail leads downstream along one bank of the river. This passes upper falls which is river-wide and then middle falls. The trail is well above the river when it reaches middle falls.
High Falls at the end of the trail is an impressive sight. High cliff walls on the far side of the river make for a remarkable backdrop. In this picture there are people swimming in several areas at the base of the falls as well as climbing on the lower portions. From the falls viewpoint, a trail descends to the rocks / ‘beach’ at the base.
The Roaring Fork nature trail is a car trail out of Gatlinburg, Tennessee into the Smokies. There are several major waterfall hikes here of which Baskins Creek seems to be the one that no one takes. Baskins Creek Trail is an L-shaped trail that starts and ends at different locations on the Roaring Fork road. The falls is pretty much right in the middle.
We took the trail from the eastern trailhead simply because it’s a rolling path over several spurs rather than a continuous descent (followed by a continuous ascent on the way back). The first ridge was awash in mountain laurel.
The falls is down a steep bit of trail into a quiet cove. There wasn’t much of a swimming hole when we visited but it would be easy enough to stand in the falls.
We also saw this salamander at the falls. We’d normally try and ID it but that’s difficult for salamanders so we’ll just leave it at that.
For this hike we parked at the Pisgah Forest stables. We did this apparently because we like to be bothered by horseflies while getting our stuff together. We followed the road to the Bennett Gap trail, followed it north through the junctions with the Coontree loop and continued on to a random highpoint past Coontree Mountain somewhere along Bennett Gap trail. From there we backtracked to Perry Cove and followed that trail back to Avery Creek. The views are probably better in the winter but they aren’t bad. John Rock and Looking Glass Rock are well-situated. This is the view to the northeast towards Clawhammer Mountain.
This is a good hike to do if you hate your ankles and wish to punish them. Maybe your knees as well. The ascent up Bennett Mountain is actually long but relatively gentle. Once the trail merges with Coontree Loop there are a couple ascents that probably register on the rock climbing difficulty scales. There’s another of those ascents after the saddle that the Perry Cove trail comes out of. North of Perry Cove the trail is along a narrow rocky cliff edge where we stopped to rest and take in the semi-obstructed views.
Perry Cove is a wicked descent. We did the hike in this order after looking at it on a topo map. I don’t think I’d really want to climb up Perry Cove. It’s an interesting trail though that covers hardwood cove, some open meadows, several wet stream crossings, old road beds and some great wildflower vales. This is a showy orchus. There is only one plant in this picture so that I don’t have to figure out what the plural of ‘orchus’ is.
The loop plus the viewpoint is probably around 4 – 4.5 miles with around 1100 feet of ascent.
First a note of warning – this is not a very interesting hike. In fact it’s probably not even worth an entry. Barnett Knob is one of those lookout towers we’ve driven past on the BRP a dozen times and so we finally decided to hike up and check it out.
This is just a few miles from the southern terminus at Cherokee/Smoky Mountains NP. There’s a forest road up to the summit but not much of a view once you get there. Some nice wildflowers along the way is about the best we can say for this hike.
Bridal Veil Falls is located in the southern portion of DuPont State Forest. It’s really more or less out in the middle so there are many ways to get there from all of the access points. I don’t believe there is any way to get there that is less than a couple miles on trail though. We chose the Fawn Lake access and followed Conservation Road which takes you up across an old airstrip and then down through an old farm to the river.
It’s difficult to see the whole of Bridal Veil Falls. There’s an upper section in this photo then it sort of curves off to the right along a long frothy chaotic rock slide. At low water like this it’s easy enough to climb up the edge of the falls. We should probably point out that they call this slickrock for a reason. Footing is great, as long as the rock is dry, otherwise it’s like ice.
There are lots of rocks around the bottom of the falls and even some decent swimming holes. Well they looked like they might be. We had the youngster with us so we mostly sat on the rocks and spent time setting up photos designed to look alarming – like this one.
Melanie took her usual array of nice wildflower pictures. However this skink came and sat next to us on the rock so instead of the crested dwarf iris picture we’re ending with a lizard instead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our first interesting hike since the arrival of our son (the prior hike was deemed ‘experimental’ in nature). Courthouse Falls is a favorite of ours. There are several trails to it, or if the road is good and you’re bringing along grandparents, you can just take FR 140B in Pisgah until you reach the trail head. From there it’s about a 10 minute hike. The falls is there in the background of this picture.
From there we visited a new falls (to us). Bird Rock Falls is located near the grounds of the Living Waters Ministry on NC 215 south of Courthouse Falls. It may also be called Cathedral Falls, or possibly they are different things. We aren’t sure. Either way right at the ministry there is a trail down from the road (you’ll hear the falls). There are several cascades into what has to be a great swimming hole.
A trail runs along the river passing several more great swimming holes, a small cave and then it turns away from the road and eventually comes out at this impressive cliff wall. Besides the nice falls in the foreground, there is water coming off the cliff in several places as well. This is a great place to wander around but the rocks are slippery as one might expect around waterfalls.
After a rough day of judging BBQ over in Sevierville, Tennessee we stopped at a couple easy waterfalls on the way back home. Mingo Falls is located just outside the NC side of the Great Smoky Mountains NP on the Cherokee Reservation. On the way you’ll pass the fantastic new school complex Cherokee has built.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call it a trail to Mingo Falls. It’s basically a long staircase and then a very short walk to the cove in which the falls is located. It could be strenuous if you’re as pregnant as Melanie is in the above picture though. The falls is quite impressive.
Just south of Soco Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Soco falls. This is also is barely classified as a hike. It’s a pull out on the east side of the road and a couple switchbacks down to some viewing platforms. Soco Falls is actually two separate falls at right angles at a confluence. This is the larger and easier to photograph.
Trail Days happens every year in mid-May in the small A.T. town of Damascus, Virginia. We’d never managed to make it here hiking-wise before so we decided to stop by in a year that will involve very limited hiking (due to Melanie’s pregnancy).
It’s actually a much bigger festival than we expected. The entire town is taken up with impromptu tent-colonies of current and former AT hikers. There are vendors all over the town park of the sort you’d expect for a crowd of long distance hikers.
We’d been meaning to visit Big South Fork for some time. As we were on the way back home from the Kentucky Derby, it seemed like a good time to stop by. Melanie was 7 months pregnant on this trip so all of these hikes are in the easy category and none of them are more than about a half-mile roundtrip.
There are many natural arches in Daniel Boone Forest in southern Kentucky. This is one of them located in the aptly named ‘Natural Arch Scenic Area’.
Yahoo Falls is the highest waterfall in Kentucky, just edging out the much more impressive Cumberland Falls. Yes, it looks like a 4 year old took this picture but it’s the best we could do. If you want a more panoramic photo, I’d suggest visiting in winter. Incidentally, if you stop by the Stearns Ranger District headquarters, you can pick up a packet of recommended hikes. This is by far the best packet of day hikes we have ever found at any national forest / park in the US (or elsewhere for that matter). It actually includes topo maps for each of the hikes.
The centerpiece of Big South Fork is the canyon of the Big South Fork. This photo is taken from the almost completely unsigned Blue Heron overlook (above the remnants of the Blue Heron mining colony). Signage is hard to come by in Big South Fork so we’d recommend getting a decent map. (Tragically the packet from Daniel Boone NF doesn’t include BSF hikes).
The first is Glen Falls, or maybe Glenn Falls depending on which National Forest signs you believe. It’s just southwest from Highlands and is fairly well signed. This entire trail was reconstructed in the winter of 2010-2011 with multiple new viewing platforms. The first two overlooks have views above the falls. This picture is from the third platform which has perhaps the best views of the falls.
The second falls here is Picklesimer Rock House Falls which besides having a difficult name is very difficult to find. It’s south of Highlands along the Georgia border. If you can find the correct gated forest service road (there are plenty of instructions on other web pages) it’s a short hike to the end of it and then trails lead up the creek to this falls. There is a substantial overhang and cave behind the falls.
Dry Falls is located directly along US 64 west of Highlands. Last time we were over here there were some unimproved parking areas and a trail down to the falls. Since then the park service has built some overlooks and greatly improved the parking. This is the view from the overlook.
These two waterfalls are both short easy hikes just south of Cashiers.
Whitewater Falls is one of the highest in the eastern US. There is a separate parking and picnic area for it now and it’s about a quarter mile hike to an overlook of the falls. A separate overlook further down towards the Foothills Trail offers a better, unimpeded view.
A less obvious wayside waterfall is Silver Run Falls. There is a very small pullout next to a National Forest sign for the falls. Again, it’s only about a quarter mile to this small falls. There is a high quantity of mica in the rocks and the water around this falls so if the sun is out, it’s a pretty impressive effect.