Sandy and I combined a visit to watch the Tennessee Tech Volleyball Team open their season at a tournament in Cullowhee, NC hosted by Western Carolina (See “TTU Volleyball Season Opening Tournament”) with a visit to six prominent waterfalls in the state.
Bryson City Area
Beginning in the charming little town of Bryson City, we headed north just 3 miles to the Deep Creek trailhead in the southern part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This was actually the second visit after a brief stop in the afternoon on a previous trip. With not-so-good lighting at that time and a desire to visit Bryson City again, here we were, ready to head out at sun up. We were not the first ones there! With wide, well-maintained trails, it appears to be a haven for joggers and early morning hikers. The three waterfalls we photographed were Tom Branch, Indian Creek, and Juney Whank (see map). The distance to Indian Creek Falls is .8 of a mile and exceedingly easy. Typical of this time of year, the water flow was light.
If you ever head this way, plan to spend some time in Bryson City. They have an excursion railroad (same owner as Durango-Silverton Railroad) which we would like to take sometime, many restaurants (Jimmy Mac’s is highly recommended), art galleries, other shops, a brew pub, heritage museum, and more. Deep Creek is a haven for tubing in the summer, with 3-4 vendors and thousands of tubes for rent just outside the park.
Way down in Southern North Carolina
The area around Lake Toxaway reportedly has more waterfalls within a 15-mile radius than any other part of the state. Some are easy to visit, others not so. With our time constraints on this trip, we picked two: Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park and Whitewater Falls, situated almost on the South Carolina border.
Gorges State Park is one of NC’s newest state parks, and it shows. The roads and the visitor’s center are new and modern; the trailhead to Rainbow Falls is well-marked with panels of information. The trail itself is wide and maintained, and well-marked within the state park. Rainbow Falls is actually outside the park in the Pisgah National Forest. Across the park boundary, the trail is more “rustic”, but still easy to follow and navigate. Rainbow Falls (125′ cascade and drop) is 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and Turtleback Falls is another .1 mile further. Rainbow Falls is described as a “10” on the beauty scale, however, with Turtleback only receiving a “6” (Kevin Adams Photography).
Whitewater Falls is located in a NC day-use area. A paved walkway leads visitors to an observation area, with the falls far away in the distance. A second observation area is found 154 steps down to a platform. With tree growth, there is a very narrow window (basically one place to stand) to get a shot of the falls. We noticed a person at the top of the falls, so there is a way to get there. As far as I know, however, there is no way to descend further into the canyon to get up close and personal with the falls for some wide angle shots. Too bad!
The town of Cherokee is at the southern end of Hiway 441, the road that crosses Great Smoky Mountains Nat’l Park over Newfound Gap. Mingo Falls is about 7 miles north northeast of Cherokee, just outside the park boundary. With all the trips we have taken to the GSMNP, we heard about Mingo Falls just recently, and decided to see it. Although, the water flow in late August was minimal, the 150′ vertical cascade was impressive. It was easy to imagine what the falls would look like after a big rain. Mingo Falls is less than ¼ mile from the parking lot, although a climb up 174 steps is required, followed by a very short walk up a rocky trail. A bridge over Mingo Creek provides a good viewing area.
Soco Falls is about 10 miles east of Cherokee, just off Hiway 19. The parking area is small and there is little signage, so use your phone’s mapping software to get there. A steep, potentially slippery descent to the base of the falls is required to see it in it’s full glory. Similar to most of the other falls, the water flow was minimal at this time of year.
We want to return and see the falls when there is more water . . . late spring time, when the rhododendrons are blooming?