Monday, January 28, 2013

Last Year, Kip and I visited Jones Falls, a secluded but beautiful 100ft waterfall just off the Appalachian Trail. That day, we hiked in from the Tennessee side parking at a church on Campbell Hollow Road and trekking the three miles to the falls. It was a difficult trip with lots of up and down climbing and multiple creek and road crossings. I loved the waterfall but I considered it a one and done hike due to the difficulty.
The trail follows closely alongside the river
At the T intersection. see the white blaze, that's the AT.
Warning sign at the base of Jones Falls
Jones Falls

Recently I read about a different route that approaches the falls from the Elk River below Elk River Falls and uses a spur trail to reach the AT. The hike was also a mile and a half shorter so I decided when I had time I would try it out. Today I was off so I traveled to Elk Park, NC and reached the Elk River Falls parking area by noon. A forest road parallels the trail to the base of the falls and you follow the road around the falls and eventually it switches back and forth and arrives back at the river at a ford. Instead of crossing the river stay on the left side looking for a faint trail across a field. On the opposite side of the field the trail reenters the woods and crosses a extremely small stream. Within another few feet another stream enters the Elk River, this one is larger but can be crossed without getting your feet wet. This creek is Jones Branch, the trail rises after crossing the creek (you will be on right side of creek) and stays with the creek and comes to a T intersection. Turn left here, you will notice a white blaze on the tree just up the path indicating the Appalachian Trail. The AT is really nice in this area and it rises steeply winding through the valley with Jones Branch far below the trail. Within twenty minutes the creek begins to increase in volume as you near the falls. The AT swings away from the creek and you get out of earshot of the water and arrive on a ridge with views off the right and left sides. The trail eventually starts breaking back toward the left and through the trees you can see the upper portion of Jones Falls (this view can not be seen at the base of the falls or from the Tennessee entrance) It appears to be a near vertical free fall of at least 80ft. Look for a double white blaze indicating a severe change of direction and a small sign for Jones Falls off to the left. The trail winds around to the base of the falls. I was greeted with a nice surprise, the waterfall was covered in ice. It was amazing, and since my last visit a sign had been posted warning people not to climb on the rocks that several people had been injured there. I couldn't really tell where was rock and what was ice, I stepped several places that squeaked and cracked indicating a thin shell above the stream and had to backtrack. It was tough footing and slow going. I was able to kick out some foot holds and scale the lower portion of the falls for some closer views of the large icicles formed next to the upper free falling portion. The temperatures were in the fifties and some of the large ice chunks were melting loose from above the part of falls I was under and were crashing wildly all around. I decided this was too dangerous and retreated back to the main trail for a few more pictures before heading out.
Ice cascade
Even with the sign, I liked this picture
Upper Falls, ice everywhere
Upper Falls through the trees

On the hike back, although I had visited Elk River Falls many times I couldn't resist the five minute side trip to check them out again. There was slight ice build up on either side of the falls but  nothing like Jones, I traced my away around to the edge of the large pool to try to cut out the sun in my pictures but I didn't have much luck. I hadn't wasted much time and decided to ride on down to Linville and catch the Blue Ridge Parkway looking for an afternoon adventure, but I will save that trip for a later post. Until then...happy trails.
At the top of mighty Elk River Falls
Ice cold water at Elk River Falls


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