Tom Branch Falls, North Carolina

Toms Branch Falls (25)

Tom Branch Falls in March 2017

Just inside the boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Bryson City, North Carolina are three waterfalls that can be seen in a not-so-difficult hike. Tom Branch Falls, Juney Whank Falls, and Indian Creek Falls can be found by starting at the Deep Creek Trail head. I think the trail continues on, but you can see all three falls within a 2 mile or so hike.

Tom Branch Falls is the first waterfall you’ll encounter, and you don’t have to hike the whole 2 miles to see Tom Branch Falls. The hike to Tom Branch Falls is only about 1/4 of a mile one-way, and the elevation gain is minimal. I remember the trail being rather flat up until this point. It does then change more in elevation to see the other two falls. I think I showed up when there wasn’t as much water flowing over Tom Branch Falls, so the other two falls were more exciting, even though they required a longer hike to view.

Directions:

  1. There isn’t one specific set of directions that will get you to the falls. It all depends on where you start. So head toward Bryson City, which is not far from US-19 or US-74.
  2. Route 1337 (W Deep Creek Road) is the most direct way to lead to the trail head. It is off of 1336 (Old River Road), which is on the north side of the Tuckasegee River.
  3. Drive 2.5 miles along Route 1337, W Deep Creek Road. Pass a number of other parking areas, and park in the Deep Creek Trail head parking area.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 80′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Tom Branch Falls?

Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls, Tennessee

DSC_0133 (1)

Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls in February 2016

As I enter in to Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Townsend entrance, my plan is to go see Meigs Falls. It seems like it should be an easy-to-view waterfall in the park, and I can enjoy the beauty that is the Smoky Mountains while I’m there.

Meigs Falls was easy to view, though it’s not a waterfall you can get close to. As I was driving in, though, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed another waterfall. On the way out of the park, I decided to see if I could pull over and get a better glimpse of the falls. Luckily, there was adequate gravel parking off of the road, and I was able to get some shots of Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls. At the time, I don’t think I knew the name of the falls. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at Google Maps that I discovered it was Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls. If I had looked at Google Maps, I would have also noticed Cane Creek Falls, Mannis Branch Falls, Spruce Flats Falls, and Meadow Branch Cascades. (This site gives a pretty good overview of some of the falls in the vicinity.)

Directions:

  1. I took US-321 from Knoxville into the park. Once you’re on the Lamar Alexander Parkway, it’s pretty difficult to miss the entrance. There are signs everywhere!
  2. After entering the park, about a mile or so in, you’ll have a choice to take a right toward Cades Cove (which will lead to a number of waterfalls, including Abrams Falls) or a left toward the other park entrance and Gaitlinburg.
  3. Take a left, and drive about 0.6 miles, where you’ll notice Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls on your right. (The parking area was on the left.)

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: ~20′
Length of Hike: roadside

Where in the World is Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls?

Mingo Falls, North Carolina

I’ve had the chance to visit Mingo Falls twice, once in late April 2013 and then just a few weeks ago in early March 2017. I hadn’t looked at the two pictures side by until just recently, and realized Mingo Falls could present very different personalities depending on the time of year.

Let’s start by stating: Mingo Falls is a fun waterfall to visit. It’s right at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is a few minutes drive from Cherokee (which is a town I could visit pretty frequently, especially in non-peak season). The first time I visited, I made sure to see Mingo Falls. The second visit, I had time to kill before the sunset, and figured I should go and see Mingo Falls again.  I’m glad I did.

In late April, the leaves on the trees were emerging and so they covered up part of the falls. That wasn’t a problem in early March! What’s also striking is the amount of water flowing over the falls. After doing a bit of research, I found that this year (2017) has been a rather dry year in the Great Smoky Mountains region. Many of the falls were not as intense as I expected. As you can see, much more water was flowing in late April of 2013 than this year. (Usually, as the spring progresses toward summer, the opposite holds true.)

One issue with writing about waterfalls sometime after I visit them is I don’t always remember the fine details. When I arrived this year, I was surprised to find steps leading up most of the way to the falls. I don’t exactly remember that the last time, but it was four years ago…It is a short hike, but it is also consistently uphill. You’ll get a bit of exercise. I probably went a bit too fast on the way up, as I could feel the burn.

Directions:

  1. You want to end up on Big Cove Road (Road 1410), and there are a few different ways to get there. If you’re on US-441 in Cherokee headed toward the Smoky Mountains Park entrance, you could turn right onto Acquoni Road, and then very soon after turn left onto Big Cove. (If you miss that, there’s another road that leads to Big Cove right after that.)
  2. Drive for approximately 3.5 miles on Big Cove Road.
  3. There should be a sign for Mingo Falls, turn right onto Sherrill Cove Road. Literally a few hundred feet after this turn is the parking area for Mingo Falls. (Some GPS systems might direct you to turn onto Sherrill Cove Road much earlier, but ignore this. Sherrill Cove Road is a very narrow, winding dirt road, whereas Big Cove Falls is a paved road.)
  4. It’s an uphill hike from the parking area.

Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate, this would be fine for kids, it’s just almost all uphill with stairs)
Height: 120′
Length of Hike: 0.8 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Mingo Falls?

Meigs Falls, Tennessee

I’ve visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few years ago starting from Asheville, and this time approached the park from Knoxville. I didn’t have much time, and decided to check out just a few smaller falls that didn’t require much hiking. Meigs Falls is the main waterfall that shows up on searches for easy-t0-access waterfalls in the park, but I was surprised to find out (maybe not extremely surprised) to find out that there are a number of other smaller waterfalls nearby. (Entering in, it was easy to catch a view of Whiteoak Flats Branch Falls.)

Meigs Falls is really only viewed from a distance, though it’s not a terrible distance. If you know where to look, it’s as easy as pulling over to the designated parking area, getting out, and taking pictures! It’s a nice waterfall, though it isn’t as intimate as some other falls. In mid-February, the falls were definitely flowing. And it was a balmy 60 degrees, so it was enjoyable to just explore the park.

Directions:

  1. I took US-321 from Knoxville into the park. Once you’re on the Lamar Alexander Parkway, it’s pretty difficult to miss the entrance. There are signs everywhere!
  2. After entering the park, about a mile or so in, you’ll have a choice to take a right toward Cades Cove (which will lead to a number of waterfalls, including Abrams Falls) or a left toward the other park entrance and Gaitlinburg.
  3. Take a left, and drive about 5 miles along the beautiful winding, curvy road, and you will notice a pulloff to your right. If you look out, you’ll see Meigs Falls.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: roadside

DSC_0057

Meigs Falls in February 2016

Where in the World is Meigs Falls?

Place of a Thousand Drips, Tennessee

Just outside of Gaitlinburg, Tennessee, you can easily enter Great Smoky Mountain National Park and take a drive along the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It’s a fascinating drive, and there are a number of waterfalls that can be accessed from the motor trail. Some of them require medium length hikes to view the falls, and on the day I was there, there was moderately consistent thunder, so I decided against those hikes.

There are a few waterfalls that can be easily viewed from the trail, though. One of them is unnamed, and is discussed here. The other, better advertised waterfall, is the Place of a Thousand Drips, which happens to be an amazingly cool name for a waterfall. I would assume it gets its name from the way it seems to split into many different drops, recombine, split again, and so on. It’s a rather fascinating view.

Directions:

  1. Head into Gaitlinburg along US-441/TN-71. (You should notice signs for the Motor Trail, but if you don’t….)
  2. If headed north into Gaitlinburg, you would turn right onto Historic Nature Trail/Cherokee Orchard Road, and essentially continue southeast along the road. The road turns into the Motor Trail inside of the park.
  3. Look for this falls on your left. It’s pretty clearly marked.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: roadside

The Place of a Thousand Drips in April 2013

Where in the World is the Place of a Thousand Drips?

Waterfall on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee

A waterfall along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (April 2013)

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a great place to find waterfalls, and in the short time I visited, I wasn’t able to see very many of them. (It gives me a good reason to go back!) If you take the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which is very close to Gaitlinburg (a surprisingly commercialized town), you will have the chance to visit a number of waterfalls such as Grotto and Rainbow Falls. Just plan more time!

On the day I visited, I had stopped to see Mingo Falls and Laurel Falls. The hike to Mingo Falls was shorter, Laurel Falls somewhat longer. I then stopped went into Gaitlinburg and ended up taking way more time than planned to find dinner! So once I got to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, I didn’t have a huge amount of time left to hike to some of the falls, which clock in at 5+ miles round trip. There was also some thunder around, and my brain does not particularly like thunder. So let’s just say I stuck to the main road.

You can only go one way on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and I was paying attention for the Place of a Thousand Drips. Before I got to my planned destination, I noticed this other waterfall to my left. Luckily, the road wasn’t busy at that time (in late April), and I had the chance to stop and photograph the falls. I didn’t stay for a long time, just enough to capture the falls. I’d say it’s about 30′ tall or so (?), and I don’t know if it’s named. If you have the chance, though, take the time to enjoy this unexpected waterfall!

Directions:

  1. Head into Gaitlinburg along US-441/TN-71. (You should notice signs for the Motor Trail, but if you don’t….)
  2. If headed north into Gaitlinburg, you would turn right onto Historic Nature Trail/Cherokee Orchard Road, and essentially continue southeast along the road. The road turns into the Motor Trail inside of the park.
  3. Look for this falls on your left. If you reach the Place of a Thousand Drips, you’ve passed it, and you have to circle around again if you want to see it.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 30′
Length of Hike: roadside

Where in the World is the Waterfall on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail?

Laurel Falls, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a significant number of waterfalls. While not all might be roadside, the park does an outstanding job at making the waterfalls easily accessible. I’ve never seen a park with so many pullouts right near smaller, unnamed falls. Laurel Falls is one of the named falls. It may not always be the most exciting falls, but after the intense rainfall this weekend (2″+ in certain places in a short period of time), Laurel Falls was really spectacular.

The hike to the falls is consistently uphill, but not so steep that it makes one regret the hike! The hike is about 1.3 miles one-way. With the rain falling, it was an almost mystical journey. The green in the just-emerging leaves was really intense.

There are two separate drops of the falls, separated by 10 feet or so, but distinct enough that you can’t capture both falls in the same photo. The upper portion of the falls is very easily viewed from the bridge just over the creek. The lower portion can be seen just before the bridge, but is better viewed by taking a somewhat obvious path before you reach the bridge. The path is steeper, but not too difficult to hike.

Directions:

  1. The Sugarlands Visitors Center is located at the intersection of US-441 and Little River Road (which might now be named Fighting Creek Gap Road). Turn onto Little River Road and drive to the signed parking area for Laurel Falls.
  2. From the parking area, follow the trail to the falls.

Accessibility: 5/10 (moderate)
Height: 55′
Length of Hike: 2.6 miles round-trip

The lower portion of Laurel Falls (in April 2013)

The upper portion of Laurel Falls

Where in the World is Laurel Falls?