It’s hard to believe that it has been 3 years since I made my first trip to Jones Falls in extreme eastern Tennessee. I first visited here in February of 2012 after reading some interesting blogs about other waterfall opportunities that existed right there starting at Elk Falls, in Elk Park, NC.
Waterfalls Hiker – Elk Falls To Jones Falls 2012 , gives the details from the first hike. I was not here on this day to redo this hike. I was here for another reason . I had seen some very cool photos from Elk Falls that seemed to have come from a very elevated surface. I wanted to find this spot today and look for some new photo ops. Looking downstream, I did not see anything obvious that would give that elevated view. I decided to to explore downstream a bit and see if things looked different from that perspective.
Elk Falls was beautiful today with a healthy water flow and decent lighting conditions. Some recent spring-like warmth has removed most of the ice that covered these waterfalls just a few weeks back. This shot is from the popular rock that juts out about 3/4 of the way accross the river.
This first shot above shows the Forest Service sign, that still refers to Elk Falls as Big Falls. After viewing this magnificent waterfall, I kept moving downstream, looking for that elevated viewing area. While I was unsuccessful, I noticed that this makeshift path I was following was some sort of trail. There were some recently placed flags in some trees and there were signs of fresh chainsaw cuts on some of the plants and brush. This was a trail, although a narrow one. Before I knew it, I had followed this trail and was well downstream with Elk Falls all but out of sight, barely visible through the bare trees. I was at an elevated location at this point but no view of the waterfall. I did see some very old wood railing at a place on the trail. It appears that I was on an old trail that was possibly reclaimed by the forest over the years. The forest road was just up the hill to my left, running parallel above me as I walked along the river. Knowing that the road fords the river downstream, I knew I eventually would run out of trail and probably meet back up with the road. I just didn’t know where.
Then….the trail leaves the river, widens, straightens out, only to join up with the road. The photo above shows the trail and road meeting, with the trail going left towards the river marked by the turquoise flag. It appears the forest service, or someone is clearing the old trail, not sure why. There were no exceptional views downstream, only the obvious ones right at the waterfall, which is where I have always thought the trail ended. When this trail ended at the forest road, I was nearly 0.8 of a mile downstream. It was here at this point that seeing Jones Falls became a good idea for today. Intead of walking back up the road to the car, I might as well go on to Jones Falls. I was already halfway there. As far as the elevated views of Elk Falls, I am left to wonder if they were taken by a camera placed in a drone.
So…on to Jones Falls. Follow the road until it fords the river. Do not cross, instead bear off left and walk through an open field, where a trail picks up and heads back to the river and follows along side the Elk River until it makes a sharp bend to the right. You will pass back to back horseshoe shaped rapids. At this point, follow the trail straight as the river bends. After passing a a small, primitive campsight, Jones Branch must be crossed. Just like 2012, that slippery mud, caused me to bust my tail. The creek is not hard to cross. The slippery, muddy trail going up on the other side is quite slick though. At this point the trail begins climbing.
The trail climbing up from the Jones Branch is a short one. It soon reaches an intersection with the Appalachian Trail. When you see the familiar white rectangular tree markings indicating that you are on the Appalachian Trail, make a left turn. You will be crossing into Tennessee right about now..according to the map. Actually it appears you would be going into Tennessee both directions.
The trail will climb moderately through a series of switchbacks. The 100 foot Jones Falls is still halfway up the mountain. Once the climbing levels off, the AT will work around to a junction with a blue blazed trail. The AT heads right here, but Jones Falls is a short ways down the blue blazed trail. There was a nice sign here in 2012 marking this, but it is no longer there.