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Bear Creek & Chasteen Creek Falls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:32 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 8, 2017, 5:32 PM ]

Sunday morning, I had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then drove west to Bryson City and into Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I followed Lakeshore Drive, the "Road to Nowhere", to the end and parked at the trailhead for Lakeshore Trail.  The trail starts out on the road past the barricades and goes through a long tunnel, nearly a quarter-mile in length.  Beyond the tunnel, the road becomes a trail and gradually headed down towards Fontana Lake.  This is a pretty remote section of the park so I didn't see too many other people along my hike.  It was about 2.5 miles from the tunnel to where the trail headed down to Forney Creek where it flows into Fontana Lake.  There was a big campsite here (#74) and a footbridge over the creek.  I got some pictures from the bridge, but then headed the other way, picking up Forney Creek Trail.  In less than half a mile, I turned left on Bear Creek Trail and crossed Forney Creek on a wide footbridge.  After crossing Bear Creek on another bridge, the trail headed towards Welch Branch and then turned sharply back towards Bear Creek.  In just under a half-mile from Welch Branch, I got off the trail and started bushwhacking down towards the creek.  I could hear the waterfall from here, but it was hard to discern as Bear Creek has many cascades and drops.  There were also some steep cliffs to navigate around and as I could close to the waterfall, it was a brutal wade through rhododendron to get out to the base of Bear Creek Falls.  But despite the difficult bushwhack down (and equally bad going back up), the waterfall was worth the effort - it was a real beauty.  I relaxed down here for a while, taking some pictures and eating a snack.  But it would be a nasty climb back out, so I didn't linger too long.  Once back at the trail, the hike back wasn't too bad, though it was mostly uphill.  Near the tunnel, I took a detour on Goldmine Loop Trail that headed steeply down to Goldmine Branch and then Fontana Lake.  There was a nice spot to get out and view the lake here.  I saw a couple on jet skis cruise through the little cove.  Then it was all uphill back to the tunnel.  Back at the car, I was pretty tired, but wanted to get another waterfall, so headed to Cherokee and the Smokemont area of the park.  Parking at the far end of the campground, I picked up the Bradley Fork Trail and followed its namesake upstream.  This trail is for hikers and equestrians; I saw a number of butterflies feeding on the horse waste.  In a mile or so, I turned right on Chasteen Creek Trail and went about three-quarters of a mile to a fork.  Chasteen Creek Trail went to the right, while left headed to a horse hitching post.  Just past the post, a short path led to Chasteen Creek Falls.  I took off my boots and waded in the creek for a bit, as much to cool down as to get pictures.  Then I headed back to the car and returned to the hotel for the evening.