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Surf & Turf

posted Aug 8, 2012, 8:10 AM by Justin P
Last weekend, we left the Raleigh area early on Friday for a weekend of whitewater, hiking, and waterfalls. To break up the long drive out, we stopped to view some waterfalls on the way. Our first stop was Toms Creek Falls in North Cove just north of Marion. Exiting the interstate at exit 86, we headed north on US-221 for a few miles and turned onto Huskins Branch Road and then just over a mile drive to the parking lot before crossing Toms Creek. From the parking lot, there is a short, 1/2 mile hike to the falls. Toms Creek is a beautiful, 60-foot cascade and we spent some time enjoying the waterfall and taking photos. We also stopped to check out the mica mine next to the falls and picked up a couple of souvenirs. Then we headed back and drove back towards Marion and stopped for lunch at Subway.

Back on the interstate, we headed towards Asheville and then headed north on I-26 and back into Pisgah National Forest, to the Big Ivy or Coleman Boundary area. After entering the forest, Dillingham Road (Forest Service Road 74) becomes gravel, narrow, and windy so the 8 mile drive to the end was quite long. But very scenic. We passed Snake's Den Rock, a giant cliff along the side of the road and made a stop at Walker Falls, a waterfall right on the side of the road. Then we finished up the drive to the end and parked. The 0.5 mile trip to Douglas Falls from the parking area actually took less time than the drive in. Although the water flow was a little low, Douglas Falls was quite beautiful nonetheless. A 70-foot straight drop over a cliff, Douglas Falls is beautiful even when not flowing heavily. And it is possible to walk behind the falls to see it from different angles. The trail continues on, eventually leading to Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we needed to get going. So back to the cars and along the gravel road. Passing Snake's Den Rock, some people were getting ready to climb.

Finally, we made it back to paved roads and continued on I-40 just past the state line into Tennessee and to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A storm had recently passed through, knocking down a tree on a small road leading to the park. Some men were out with chainsaws cutting the tree up and I tried to go around, but got stuck in the mud! Luckily, the men helped push me out and we continued to the park. Since no one else had arrived yet, Sandy and I headed to Cosby for dinner at Carver's Apple House. I had eaten here before and knew it would be a good dinner. By the time we made it back to the Cosby camping area, most of the rest of the group had arrived. We set up the tent and then hung out around the campfire for a bit before getting to bed.

In the morning, we headed to Wildwater for our rafting trip. The tour guides went through some safety information and then we broke into groups with individual guides for our rafting. Our guide was Channing. After getting our equipment, we piled into the school bus with the rafts on the roof and headed just over the state line to put in our rafts near the power plant. We rafted down the Pigeon River back towards Hartford. Although much of the run was flat and calm, there were quite a few good rapids and we all got thoroughly wet. I was at the front of the raft on the right side and definitely took the majority of splashes. But approaching some of the rafts, we splashed each other and got thoroughly wet. Towards the end at a calm stretch of the river, we all jumped out of the raft and went for a quick swim in the river. Then we got back in the raft and finished up, arriving back at Wildwater. We had lunch and took showers at Wildwater before heading out for more turf.

From Wildwater, we headed towards Gatlinburg and into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Turning left at stoplight #8, we followed Cherokee Orchard Road to the Rainbow Falls Trail parking area. Although less 2.5 miles in length, the trail has a steady uphill slope, starting from the beginning as it heads up Mount LeConte. For most of the way, the trail follows LeConte Creek, with the soothing sound of running water audible for nearly the entire trip. It had rained in Gatlinburg as we started, but died down to a light drizzle or less once we hit the trails. The temperature and humidity made me take off my rain jacket quickly to stay as cool as possible. The last mile of the trail crosses LeConte Creek twice on footbridges with a few smaller waterfalls at the crossings. But there was no mistaking the real waterfall. At 80 feet, it is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the park. We spent a while here taking photos and enjoying the beautiful waterfall. Near the base, there was a lot of mist and one could easily see the potential for rainbow on a sunnier day. As we were getting to leave, a squirrel popped up. He wasn't afraid of humans at all. In fact, he let us pet him and ate peanuts out of our hand. We named him Barry. After giving Barry a treat, we headed back down the way we came; the trail continues to Mount LeConte, but it was getting late and we were getting hungry. We returned to the parking lot and drove into Gatlinburg to have Mexican at No Way Jose's then back to camp. We were very tired, but somehow managed to find the energy to play Bejeweled on an iPod as a group - easier to get the matches with four sets of eyes on the screen.

After breaking camp, we headed to the Greenbrier area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for one last waterfall before heading home. The road in is initially paved then turns to another scary gravel road for about 5 miles to the trailhead. The road includes a couple of narrow, one-lane bridges that made me a bit nervous, but we made it to the parking lot at the end. Starting out on the trail, a bridge crosses the river and the trail follows an old road bed for about a mile and a half. Although the trail has steady elevation gain, it is pretty easy at this point. At 1.5 miles, there is a "traffic circle" and the Ramsey Cascade Trail now becomes more narrow and steeper. The trail follows the Ramsey Prong of Little Pigeon River closely for the most of the way up. There are numerous cascades as the river flows next to the trail and so plenty of opportunities to stop for pictures. This part of the trail also goes through the largest old-growth forest left in the park with some enormous trees. Towards the end, the trail becomes very steep going up stairs of big rocks. Despite the steepness, the temperature dropped a bit at this elevation and the going was actually more comfortable than before. Finally, we made it to the top. Despite the rather challenging 4-mile hike to the waterfall, there were quite a few other people here. We took some photos and walked around in the waterfall basin. It was shallow, but slippery. And the water was very cold, but I took off my boots and socks and walked around in the pool a bit. Then we headed back down, much more quickly going down. Almost immediately after getting back to the car, it started raining - great timing, since some parts of the trail would have been treacherous in the rain. And then time to head home after another great weekend.