I love where I live! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It doesn’t get any better than this.
I’m a hiker. That’s no mystery! This blog is certainly evidence of this. So imagine my thrill when we moved to a house that is ON the Bartram Trail. In fact, we are sandwiched between the alternate “Canoe Route” and the “Hiking/Biking Route” on Section 3 of the Bartram Trail. This is the section between Buckeye Creek and Wallace Branch; or from Otto to Franklin, NC.
It’s not uncommon to see hikers passing our house on the road or paddling down the river in canoes and kayaks. And I wish I was going with each and every one of them.
The video below, which I shot in the evening, will give you a small taste of how amazing this section of the Bartram Trail really is.
Check this section of the Bartram out sometime! And if you happen by, don’t forget to wave or stop in for a rest.
By and far, Kimsey Creek Trail offers the most diverse and dramatic landscapes within the
Though tempting, this is NOT one of the recommended crossings over Kimsey Creek.
Standing Indian Basin. And water. Lots of water!
There’s water beside the trail, on the trail, across the trail, over the trail, under the trail, through the trail, running, pooling, trickling, splashing, sploshing and laughing. Oh, yes! It laughs at you at times as you try and keep your shoes dry.
But it’s all part of the charm, character, and personality of the trail. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
So, whether you walk right through the water, step across stones and logs, or perambulate over one of the many bridges, Kimsey Creek Trail in the Standing Indian Basin has a crossing for you.
Here are just a few you’ll encounter….
By the time you’re done you will have crossed dozens of these littler feeder branches to Kimsey Creek.
Looking downstream through the thick rhododendron at the first Kimsey Creek bridge.
Paralleling the creek most of the way, Kimsey Creek Trail is filled with springs and low spots that never seem to dry out.
Depending on the time of year, water occasionally flows down the middle of the trail, adding to the fun of hiking Kimsey Creek Trail.
This is one of the many bold streams that feed into Kimsey Creek. As you will see, not all of them have bridges.
Another view of the weathered, well-trodden bridge from the previous photo.
Not only a great place to cross Kimsey Creek, it’s also a great place to sit and look at the falls. (And don’t let the missing planks intimidate you. It’s a sturdy bridge.)
Made by trail maintainers or by hikers themselves, logs and strategically placed rocks assist hikers at many crossings and wet spots along Kimsey Creek Trail.
My hiking buddy, Phyto, never uses a bridge to cross Kimsey Creek. Lucky dog!
Funny how the widest feeder stream doesn’t have a bridge. No worries! There’s a narrow spot just upstream that most people can jump…or get wet trying.
This is it! The trail heads uphill away from Kimsey Creek and water becomes somewhat scarce…unless you’re caught in a rainstorm, which is frequent in this part of the Nantahala Mountains.
So…you get the picture?! (See what I did there?) Kimsey Creek Trail is beautiful, full of gorgeous scenery, and wet, but wet in a good sort of way.
Take a hike, splash in the creek, or soak your feet. You can’t go wrong, anytime of the year, on Kimsey Creek Trail.
I really am fortunate. Living so close to Standing Indian – and all the wonderful trails it has to offer – is, well, the best thing in the world. Really! It’s a hiker’s paradise!
I could write thousands of blog posts about it and post umpteen million beautiful photos, but it’s not the same as seeing this place for yourself.
I suppose I could – or should – leave it at that. Visit Standing Indian – period! But then this would become a very dull blog. And besides, you’d never get to read about Kimsey Creek Trail…which…you’d be better off experiencing personally rather than reading about it. But…then…well…oh!
Ok! Enough. You get the picture. You’re here. You might as well read about Kimsey Creek Trail. Then you can decide if you’d like to see it for yourself…or not. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s, by far, one of my favorite trails in the Standing Indian Basin.
And like many of the the trails in Standing Indian, you can pick up the Kimsey Creek Trail at the Backcountry Information Center. Just follow the signs to the junction of Kimsey Creek Trail and the Park Ridge/Park Creek loop and turn left. You’re ready to hike Kimsey Creek.
The Magic Begins
There are only a couple of steep, short inclines on the Kimsey Creek Trail and you’ll be glad to know you’re getting one of them out of the way right at the beginning. It’s not a long incline but it will elevate your heart rate, depending on what kind of shape you’re in.
As it switches back on itself and winds up the hill, you will soon find yourself walking along the Standing Indian Campground and past the outdoor amphitheater. Further on, the path descends to an old forest service road, where you’ll look down on the large group campsites, a great place for groups up to 50 campers (reservations required).
In my opinion, this old forest service road, which you’ll be on for a couple of miles, is one of the many things that makes Kimsey Creek Trail so enjoyable. This wide, scenic walk along Kimsey Creek is rather deceiving. You don’t even realize you’re gradually going uphill the whole way.
Many people will follow this section out until the path narrows again and then turn around for a short, 4 mile, out and back hike. And if this is all you end up doing, it’ll still be one of the most memorable hikes you’ve ever taken.
This section is punctuated by many water crossings, springs, and feeder streams for Kimsey Creek. So many, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the creek and the trail. But don’t let this dissuade you! Yes. Kimsey Creek Trail is a wet trail. But it’s fun hopping from rock to rock – especially with hiking poles – or you can tramp right through the wet spots like an old pro if you want. And kids LOVE this section because of all the water.
There are also many places along Kimsey Creek where you can stop to rest, sit on a rock, or even fish for trout (though the old timers may not like me giving away their secret spots).
Waterfalls and Falling Waters
As you follow the well marked blue blazed trail, you’ll come to a small bridge where the road ends and the single lane path picks up again. The first thing you’ll see when you cross the bridge is one of many backcountry campsites along Kimsey Creek Trail. You can’t reserve these, and sometimes they’re overgrown with raspberry canes, but if you do decide to camp in one of these places remember to practice the Leave No Trace principles.
I love this section of the trail! It passes through a narrow ravine as it continues to meander along Kimsey Creek. There are several small, picturesque waterfalls, a rickety, but safe, bridge, and great places to meditate with the sound of running water dominating your senses.
And, the temperature?! Wow! Is it cool through this section – anytime of year. It’s like being in an air conditioned forest in the summer. It can be 80 degrees in Franklin, but only 65 degrees along this part of the creek. In the winter and through early spring, it’s not uncommon to see huge icicles hanging from the rock faces along the creek. And, with full leaf coverage, it almost appears to be dusk most of the day throughout this section.
It really is magical! And if you don’t go any farther than this on the trail, you’ve had a great hike. Seriously!
The second distinct incline in the trail marks the end of this section. The path climbs up and away from the creek, winding around small swales and ridges, hopping feeder streams, and past some rather large trees. Dappled sunlight makes another appearance as the ridge rises and though the canopy is thick in the summer, you may get a glimpse of blue sky letting you know it’s still daylight.
Kimsey Creek Canyon – Unofficially Speaking
Eventually you’ll come to a blue blazed tree, which looks like it has very long legs. It reminds me of the Tree Ents from Lord of the Rings. You get the feeling like it just might walk through the fern-carpeted forest at night and return to the exact same spot as the sun rises. Haha! I’m sure it doesn’t, but, then again, I haven’t spent the night at this spot to know for certain.
The trail drops sharply here and rejoins Kimsey Creek. I call this section of the trail Kimsey Creek Canyon. Oh, no! That’s not its official name. I made it up. It’s not on any cartographer’s maps. But you’re deep…well below the canopy, surrounded by steeply rising ridges, and dwarfed by the mountain tops. Often times, though you don’t feel it before or after this section, the wind roars through here as if it were the only passage it has through the mountains.
It’s not like the Grand Canyon, mind you, with sheer cliffs on either side. No. These mountains are much older, softer, worn down by time and weather. In the winter, when the leaves are gone and you can see the contour of the land around you, the canyon-like quality really shows. And the way the land opens up as you come out of this section, heading toward Deep Gap, almost gives the impression, geologically speaking, that there may have been a land bridge or ice dam many thousands of years ago, which eventually gave way to what is now Kimsey Creek, forming the Kimsey Creek Canyon.
Who knows?! But it sure is fun looking at the land and speculating on the history and the forces of nature that shape it.
The Final Accent
As the trail continues, it’s time to say goodbye to Kimsey Creek. The path begins its last ascent towards Deep Gap. There are a couple of short climbs, but overall the trail still has a fairly gradual grade, compared to other trails in Standing Indian.
When you average the elevation gain over the entire distance of the trail it’s only about 250 feet per mile. Very easy! I think the reason why the trail is listed as “moderately difficult” is because of all the water crossings, rocks, and roots you have to contend with – not the elevation gain.
Anyway, soon you will come to a large meadow adjacent to a gravel parking lot, which is accessed by US Forest Service Road 71. (Please note: USFS 71 is only open spring through fall. Check with the local Nantahal Ranger Station (firstname.lastname@example.org) for opening and closing dates.)
USFS 71, a six mile long, one lane, gravel road with turnouts, connects U.S. Hwy 64 with Deep Gap. Deep Gap (elev 4341) is the terminus of the Kimsey Creek Trail, trailhead for the Deep Gap Branch Trail, and a popular waypoint on the Appalachian Trail for weekenders and AT section hikers.
You’ll always find cars in the various parking lots at the end of Kimsey Creek Trail. In fact, certain times of the year this area gets quite crowded. For example, in April you’ll be hard pressed finding solitude amongst all the section hikers, thru-hikers, and the people gathering ramps, a pungent, wild onion,considered a delicacy by many, that grows rampant in this area. And, of course, again in the fall when all the leaf lookers come out for our colorful fall display.
Kimsey Creek Trail is marked as 23 and Lower Ridge Trail is marked as 28. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the Appalachian Trail. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)
How’s It Go Again? Oh, Right? Just Do It!
Kimsey Creek Trail is a great out-and-back hike that’s available year round from the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian. It’s also part of a very popular loop trail (Kimsey Creek Trail/Appalachian Trail/Lower Ridge Trail – 11 miles in total) that makes for a great, but long, day hike or a wonderful weekend backpacking trip.
BUT – and this is a big but since this is a very important Public Service Announcement – if you decide to do the loop, I strongly recommend starting with Kimsey Creek Trail first. The Lower Ridge Trail, beautiful and scenic as it may be, is quite steep in parts and is MUCH better to come down, than to go up. Believe me!
So! If you’ve made it this far, after reading all these words, I hope you realize that you really need to experience this trail for yourself – more than once and at different times of the year.
There’s magic in discovering the beauty of a trail for the first time and Kimsey Creek Trail will easily feel like a new experience every time you hike it. So…hike it! And let me know what you think about it in the comments section.
Trail at a glance Mileage: 4.1 miles one way to Deep Gap Elevation change: Approx 1000ft from Backcountry Info Center to Deep Gap Water sources: Springs/Streams Trailhead: Park at the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian and follow the signs for Kimsey Creek Trail.
Off the beaten path. A hidden gem. An historical homestead preserved by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.
Tessentee Creek just before it flows into the Little Tennessee River.
Call it what you like. I call it one of the most relaxing strolls through history you’ll find in Macon County, NC.
One of the trails passing through some Native River Cane, which grows abundantly in the Bottomlands.
The Tessentee Bottomland Preserve is 64 acres, bordered by Tessentee Creek and the Little Tennessee River. With extraordinary educational and historical value and rich biodiversity, the public is invited to walk around this family-friendly preserve and learn more about the history and natural habits, flora, and fauna native to the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina.
Here are some tidbits about the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve:
Home to 115 species of birds and part of the NC Birding Trail
Home to 42 species of butterflies
Amazing long range views of Albert Mountain, Fishhawk Mountain and, on a clear day, Clingmans Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains
An historical farmhouse, with several outbuildings, built around 1890
An overnight stop for famed naturalist, William Bartram in 1775
And possibly the site of the first battle of the “Cherokee Wars” in 1760 and the beginning of the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War in 1776
The original farmhouse which was built around 1890.
You can learn more about the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, find directions, and download a trail map and brochure at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. And while you’re there, find out about all the amazing things the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee does for our neck of the woods.
Enjoy the rest of the pics!
Well marked trails make it easy to follow multiple loops around the Preserve.
See ya on the trail!
One of the unique plants found in western North Carolina, this evergreen ground cover can be found along the wooded banks of Tessentee Creek.
Various field studies are carried out all over the Bottomlands. It’s advised you stay on the trail and avoid interfering with the research.
And there’s always time for a new perspective on life.
You want a view! Have we got views for you. Everywhere you turn in the mountains of western North Carolina you’re treated to another outstanding vista.
Breathtaking. Majestic. Awe inspiring. The sort of views that keep life in perspective; a glimpse which offers so much more than our usual hustle and bustle.
Seriously! Take your pick. BUT if you should find yourself in Highlands, NC, then you’ll want to visit the gorgeous long range, mountain views from Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock.
This is looking north from the bottom of Sunset Rock. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.
And, if you time your visit perfectly, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing mountain sunrise or sunset, and you’ll swear you’ve just witnessed the soul – and grandeur – of life itself.
Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock sit at the top of Ravenel Park, a tract of land given to the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust in 1914. That’s right – 1914!
And you’ve guessed it. This year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Ravenel Park – or what the mayor of Highlands, NC has declared as the “Sunsetennial: 100 Years of Sunsets and Sunrises Together.”
It’s a big to do. You can learn more about the Sunsetennial, it’s history and special events, and the great work of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust by visiting their website.
Like with any outing, it’s always best to plan ahead.
Looking east from Sunrise Rock.
There are two parking lots for Sunset Rock. Each one offering very few spaces, so it would be in your best interest to plan ahead and time your visit so you have a decent place to park. Of course, there’s always the option of staying at the Old Edward’s Inn and walking to the park from there.
Located off of Horse Cove Road, which is a continuation of Main Street heading east out of Highlands, and on the right hand side just past the Highlands Nature Center is Sunset Road, a one-lane gravel drive.
You can park in a small lot just before Sunset Road and walk two miles up to the top or, if you get there early enough, drive up to the top and walk about a tenth of a mile to either Sunset or Sunrise Rock.
If you plan on seeing a sunrise or sunset, make sure you have flashlights or headlamps, a jacket, blankets to sit on and some water (you might get thirsty after the walk up or down). And if you happen to take any food, be sure to practice “Leave No Trace” principles and pack out ALL of your garbage.
OK! So you’ll have to imagine a sunset, but this is the dramatic view from Sunset Rock.
You can visit Sunset Rock any time of year, weather permitting, but I would imagine fall would be particularly special with the autumn colors at their peak.
Oh! One last thing. Take a camera. You’ll want to show all of your friends the beautiful sunrise or sunset.
Do you have a favorite place to watch the sun rise or set? Share it with us in the comments.
See ya’ on the trail,
Michael (aka Tastelikchickn)
OK! So it’s off the beaten path. I’ll give you that. But you won’t be disappointed. The views from Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob are worth it. I promise!
View of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.
And, it’s one of the easiest hikes along the Bartram Trail (BT). This is a promise too.
Granted. I haven’t hiked the entire BT – yet – but this section is certainly nothing like the grueling section from Wallace Branch to Wayah Bald. That’s practically straight up hill for 11 miles.
Fortunately – and you’ll be happy to know this – you do most of your climbing in the car on your way to the trailhead for Whiterock Mountain. What a relief, right?
With A Little Help From My Friends
Amazing things happen when you have supportive friends.
I’m starting a new venture. It’s called Mountain Trails Yoga and it’s a fusion of two of my favorite things; the cardio workout of a vigorous hike and the strength, balance, and flexibility of yoga. And it’s a blast too.
Well, I mentioned this idea to some friends who just so happen to be board members of the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society and they immediately started suggesting great places for a yoga hike.
Entrance to Forest Service road 4522, leading to Jones Gap.
A perfect spot for some hiking yoga!
One of their suggestions was the hike from Jones Gap (elev 4360) to Whiterock Mountain (elev 4480) on the BT. And it turned out to be a perfect place for a yoga hike – complete with open rocky balds and breathtaking views.
It’s the sort of mountain top you might imagine a yogi sitting cross-legged, practicing levitation.
So, anyway, we picked a day, invited more friends in high places – a couple who work for the National Park Service and another couple who are scientists at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory – and headed out.
On The Trail Again
Once you get to the trailhead and put on your pack, go north through the Forest Service gate and along the old service road. This will pass through a wildlife clearing which ends at the junction of the yellow blazed BT and the blue blazed trail to Jones Knob (elev 4622).
If you’ve got the time, take the short trail up to Jones Knob. You’ll get a great view of Whiterock Mountain and wonderful perspective of the whole hike.
Looking towards Whiterock Mountain from Jones Knob.
Taking in the view from Jones Knob.
Beyond Jones Knob, the BT basically follows a gently undulating ridge line towards Whiterock Mountain. I’d classify this hike as easy to moderate and very family friendly. Just be mindful of your children and pets once you reach the open rock faces.
The trail winds through rhododendron tunnels and shady hardwood forests. Besides the occasional view between the trees, there are two points of interest between Jones Knob and Whiterock Mountain.
The first one is the graveyard. It’s not really a graveyard but it certainly gives the appearance of one. The graveyard is an open rock face, looking over the Tessentee Valley and toward Whiterock. Large flat boulders litter the rocky prominence, giving the impression of toppled tombstones. It’s a nice spot to rest, have a picnic, do some yoga or simply contemplate your life.
The Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.
Whiterock Mountain as seen from The Graveyard.
Whiterock Gap with directions to one of the two water sources.
The second point of interest is Whiterock Gap (elev 4120). There’s a well-marked water source – one of two on this section of trail – right below Whiterock Gap, which adds to its appeal as a comfortable campsite.
And this spot could come in handy for you. A lot of people will visit Whiterock for the spectacular mountain sunsets. So if you’d rather not do a “night hike” after the sun goes down you can always camp here instead and hike out in the morning.
Not long after Whiterock Gap you’ll come to the blue blazed junction for Whiterock Mountain (the BT continues on its way to Fishhawk Mountain). This short spur gives way to a rocky path that eventually opens up dramatically to the most amazing views in the southern Appalachians.
Look for this sign and the blue blazes that lead to the Whiterock Mountain overlook.
Friends in high places – basking in the glorious views from Whiterock Mountain.
This is Whiterock!
You’ve made it! Sit and rest and bask in the sunshine. Take in the views of the Tessentee Valley below you and the southern Nantahala Mountains to your west. On a good day you can see Albert Mountain and maybe even Wayah Bald.
Saying you can see forever might sound like an exaggeration, but when you’re up here on Whiterock…you can almost believe it.
Don’t rush! Take your time and enjoy this magical place. And when you’re ready, simply retrace your steps to the trailhead at Jones Gap.
Taking it all in on Whiterock Mountain.
What is it about sitting on top of a mountain that makes your spirit soar? Drop us a comment and let us know what it is for you.
See ya on the trail,
Trail at a glance Mileage: 3.5 miles one way to Whiterock Mtn – plus an additional 0.3 mile to Jones Knob Elevation change: 120 ft to Whiterock/262 ft to Jones Knob Water sources: Streams Trailhead: From Franklin, NC: drive 9.5 miles on 64/28 towards Highlands. Turn right on Gold Mine Rd. Travel 0.8 mile and then turn left on Dendy Orchard Rd. Go 2.6 miles and turn right on FR 4522 (Jones Gap Rd). Drive 2 more miles to the Jones Gap trailhead.
How did I let this happen? It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to hike in the woods.
Somehow October and November got away from me. I was beginning to show signs of Cabin Fever. And that’s not good…for anyone.
What to do?
You and I both know there’s only one cure for Cabin Fever; lace up your boots and hit the trail. Sounds like the perfect prescription, doesn’t it?
I love where I live! I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million more times. But there are hundreds of trails within a short drive of my home. It’s really a hiker’s paradise.
Choosing a trail, however, can feel like standing in the middle of a video store and trying to decide what movie you want to watch.
Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to pick this time. I headed straight to Standing Indian so I could hike one of my favorite loops; the Park Creek-Park Ridge loop.
The Park Creek and Park Ridge trails are actually two different trails and fabulous in their own way. Taking the half mile connector between the two trails turns an “out-and-back” trip into a very nice roundabout walk, bringing you right back to where you started. It’s perfect for families and hikers of almost any age.
Though there are no scenic overlooks or amazing waterfalls along this trail…or any “special” places you need to see – it still offers plenty of lush beauty, the solitude of the backcountry and the soothing sound of babbling water practically anywhere on the trail.
In fact, like most trails in Standing Indian, there are several places along this loop where it’s hard to discern the trail from the stream. But that’s all part of its charm.
Leaving the Backcountry Info Center, follow the signs and the blue blazed trail through the Standing Indian Campground. Various trailheads will branch off from this feeder trail.
I always start with the Park Creek trail first. It travels for about a mile along the Upper Nantahala River on what I think is an old railroad grade. History buffs might know for sure, but I do know there are other old grades in the basin.
Take your time as you pass through the thick rhododendron and dog hobble and check out some of the large boulders and rocky places along the river. Little side trails will reveal nice long views of the river, swimming holes, and some beautiful whitewater cascades.
The trail takes a sharp left turn when it reaches Park Creek. For the next mile and a half the path meanders around this bold tributary and begins a gentle, long climb.
I don’t think many hikers venture pass this point. Park Creek Trail begins to narrow and you’re likely to find fewer signs of travelers and many more tree branches and blow downs across the path.
This was the first time I’ve hiked the trail in the dead of winter. And, to my surprise, after about two miles in, I found a clearing I had never seen before. It was about twenty feet off the path. The thicket that separated it from the path is obviously too dense to permit detection in the summer.
It’s always fun finding these woodland meadows. The forest service maintains these openings for wildlife, but they’re nonetheless surprising when you happen upon one – a clearing in the middle of seemingly nowhere.
Somewhere around the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll have to ford Park Creek. It’s fairly wide at this point and, depending on the amount of recent rain, the large stepping stones can sometimes be submerged.
It’s always a good idea whenever you’re hiking in Standing Indian to use trekking poles or a walking stick. With as much water on the trails and the numerous stream crossings, trekking poles come in handy, providing extra balance and stability.
There’s nothing worse in the winter than slipping off a rock and getting your foot soaked.
In about another tenth of a mile and you’ll come to a fork in the path. Park Creek Trail continues to the right and the Connector Trail to Park Ridge Trail turns left. This spot is generally well marked (although the sign looked like it was in need of some repair when I was there on New Year’s Day).
There’s only about 550 feet of elevation gain on Park Creek-Park Ridge loop and most of it comes in the last quarter mile of the Connector Trail. It’s easy enough with switchbacks and when you reach the top you’ll find yourself at the intersection of three forest service roads.
These grassy roads are not on any of the maps I own, but one of the roads has a sign indicating it connects with Kimsey Creek Trail.
Turn right once you reach the forest service road, walk about 20 yards and take the Park Ridge return trail on your left. You’ll notice a set of stairs to the right. This is the continuation of the Park Ridge Trail which follows the ridge line between Park Creek and Kimsey Creek.
The Return Trip
Park Creek Trail is marked as 33 and Park Ridge Trail is marked as 32 and 32A, which is the Connector Trail. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the AT at Rock Gap. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)
From here it’s all downhill. For the next mile or so, you’ll amble around tall poplars, oaks and an occasional beech tree. Every now and again you’ll come across a rhododendron thicket hiding another soggy branch you’ll have to cross.
Eventually this will intersect with the old railroad grade you started on. Turn right and follow the signs back to the Back Country Info Center.
Anytime of year is great time to hike this trail. In the summer, it offers a lush forest, cool shade and plenty of watery distractions. In the winter, when the leaves are gone, you can see the incredible contours of the land around you as it makes a big circle around Bee Tree Knob.
Just shy of five miles, this fantastic loop is great for a family hike, power walk or even some scenic trail running. Let me know what you think if you ever get the chance to try it.
Looking for a good time? Maybe some wholesome family fun? Deep Creek is about as close as you can come to a natural amusement park…and a helluva lot cheaper.
We’ve been going for years and we’ve only seen and done a fraction of what’s available.
Looking upstream at the calm, lower section of Deep Creek. Great for younger kids to tube!
There’s so much to love about Deep Creek! Each time we go I promise myself we’re going to explore more of the whole area.
But, alas, I’m just a kid at heart. All we ever do, like so many times before, is tube down the half-mile long white water rapids of Deep Creek. All day long; up and down, one run after another with a little swimming thrown in now and then.
It’s so much fun. You’ve really got to try it for yourself!
Here’s a video from last year’s trip. I didn’t feel like walking back to my car to get my camera this year. It would have kept me from making another run.
Located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain Park and just north of Bryson City, there’s so much more to Deep Creek than tubing. I know, for some of you who have been there, that’s going to sound blasphemous, but it’s true.
You’ll find lots of hiking trails, bridle trails, waterfalls, camping and picnicking around Deep Creek.
Admittedly, I’ve never done all these other fun things, but judging from their popularity, I’d still recommend them.
Useful tips I wish someone told us the first time we went tubing at Deep Creek:
Go early and plan to stay all day
Tube rentals range from $3 to $5 a day – make sure you get one with a bottom
Wear water shoes and a swim suit that won’t get pulled off by the strong water
Plan to have a picnic while you’re there.
Try to avoid weekends. They’re VERY crowded.
On this year’s trip I did manage to break tradition…slightly. I got everyone to go on a very short hike to Juney Whank Falls.
I did say very short hike, didn’t I?The trailhead is right at the main parking lot and it’s only .3 mile to the falls. Luckily everyone was interested in doing it. (I think the idea of seeing a waterfall motivated them.)
It’s an easy walk. Most of the trail is shared with a wide bridle path which meanders around Deep Creek. The grade is easy – around 200 feet elevation gain – and the trail, like most National Parks, is well maintained.
Juney Whank is a charming waterfall with about an 80-foot drop, and well worth the trip. There’s a very nice bridge spanning the falls with a built-in bench to sit and rest as you watch and listen to the tumbling water.
This is the view looking up at Juney Whank Falls.
This is the view looking down Juney Whank Falls.
You can keep walking – the trail makes a loop – or go back the way you came. Katie and I decided to head back the way we came since the kids were stating to show signs of hunger and you know how irritable hungry kids can be on the trail. It was time for dinner.
So what about next year?
Next year I promise to explore more. Serioulsy! I do. I mean I will. You can hold me to it. ‘Till then…
See ya’ on the trail,
Directions to Deep Creek:
From the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, take the Veterans Blvd exit and follow the signs to Bryson City. Stay on this road and veer right at the light just before the river. The road changes names to Slope St. Turn right on Mitchell St, then left on Everett St. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on Depot St. Turn left on Ramseur St and then an immediate right on Deep Creek Rd. Veer left onto West Deep Creek Rd and follow this as it winds around to the Smoky Mountain Park entrance. Pick up your tubes before entering park and then drive another half mile to the Deep Creek parking area.
Don’t let the name of this waterfall fool you. It’s not really a secret. And I’m not breaking any local “code of silence” by telling you about it. Thank goodness.
It’s just so remote hardly anyone knows of it, including plenty of locals.
How remote is it? Let’s just say you have to really be committed to visiting Secret Falls. It’s literally out in the middle of the wilderness. After you’ve survived the numerous, curvy switchbacks out of Highlands, NC, you head down a long, poorly maintained, one lane gravel road.
But that’s all part of its charm.
For when it comes to waterfalls, the more remote they are, the less popular they are…and this is a good thing. As the tourists hit Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, you should plan to spend your day at Secret Falls.
How To Find Secret Falls
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so instead of providing detailed directions, I’m simply going to refer you to a couple of friends of mine, Matt and Melinda, over at Stay And Play In The Smokies. Besides providing great directions to Secret Falls, they’re also a great resource for travel and vacation information about western North Carolina.
This relatively short trail, less than a mile from the trailhead, is very level and wide. You’ll have to cross two streams, but they both have sturdy log bridges that are easy to cross.
Once you reach the side trail to Secret Falls, there’s a short drop in elevation to the lower part of the falls. Just watch the steps – a couple of them were wobbly.
This is where you get the best view and photo ops of Secret Falls. If you visit in warmer weather, you can even take advantage of the great swimming hole.
Being relatively easy to get too and fairly safe if you keep your distance from the edge, you’ll find an incredible view looking down Secret Falls and beyond. And I imagine this would look spectacular when the fall colors are at their peak.
You can visit Secret Falls anytime of year. Go for a day or spend a night or two. Swim, fish, camp or take lots of photos. There’s so much to see and do here. Just remember to keep it nice for the next visitors and pack out anything you take with you.
It’s not every day you get to go back in time, but that’s exactly what it feels like – to me at least – when I’m hiking on Timber Ridge Trail.
The feeling…it’s much more than being out in the middle of nowhere; though the remoteness is undeniable. It’s much more than the cool, damp, earthy-smelling air that settles in this deep ravine – even on a hot July day. And it’s so much more than the narrow path, fighting nature’s attempt to reclaim it.
There’s something else that makes it so primeval.
Deep, Dank and Dark
This moderate, 2.3 mile hike, starts at the same trailhead as Big Laurel Falls. The trail splits once you cross the bridge over a tributary of the Upper Nantahala River.
This is the lowest point of the trail at 3750 ft. Everything around you angles up sharply from here.
You’re surrounded by several 5,000 footers; Standing Indian Mountain (5499), Albert Mountain (5250) and Ridgepole Mountain (5043) – and then several more mountains and ridges over 4500 feet.
Being pinched in this dark, narrow creek bed, you feel buried deep in the mountains. It’s a bit deceiving, though, because you’re still 1600 feet higher than the town of Franklin.
Nonetheless you feel so small, dwarfed and enclosed. The shadows are heavy. Even in July, by 4 PM, you would swear dusk had fallen upon you. Sunlight is a commodity in this part of Standing Indian.
It was the first day it hadn’t rained in about a week. By the afternoon the forecast was calling for only a 20% chance of rain the rest of the evening. The river was slightly higher than normal and the roar was deafening. We had to shout so we could hear each other.
The day was hot and sticky. At home the thermometer read 89 degrees. We’d been shut in for days. My wife and I needed to get outside. We needed to cool off.
Despite the fact that it was 69 degrees at the trailhead, 20 degrees cooler than home, the air was steamy, heavy and thick with moisture.
The forest canopy is dense this time of year and the Rhododendron tunnels are so dark, making our way rather tricky, we could have used headlamps.
I don’t know if it was from the darkness or from the tactile sound of the river – or both, but you could feel a palpable tension. There’s a living force here. This place is alive. For some reason, and I don’t always feel this, it was telling us to move along this afternoon.
The light at the end of a Rhododendron tunnel.
Upward and Onward
The steepest part of Timber Ridge Trail, about 250 ft, is in the beginning and fortunately it doesn’t last too long. Once you’re out of the dark Rhododendron tunnels, the path begins to climb a gently rising ridgeline, which continues until the trail intersects with the AT.
After about a mile the understory opens and large patches of ferns begin to appear. Ferns are not uncommon in this part of western North Carolina and I love seeing them, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.
A woodland carpet of ferns!
Ferns as far as the eye can see.
They were everywhere as far as you could see; for over a mile, the understory was covered in ferns; tall, beautiful ferns. The only other thing below the hardwood canopy were some giant – and I mean giant – mushrooms.
Maybe it’s from all those trips to the natural history museums as a kid, or looking at books about dinosaurs or seeing fossilized evidence of long dead ferns, but, to me, ferns, more than anything else, represent prehistoric life, primeval environments. Seeing this enormous patch immediately brought up my childlike imagination and put me on guard for Velociraptors and Saber-toothed Tigers.
At one point a huge owl – the biggest I’ve ever seen – flew silently overhead. My immediate thought was…Pterodactyl! I laughed out loud and quickly came to my senses, wishing my kids were here to see it too. They have such great imaginations and would have loved to play along with the primordial fantasy.
What would our lives have been like back then? Who knows? But it was fun tossing the idea around.
Giant Mushrooms? Giant Fungus? All I know is my dog wouldn’t get near these things.
Back to Reality
Unfortunately, like all great hikes, this one had to come to an end sooner or later. We reached the AT – time to turn around and head home. The return trip was uneventful and less imaginative, mainly because the 20% chance of rain turned into a 100% torrential downpour.
Soaked to the skin, we drove home happy, refreshed and completely alive – and grateful to be living in our modern world. I don’t think I’d like to be eaten by a Velociraptor. Would you?
Ever feel like you’ve been transported back in time when you’re out on the trail? Share your experiences in the comment section.
See ya’ on the trail,
Trail at a glance Mileage: 2.3 miles one way to AT junction Elevation change: 850 ft Water sources: Streams/Springs Trailhead: 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian