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Labor Day in Robbinsville

posted Sep 8, 2016, 11:46 AM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 5, 2016, 12:49 PM ]

For Labor Day Weekend, Sandy and I headed out to Robbinsville in the far west of North Carolina for hiking and waterfalls.  We left early Friday morning and drove out west, arriving in Cherokee around 11.  Our first waterfalls of the weekend were Mingo and Upper Mingo Falls.  We had been to Mingo Falls before, but not the upper waterfall.  After getting our stuff together, we climbed up the wooden steps and at the top, made a sharp left on a steep, overgrown path.  The path went a ways and then sharply cut to the right in a steep switchback.  Past here, the trail opened up a bit and soon we were near the top of Mingo Falls.  An old fence blocked the edge, presumably to keep people from falling over.  Past the fence, we scrambled up some rocks and then it was just a short ways further to Upper Mingo Falls.  The water level was low, but I thought it still a nice waterfall.

Countless thin streams of water were flowing over the mossy rocks and made for a nice sight.  It's much smaller, but similar to the larger waterfall just downstream.  After a couple shots of the main waterfall, we scrambled down to see the lower drop.  It was tough to get a good photo as there was downfall all over the base.

Then we followed the path back to the main Mingo Falls Trail and made a quick detour to see this waterfall.  Again, the water was low, but this is a gorgeous and huge waterfall.  Like the upper falls, thin streams of water were trickling down all around the main flow.

After a couple pictures, we headed back and drove towards Bryson City.  We turned on Cooper Creek Road and followed it to the end at Cooper Creek Trout Farm.  Although private property, the owners are nice enough to allow public access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park through their land.  After checking in, we parked and started hiking up Cooper Creek Trail, entering the park in a few hundred feet.  From here, it was just over half a mile to the intersection with Deeplow Gap Trail.  We turned left and followed the trail as it heads upstream along Little Creek.  It was moderately steep, but with switchbacks, not too bad.  We made an easy rock hop across Little Creek and saw a little salamander on a rock here.  It was just a short ways further to a footbridge over the creek at the base of Little Creek Falls.  The water level was a little low, but it’s a nice waterfall even with a big log fallen in the middle.

We got a couple pictures then started making our way back.  On the way, Sandy found a large feather on the trail.  And there was a bigger blackbelly salamander along Cooper Creek Trail shortly before returning to the car.

Once back at the car, we headed back towards Bryson City and into the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for one more hike – the three waterfall loop.  We started on Deep Creek Trail and it was only about a quarter-mile to Tom Branch Falls.  The water level was low, but it’s still a scenic waterfall.

And we saw a lot of tubers boating past the waterfall on Deep Creek.  Continuing up the trail, we turned on Indian Creek Trail and scrambled down to see this waterfall.  Indian Creek Falls is a small waterfall, but still looked very nice even in low water.

Just past Indian Creek, we turned on Deep Creek Horse Trail to finish out the loop.  Along the way, we saw some lovely cardinal flowers blooming.

We made one last quick stop to see Juney Whank Falls before heading back to the car.

There was a nice coral fungus blooming along the trail.

And there were more beautiful wildflowers blooming near the parking lot.

Back at the car, we headed into Bryson City and had dinner at the BBQ Wagon.  We made a quick stop at Ingles to get wine and beer before heading into dry Graham County.  In Robbinsville, we headed to River’s Edge Treehouse Resort and checked into Yellow Poplar.  As we were unpacking, Leila met us and gave us some information about the property.  After getting settled in, we headed down to the river and made a roaring bonfire before retiring for the evening.  Saturday morning, we woke up early and had breakfast and then headed to the Snowbird Backcountry Area in Nantahala National Forest.  A few of the roadside campgrounds along FSR-75 were occupied and there was one other vehicle at the trailhead, but for the most part, we didn’t see any else in the area.  After getting our stuff together, we began hiking down Big Snowbird Trail (#64).  This trail follows an old road bed and is a very pleasant trail.  In about 2.5 miles, we reached the “gangster” car – an old rusty vehicle with numerous bullet holes.

It’s fun to imagine this was once involved in illicit activity, but more than likely, the bullet holes are from hunters.  From here, we crossed Sassafras Creek and continued for about a quarter-mile to a sharp left turn on Sassafras Trail (#65).  The trail turns back and follows its namesake creek upstream.  In about three-quarters of a mile, we turned and scrambled down to the creek at Sassafras Falls.  At around 60 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in the area.

We had a snack here and enjoyed the view and then continued on.  Shortly beyond the waterfall, Sassafras Trail mostly ends at Burntrock Ridge Trail (#65A).  We turned right and followed this trail as it steeply heads up the ridge – no switchbacks just straight up.  Fortunately, the steep part isn’t too long and soon we got to the top and stopped for a rest.  We ran into two backpackers here – we were all surprised to find anyone else out in this area.  And we also found some cute mushrooms along the ridge up here.

The trail followed the ridge for a ways and then headed down to Snowbird Creek.  We had to wade the creek right by where the backpackers had set up their camp.  It was a great campsite.  Once across, we turned left back on Big Snowbird Trail and followed it about another mile or so up to Upper Falls.  The path comes out at the base of the falls, but I couldn’t really see it well.  I tried to rock hop over for a better view, but finally had to wade into the creek for a good view.  Even in low water, there was no way to get across dry.

We ate lunch here and then started making our way back.  At the intersection of Big Snowbird and Snowbird Alt (#64A) we turned right and went a short ways to Middle Falls.  We’ve visited this waterfall before, but I think it’s my favorite in the area.  Although not particularly high, it’s a river-wide drop of about 20 feet and is very photogenic.

We got a couple pictures and started heading back, taking Snowbird Alt Trail to avoid the water crossings on Big Snowbird Trail.  In about a mile, the two trails converge at a footbridge over Snowbird Creek.  Shortly after the bridge, we came to Big Falls.  A short but steep scramble path led down to the falls.  The water tumbles over a number of short ledges followed by a larger drop.

We came out at the top of the lower drop and I didn’t see a way down.  Back at the trail, I didn’t find another way down for a little ways.  There’s another nice drop here, but it’s far enough away to not be considered part of the same waterfall.

From here, it was a pretty easy hike of about 3 miles back to the start.  We headed into Robbinsville for dinner at Lynn’s Place and then back to our treehouse.  Sunday morning, we headed north on US-129.  Almost in Tennessee, we turned left on FSR-62 and drove towards the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness.  In about 7 miles on this long gravel road, we parked at the Big Fat Gap Trailhead and started hiking down the Big Fat Trail (#41).  This trail is excessively steep, following Big Fat Branch downstream – no switchbacks, just straight down.  And it would be straight up on the way back, I thought to myself.  In about a mile, the trail flattened out as it approached Slickrock Creek.  We made a left turn at the intersection with Nichols Cove Trail (#44) and then an almost immediate right on Slickrock Trail (#42).  Although trails aren't blazed in the wilderness, there are signs at intersections at least.  I spotted some pretty mushrooms growing out of tree near the campsite.

We crossed the creek at a campsite and followed the creek downstream on the other side.  One advantage of the low water was that the creek crossings were easy and we didn’t have to get wet.  In about another half-mile, we had to cross again and passed several occupied campsites.  Being a holiday weekend, this area was very popular with campers.  We crossed the creek one more time near the top of Wildcat Falls and then found a path that led down to the base of the double drop.  Wildcat Falls consists of four drops – two upper drops followed by a flat stretch, then the double drop and then one final drop into a big pool.

The waterfall was very beautiful and unique, but unfortunately, the sun was shining right on it making for lousy pictures.  A strong smell of bacon was in the air – the campers were cooking a good breakfast!  We headed back up and found a way to the next drop, which was in the shade.

For the uppermost drop, I crossed back over the creek and found it easier to get down on the other side for a picture of this section.  Then we started heading back.  It was a nice hike back until we got to Big Fat Trail, which was excessively steep going straight up to Big Fat Gap.  It took a while, but finally we made it back to the car.  Driving back down the mountain, we turned right on US-129 and drove just a couple miles to the trailhead for Yellow Creek Falls.  This waterfall is on private property owned by Brookfield Smoky Mountain Hydropower and the National Wild Turkey Federation.  The landowners are nice enough to allow public access and even built a trail.  The trail to the falls is short, less than a mile, but very scenic.  There were a number of nice cascades to see on the way up.

Soon we made it to the waterfall – it was really nice, even in the low water.  Although it was sunny out, a nice cloud covered the sun shortly after we arrived so I could get some pictures.

As more people showed up, we started making our way back.  Near Lake Santeetlah, we turned on Joyce Kilmer Road, driving along the lake shore and past the memorial forest.  At the Cherohala Skyway, we got on FSR-81.  It was about 7 miles to a fork for FSR-81F, where we went right and found a place to pull off on the side.  Lower Cold Branch Falls was visible from the road, so the scramble down was pretty easy.

Like everything this weekend, the water level was low, but it was a decent waterfall for being almost roadside.  Just a quarter mile further up the road was our next stop – Upper Cold Branch Falls.  This one wasn’t visible from the road as dense rhododendron blocked all view of the creek.  We found the best place to head down from the road then had to bushwhack through the rhododendron.  It was very difficult navigating through the rhododendron mess, but soon we made it through to the base of the upper falls.

It’s a similar waterfall to the lower one and had a lot of cool potholes in the rock face.  We didn’t stay long as we weren’t looking forward to getting back through the rhododendron hell.  Our last stop for the day was just a little further up the road.  Surprisingly, another car stopped here and a family got out.  I asked if they were hiking to Violet Falls as well – they didn’t know the name, but were heading towards a waterfall.  An old road extends from a sharp curve in FSR-81F and we followed this to Cold Branch and then had to creek walk up.  With low water, we were able to stay dry.

The creek walk was actually pretty fun, especially after navigating through all those rhododendron.  With low water, the two guys climbed all the way to the top of the waterfall.  I went barefoot and climbed about half way up, but it was a little slippery so I didn’t go any further.  Once everyone was down, we headed back.  Driving back into Robbinsville, we stopped at The Hub for dinner and then headed back to our treehouse.  Monday morning, we checked out of the treehouse and started making our way home.  In Sylva, we took NC-107 south to Cullhowee and turned on Caney Fork Road.  Right where the road turned to gravel after about nine miles, we parked and got ready for our first waterfall of the day.  We hiked down Rough Butt Road and waded crossed Caney Fork.  Across the creek, we picked up FSR-4669 and followed this for just under a mile to a ford over Rough Butt Creek.  We were able to rock hop across and then picked up a narrow path to follow the creek upstream.  It’s very overgrown and a bit steep, but not too long to Rough Butt Creek Falls.  I had to wade to the other side of the creek for a good picture, but fortunately, it was early enough that the sun was not shining on the waterfall.

I got some nice pictures from the other side of the creek as well.

When I was finished, we hiked back.  We continued driving east and hit a lot of holiday traffic.  We were going to stop at Hickory Branch Falls in the Curtis Creek area, but ran out of time.  So we continued on towards Morganton for one last waterfall of the weekend.  We exited the interstate on NC-226 and went about 18 miles and headed into the South Mountains Game Lands.  It was about 3 miles on the gravel Old CC Road to a parking area at a gated road.  We hiked down this road about a half-mile to Pot Branch Falls.  It’s a small, but scenic waterfall that flows through a narrow chasm in the rock with several big pools at the top and the base.

Although it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, the area is a popular spot.  There were two couples hiking out as we were heading in and a group of about a dozen teenagers swimming at the waterfall.  I got a couple pictures here and then we got ready to hike back.  I noticed one of the girls was near the top of the waterfall and told Sandy that she better be careful up there.  Not thirty seconds later, she slipped and fell.  She survived, but it looked like she broke her foot badly and was in a lot of pain.  While several of her friends helped her out of the water, Sandy and I headed back to the car with two of her friends to check our first aid kit.  We found some bandages and gauze to give to the girls and try to help their injured friend.  We offered to call 911 once we got back to cell signal, but she was almost back to the car by this time and her friends would take her to the hospital.  What a way to the end the weekend.  A good reminder that waterfalls can be extremely dangerous and that no good comes from going to the top of a waterfall.  We headed into Morganton for dinner at Las Salsas before heading home.