I finished up my job in Chattanooga on Friday morning.† I had a long drive home ahead of me, but my relatively early finish left me with a little bit of time to play around on the way.† After doing about 30 minutes of research on Thursday night, Iíd decided to take the Cherohala Skyway on my way home.† Along the way, Iíd do a few short hikes to area waterfalls.
Originally I planned to visit Conasauga Falls first.† However, by the time I reached Tellico Plains I was beginning to question if I had time for everything I had planned.† I knew there were some other waterfalls in that same area, so I decided to save all of them for another visit.
I picked up a sub in Tellico Plains and followed the Cherohala Skyway upstream along the Tellico River.† A few miles outside of town I left the skyway behind in favor of a paved forest service road that continues to follow the river.† I enjoyed some fantastic riverside scenery as I drove on to Bald River Falls.† This waterfall is on the Bald River, which is a major tributary of the Tellico.† The waterfall is just upstream from the confluence of the rivers, and there is a great view of it from the bridge.† I parked just beyond the bridge to check it out.†
Bald River Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in a state full of them.† However, today the water level was much lower than it had been on my previous visit several years earlier.† Also, it was a sunny day, and the lighting for photography was poor.† I didnít spend much time on photos before heading on up the road.
I passed Baby Falls on the Tellico River after a short distance.† I thought about stopping, but I could see that the lighting wasnít any better here.† I decided to catch it on my way back, hoping that the usual afternoon clouds would provide conditions for photography.†
I continued upstream.† My next destination was a waterfall on the Tellico River just across the state line in North Carolina.† This waterfall has the distinction of being the last entry in Kevin Adamsí guidebook of North Carolina waterfalls.† Kevinís directions follow a series of 4wd roads from Murphy, NC.† However, he also mentioned this approach in his guide.† By coming in from Tennessee, I could avoid all of the bad roads.
I passed a bunch of campgrounds before finally reaching an information kiosk for the Tellico ORV (off-road vehicle) area.† When I reached the kiosk, one sign immediately caught my eye.† It stated that all of the trails in the area were currently closed.† This was alarming, as Iíd just driven a considerable distance to get here.† I read the details of the closure, which stated that all of the trails / roads were closed to vehicle use.† This sounded fine to me, as I was planning on walking.† In fact, I quickly realized that this might be a good thing.† Closed trails meant I could look forward to a quiet hike.
I continued up the road 0.4 miles to a bridge over the river.† The paved road crossed the bridge here, while a gated dirt road continued upstream.† I followed the paved road, which began climbing away from the river roughly following a small tributary.† After a short distance the pavement ended, while a gravel road continued, still heading away from the river.†
I doubled back to the bridge and parked.† I consulted the Kevin Adams guide, and guessed that I was at the junction of routes 1 and 5 that he mentions in his description.† However, his guide described the road I was on as being a rough dirt road Ė not paved.† I didnít have any sort of map, so I couldnít be sure if I was in the right place.
I decided to follow the gated road upstream.† Hopefully Iíd find the waterfall.† If not, Iíd at least have a quiet walk along the river.
The guide stated that it was about a mile to a river ford.† Sure enough, after 20 minutes I found the road approaching the river.† However, there is no danger of getting wet here.† A bridge spans the river.† I was even more puzzled at this point.† Was the bridge new?† I crossed the bridge and entered a camping area occupied by construction equipment.† What was going on?† I didnít have to wonder for long.† I found a sign that described the project as the ďTellico ORV Trail ObliterationĒ.† I was alarmed.† Trail obliteration?† This didnít sound good.† Were they actually sabotaging the trail system?
Later it occurred to me that the area might be marred by unofficial, user-created trails.† Perhaps the crew that was stationed there was erasing all traces of unauthorized routes?
Just beyond the camping area I reached another ford.† This time, I didnít have the benefit of a bridge.† However, the low water level enabled me to rock hop the river.† Once on the far side I continued upstream, following an old railroad grade.† After a couple of minutes, I rock hopped a tributary.† I consulted the guidebook, and guessed that this was Peckerwood Creek.† If so, I was almost at the falls.
The hike from there continued to follow the old railroad.† Numerous fallen trees and spiderwebs presented the only challenges.† After a few minutes, I heard the falls ahead.† I found a scramble path heading down, and descended through more deadfall.† I arrived at the base of the falls a couple of minutes later.
This waterfall is a nice one.† Unfortunately the sun was shining through a narrow opening in the canopy, illuminating a small part of the waterfall.† That pretty much ruined any hope of a decent photo.† I had lunch there, hoping for a passing cloud to improve conditions, but one never came.† Eventually I gave up and returned to the trail.† From there, I continued a short distance upstream to the upper falls.† This part is probably a little nicer, but photography was equally hopeless.† Despite this, I still enjoyed having this waterfall all to myself in the cool, shady forest.
Eventually I headed back to the car.† Initially I headed back towards Bald River Falls.† However, after a few miles I found a gravel forest road heading up the mountain, signed for Stratton Meadows.† Stratton Meadows is on the Cherohala Skyway, near the NC / TN line.† That was where I was heading, and this looked like a substantial shortcut.† I decided to take it, even though it meant missing out on a second visit to Bald River Falls and Baby Falls.
The drive to Stratton Meadows was easy and smooth. I rejoined the Skyway, but headed back west towards my final destination of the day.† I passed the Rattlesnake Rock overlook, and 3 miles from the meadows I reached an unmarked parking area.† I was pretty sure this was the trailhead for Fall Branch Falls.† I parked and headed down the trail, eventually reaching a signed junction that verified I was in the correct place.
From there, I followed an old roadbed, which took me back out close to the Skyway.† I was beginning to wonder if Iíd find a waterfall along this trail when I stumbled upon a side trail to the right.† It led up briefly, before cresting a minor ridge and plunging over the other side.† I descended quickly, eager to get to the falls.† My progress was only interrupted briefly by a large group of hikers heading the other way.† As they were passing buy, one guy stopped and asked, ďDid you come from the parking lotĒ?† I really wanted to say, ďNope, I parachuted in here!† Hereís your sign!Ē (all apologies to Bill Engvall).† I didnít though, probably because he already had a look on his face that indicated that he knew how stupid his question had sounded.† Instead, I simply verified that I had, in fact, come from the parking lot, and continued on my way.
I passed through a nice thicket of ripe blackberries before reaching the creek.† I could see the falls from here, but rock hopped the creek and headed up the slope to get a better look.† I arrived at the base a couple of minutes later.† Unfortunately, there wasnít much volume coming over the falls.†† Also, the waterfall was in the sun, which wasnít ideal for photography.† I loitered around for a little while anyway, and took some photos of butterflies swarming a cluster of wildflowers. †Eventually I headed back up, knowing that I still had a long (4 Ĺ hour) drive ahead of me.
I definitely plan to re-visit Fall Branch Falls, preferably when there is more water.† I still donít have a decent photo of Bald River Falls, so I need to go back there, too.† Fortunately, there is an impressive variety of trails and waterfalls in that immediate area.† I donít know if Iíll go back to the upper waterfalls on the Tellico River, simply because it is such an event to get there.† You never know though.† There are many campgrounds along the river, so if I find myself in the area, I might be tempted to return.
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