It is now the last part of my final day for this fall trip. I finally made it over to Highlands, NC sometime early Friday morning. I was in search of a couple of waterfalls that I had seen posted by other photographers. I had even received a tip on how to safely see Cullasaja Falls, which is located on a very dangerous stretch of Hwy. 64. I had no trouble finding it and since I was the only one there, I was able to safely park and get out to take a few pictures. The morning light was coming right at me from over the waterfall, but I was able to hide behind the tree to get the shot.
Just a few miles outside of Highlands, is a must see waterfall named Dry Falls (named that because you can walk behind it and not get wet...well, sort of). The waterfall is 75 feet tall and is in the Nantahala National Forest. The views from the observation decks to behind it are absolutely amazing. The waterfall flows down into the Cullasaja River. The experience should not be missed.
From here I headed north to Bryson City, NC. My plan was to hike the nearly 2 mile waterfall loop at Deep Creek, which offers you a view of 3 different waterfalls. I got there at about noon, had a quick bite and headed to the area. I wasn't sure about doing this hike alone, but the parking lot was crowded and there were plenty of folks around. I met some nice people and hiked along side of them, so as to not feel isolated. I had times though where I was alone enough to enjoy the peacefulness of the quiet paths and trails. I can't wait to go back and show this place to my daughter.
First up was Juney Whank Falls. Shortly after starting the hike, you have to do a little walk uphill to then work your way back down to the falls. Not too strenuous, but the waterfall is a little underwhelming for the effort. There's a foot bridge in front of the falls, but I forgot to take a picture of it. I was tagging along with 3 other people at this waterfall and they were all taking pictures too. I really didn't want to get left behind.
Next up is a beautiful waterfall (my favorite one here) called Tom Branch Falls. The path that leads to it is a wide, flat trail called Deep Creek.
I then made my way to the third waterfall. I actually missed it and was headed the wrong way. I then ran into the same people that I was with at Juney Whank Falls and they told me how to get there. I only had to go back over the bridge and uphill about 200 feet and then down the path to Indian Creek Falls.
All in all the 3 waterfalls hike took about an hour...until I tried to find my way back to the parking lot! I ran into a very nice couple from Alabama (shout out to Tina and Sam) and asked them if they knew how to get back. We ended up hiking together, but we apparently weren't heading in the direction of the parking lot. There was another couple with us on the path and all five of us ended up on a trail called the Loop Trail. It was the most STRENUOUS hike I've ever done. From what I've read, it added an additional mile to the hike, not including the portion of the walk still needed to get back to the parking lot!
The loop trail ascends 350 feet for .5 miles and then back down the other .5. Oh did I mention that it is also a horse trail covered in poop? It was a tiny, narrow path and I thought I was going to die carrying my backpack, tripod and gear with me! I'm also in terrible shape and altitude and lack of physical activity doesn't mix. Pictures you ask? I could barely breathe! I don't have anything to show for it but a memory now. Once we started going down and I could breathe again, I started to feel less worried. I have to thank Tina and Sam for putting up with me and for getting me through the hike. Once we got back to the main trail we were right back at INDIAN CREEK FALLS! OMG! Are you kidding me? That's where this entire wrong way hike started!
When I got back home to Miami, I looked up some things about this hike and learned a new word - BACKTRACK. It's not really a true loop and you do have to walk back some of the way you came in. We ended up walking well over 4 miles that day, easily doubling the mild waterfall hike that I had planned for myself that day. I had mentioned in an earlier post that is was unseasonably warm. It was in the mid 70's this day and I was drenched with sweat. With an 1-1/2 hour drive ahead of me, I was just thankful to be sitting down with a cold water. The drive back was quick and easy until I crossed the NC/TN line on Newfound Gap Road. Now that the weekend was upon us, the traffic in the park was picking up. I had bumper to bumper traffic for the next 14 miles into Pigeon Forge, which added 90 minutes to my final drive through the park. Friday was a 13 hour day and I wouldn't trade one minute of it!
It just wouldn't be a great trip without some sort of adventure thrown in there somewhere. Thankfully I survived and lived to tell the tale. I hope that you all have enjoyed all of the posts this week. This is the finale of my fall trip. It was a wonderful experience that I will not soon forget.