Saturday, June 16, 2012

Day three of our hiking vacation began with an early morning wake up to beat the crowds to Laurel Falls just inside the national park border in Gatlinburg, TN. Upon arriving at the parking lot by 7am we were surprised to find five other vehicles already there. The sun hadn't came up over the mountains yet and our hike was done in near darkness, as we approached the falls a hiker already heading out stopped and asked if we had seen the bear. Unfortunately we didn't see one, it has always been a dream to see a bear on one of my hikes. We continued on reaching the falls just ahead of a large family of hikers. I was able to get a few good pictures of the upper half of the falls because a bridge cuts the 80ft falls in half. Steve scrambled down the bank to photo the entire falls while I rested near the bridge. A nice lady from Ohio joined me and we compared waterfall stories and viewed each others photographs. Steve eventually rejoined us and we hiked out, we had a busy day ahead and the sun was just beginning to peek over the ridges.
Laurel Falls (Gatlinburg)

We traveled through the park across Newfound Gap toward Cherokee, NC. After a quick breakfast in town, we set off to find Mingo Falls. The falls is located on an indian reservation near downtown, and with a short climb of 200 stairs, a small footbridge crosses in front of the 120ft falls. They are said to be the highest in the Smokies. Thankfully, we arrived with perfect timing just barely beating the sun from being directly over the falls ruining any photo opportunities.
120ft high Mingo Falls

We got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and began our days travel toward Asheville and eventually home. The road climbs steadily for near an hour and follows the ridge line high above Cherokee. We stopped at the Balsam Grove overlook which is the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at 6053ft. We traveled on for another hour before the BRP intersects highway 215 which travels to either Brevard or Waynesville. It's also home to a cluster of beautiful waterfalls which I have explored in past visits. I decided to give Steve the highlights of the area and we traveled down to 215 to Dill Falls, a nice 60ft waterfall in a deep cove. From there it was on to the Waynesville side of 215 and a visit to Sam's Branch Cascades and Wash Hollow Falls. I like these two because they are on the same trail and very different style waterfalls, the easy half mile hike is an added bonus. Sam's Branch Cascades is a 100ft multilevel waterfall which the trail crosses about halfway up the falls. Once crossing, a small tributary enters from the left and around the bend Wash Hollow flows 50ft off a rock cliff into a clear green pool. We spent a few minutes resting and hiked back out to the truck parked along the highway. We drove down to Sunburst Falls which can be photographed from the road and then turned heading back up the mountain. Bubbling Branch Cascades is also visible from the road but warrants walking over for a closer look. The falls cascade down a slick rock face and pool deeply on various levels, they are fun because they are easy to climb and at the top is a clear deep swimming hole with a rope swing. The clear water rivals that of the Devil's Bathtub. We waded around some of the pools but was hesitant to get wet for the ride home. Some of the rhododendron bushes were in bloom along the creek allowing some good photos.
Highest point on BRP. Balsam Grove
Wash Hollow Falls
Upper pool at Bubbling Branch Cascades
Dill Falls estimated between 60-80ft

After leaving Bubbling Branch and 215 we followed the parkway toward Asheville making a pit stop at the Graveyard Fields overlook, an extremely popular stop due to the two waterfalls here. For time reasons, we only visited Second Falls which is my favorite of the two. It has a great swimming hole at it's base and looks to be about 15ft deep.
Second Falls at Graveyard Fields

The first hiking vacation went better than I had ever expected. I was able to take in nearly 20 waterfalls and spend time with one of my best friends. However, I missed my wife and was looking forward to getting home and spend some time with her. Steve's ride was still working when we arrived back to my house so we had a few minutes to reflect on our trip. I was playing on the laptop and stumbled across a waterfall in Oregon that caught our interest. We researched it further and found the area to be a hotbed for waterfalls. Could it be the birth of Hiking Vacation Part II? TO BE CONTINUED....Happy Trails!
Heading home!

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