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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Tom Branch Falls?
Lower Whitewater Falls in March 2009
I had the chance to visit Lower Whitewater Falls over nine years ago, so some of my recollections may be a bit rusty. I had been seeing waterfalls in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. I had first stopped at Upper Whitewater Falls, which is on the same river, but across the border in North Carolina. (When I visited the area in March 2017, the Upper Whitewater Falls area was closed due to forest fire damage.)
Upper Whitewater Falls was very easy to visit, whereas seeing Lower Whitewater Falls required a bit more effort. At that time, I would hike to a lot of waterfalls in a day, sometimes going 13 or 14 miles. Essentially, I would wear myself out! So I got to Lower Whitewater Falls, and the hike seemed more strenuous than I expected. There were some portions where I’d climb a bit uphill and then downhill, and then repeat the process. That kind of hiking can take a bit of a toll, even though it may not be as problematic as having to climb consistently uphill. At the time, I also didn’t like to bring as much water as needed on hikes, and that made me very thirsty after arriving back at the car. (I’ve learned some lessons over the years.)
But luckily, Lower Whitewater Falls is a beautiful waterfall. At 200′, it’s an impressive drop. While you’re not extremely close (because it’s a pretty big drop), you’ll still get more than adequate views of the falls.
- To get to the falls, you want to get to the border of North Carolina and South Carolina along NC-281/SC-130.
- The road that leads to the falls is right past the border on the South Carolina side. You’ll be looking for Bad Creek Road, which will be on your left if you’re heading south.
- Turn onto Bad Creek Road. You’ll pass through a gate for Duke Energy, and it’s fine to go through.
- Drive along Bad Creek Road to the trail head for the falls.
Accessibility: 5/10 (moderate)
Length of Hike: 3.8 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Lower Whitewater Falls?
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.)
Late April 2013
Early March 2017
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.
- 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.)
- Drive for approximately 3.5 miles on Big Cove Road.
- 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.)
- 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)
Length of Hike: 0.8 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Mingo Falls?
I’m back in the North Carolina/South Carolina/Georgia/Tennessee vicinity, and there are so many waterfalls in the area. I wasn’t sure where to start today, but decided to head to Pearson’s Falls first, since it wasn’t an extremely long drive from the Greenville/Spartanburg area.
Pearson’s Falls is a very pretty waterfall. At 90′, it’s impressive, and the Tyron Garden Club has done a very good job of keeping up the trails and park. From the few falls I saw today, it seems as though the water flow is just a bit lower than normal. I’ll see if this continues to be a trend for other waterfalls in the region.
I’m going to comment on one interesting thing I experienced today at the falls…Who knows, someone who reads this might even be one of the people there. When I got to the falls, there were at least six different photographers with their tripods out taking pictures of the falls. I have never seen that many people, so it made me wonder whether there was some regular Sunday morning photography meeting! With that being said, it did create a bit of an odd situation. I really wasn’t sure where to sneak in and take pictures since I didn’t want to get in the way of anybody. A couple walking to the falls arrived after me, and turned around pretty quickly. I still was able to get some good shots, but probably didn’t hang around as long.
- There are a few different main roads that can lead to the falls, so I’ll describe the one I followed. From I-26 right near the NC/SC border, I was heading north and took exit 67 toward NC-108.
- Go through the roundabout and take the exit that heads west along NC-108, and then go through another roundabout to continue heading west. Continue along NC-108 W for a few miles.
- Veer right onto Harmon Field Road. After about 2000 ft, turn right onto US-176.
- After a few miles along US-176, turn left onto Pearson Falls Road. (While on US-176, you’ll also pass the trailhead for Melrose Falls, which I would have stopped at if I had know it existed!)
- Drive along Pearson Falls Road for about a mile to the park entrance. Check Pearson’s Falls website for the most current park hours. There is also an entrance fee, and the hike to the falls is pretty easy once you’ve parked.
Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Length of Hike: ~0.6 miles round-trip
Pearson’s Falls in March 2017
Where in the World is Pearson’s Falls?
Soco Falls in late April 2013
I didn’t have very high expectations for Soco Falls. I was using the book “North Carolina Waterfalls” by Kevin Adams to find waterfall candidates. In 2005, he did not have anything particularly good to say about the falls. It is different now! And I think it’s possible that his comments could have spurred the changes (or the changes were already in motion). Either way, it’s definitely a good thing!
The most difficult part is finding the falls. Even that has somewhat improved. There are now signs in both directions, approximately 0.5 miles before the falls. If headed west along US-19, though, it is extremely easy to miss the parking area, even after seeing the sign indicating the distance. There is now a sign at the parking area but it cannot be seen coming from that direction. The sign for the parking area can be seen if headed east (from Cherokee). It was difficult to turn around, but I did, and it was worth it.
The hike to the falls is simple. The trail starts at a split between two metal barriers. It heads downhill pretty quickly, but is very manageable. There are rocks strategically placed to help with footing. After a tenth of a mile or so (if that), you’ll reach the wood boardwalk, which leads to a great view of the falls. The trail to the base of the falls was blocked with yellow rope, so I didn’t proceed to the base of the falls. This is a very beautiful waterfall, and it just so happened to be raining today. The falls were impressive! (They also seem to be cleaner now.)
- The parking area for Soco Falls is found approximately 1.5 miles west from the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and US-19. As I said, if you are headed west, you will see a sign indicating 0.5 miles to Soco Falls (in blue), but then it is very easy to miss the parking area.
- If heading east from Cherokee along US-19, you will see both the first sign (0.5 miles ahead), and the blue sign at the parking area.
- From the parking area, head down the trail to the falls!
Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate)
Height: 35′ (main drop)
Length of Hike: 0.2 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Soco Falls?
There aren’t very many waterfalls in Clay County, North Carolina, apparently due to the sandstone predominantly found in the area. After some searching, I found information about Leatherwood Falls (also sometimes called Fires Creek Falls). I decided to try and find it, and it was an interesting adventure.
First off, there aren’t many sites that discuss the drive to the falls. The drive to the falls is surprisingly easy, nearly all on paved roads. I say this after being on some waterfall hunts that are on rocky, unpaved national forest roads. Only a short stretch (maybe 1/10 of a mile) is actually on unpaved road. Other websites give numbers for the roads, but Google Maps and my Garmin GPS found that it was off of Fires Creek Wildlife Road. I easily found this road by having my GPS find the intersection of Fires Creek Road and Fires Creek Wildlife Road. (See the directions below for more info.)
After getting to the parking area for the falls, it became more interesting. I could see an impressive drop, but it was mostly hidden behind trees. Since the trees had all of their leaves, the view was greatly diminished. I’m guessing the easiest way to get to the drop I’m referring to would be to actually cross Fires Creek, but I wasn’t in any mood to do that. I started to wander around, and found the Leatherwood Loop. It does actually loop around, and it’s not a difficult hike, but it doesn’t lead to any truly spectacular views of the falls. At one point, you can take a left and get down to the river, where you’ll see the same view in the photo, but otherwise, it seemed far to slippery and dangerous to explore any further. (A crazy downpour/hailstorm had just occurred minutes earlier.) So, let me know if you decide to cross the river to get a better view….I have a feeling the best time to view the falls might be right before the leaves emerge on the trees.
- From US-64 heading west from Hayesville, turn right onto Fires Creek Road and drive.
- After about 3 miles, turn left onto Fires Creek Wildlife Road. There is a National Forest sign indicating a distance of 1.8 miles to a picnic area (and 6 miles further to some horse thing). Head 1.8 miles.
- Now, getting there is easier than it seems, but there are a few things that may confuse you. Right near the 1.8 mile mark is Leatherwood Road. Do NOT turn onto Leatherwood Road. Keep going. The road will go from paved to unpaved, and there will be a sign for FR-340. Follow this for a VERY SHORT distance to the parking area on your left. A picnic table can be found there, along with the Leatherwood Loop.
Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate) for upper views (10/10, easy, for a not so great view of the falls across the creek)
Length of Hike: 0.2 miles round-trip (though you can see part of the falls from the parking area)
A portion of Leatherwood Falls in May 2012
Where in the World is Leatherwood Falls?
Looking Glass Falls in March 2009
Looking Glass Falls just so happens to be one of my favorite waterfalls in North Carolina, though there are a number of other equally impressive falls in the state. Looking Glass Falls is found in Pisgah National Forest in the waterfall-infested Transylvania County. The first plus is that is very easy to visit, being found right off of US-276. The drive to the falls is amazingly beautiful, even in the time just before spring.
Once you get to the falls, you have two options. The first option is to view the falls without much effort. It is disability accessible when not going to the base. Even from this viewpoint, it’s impressive. If you have the option of heading down the base, you definitely should. From here, you can get some great shots of the falls. The rock hanging to the upper right of the falls is uniquely interesting, and the shadows that form on the falls make this a gem.
- From Brevard, drive north on US-276.
- After about 5.5 miles you’ll pass the pullout/parking for Looking Glass Falls.
- Pull off on the right, park, and head to the falls.
Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Length of Hike: negligible (essentially roadside)
Where in the World is Looking Glass Falls?