And now, for a hike outside the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana tri-state area! Its been a while since I hiked more than 50 or so miles from home, but on my family’s annual spring trek to the Smokies I managed to talk them into a hike – however short it was.
Every year there is a quilt show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for which Mom basically offers my brother and me a free trip. I go with Mom to the quilt show and Cory (my little brother) goes with Dad to do manly-man things. Everyone wins – including me because I get to look at something pretty and say, “Mom! Make me that!” Usually, she will.
Last year, the boys hiked somewhere and found and old, forgotten graveyard. When I tried to get them to take me to it the next day, they claimed they couldn’t remember where it was. This year, while Mom and I wandered through convention center displays, they bought tools and then went back to the hotel to sleep. Basically, it was their usual Friday.
Saturday broke a rainy, gross, cloudy day. But by the time we got through a hearty, southern breakfast, the sun was chasing the clouds away and I managed to talk everyone into going waterfall hunting. I thought I found a relatively easy hike, even for my broken lungs and my parents’ old knees. But like everything in the mountains, looks can be deceiving.
Mom found a copy of The “Smokies Guide,” the self-proclaimed official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, somewhere and the “Places to go” section listed a couple of places I haven’t been before. We decided to choose a place none of us have been, and headed to Bryson City, N.C. to pick up the road to Deep Creek.
I’ve been to the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area of the Smokies more times than I can count. The mountains in that area haven’t lost their majesty, but the traffic and the crowds certainly have. The last few times I’ve gone down, I’ve spent most of my time on the North Carolina side things. It’s not necessarily always less busy, but there at least seems to be more places that aren’t completely overrun with tourists.
The “Smokies Guide” calls Deep Creek off-the-beaten-path – and it definitely was. We passed through a holler outside Bryson City that looked like the kind you didn’t want to break down in, if you know what I mean. Right about the time my parents pointed this out, I realized this was just the kind of spot I wanted.
Although the Park Service advertises Deep Creek as one of the few areas in which mountain bikers are welcome, we didn’t see anyone on bikes. Just a mostly-full parking lot and several off-season couples and families wandering about. I’d say that even though the area is a bit off the main drag, it still gets very busy in the warmer months.
There are several trails of varying length and intensity in the Deep Creek area, and we chose the shortest one because no one enjoys being outside as much as I do, and my parents have old joints. Juney Whank Falls is the easiest to reach, but you climb about a quarter-mile of switchbacks to reach her. Once you reach the falls, the trail divides to go above and below the falls. You can either take the trail past the falls further uphill to loop back around to the parking lot, or you can turn around and take the devil you know back down to the car. We took the devil we knew and went directly back downhill.
The hike was short, but pretty. It was also not a hike I should have tried without Gus; my oxygen level dropped to 78 before I sucked it up and plugged in. After that, my rest breaks got farther apart than about every 15 feet.
If you want to go farther on the hikes, the North Carolina Waterfalls site has a lovely post that takes you farther along the Juney Whank Trail to show you the other two waterfalls in the Deep Creek area: Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls.