The Wonderful Waterfalls of the Elk River

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This past Saturday, I took time to revisit the river where my love for waterfalls began. This meant a trip to the North Carolina-Tennessee state line area, just south and west of Boone, NC. This was a visit to the Elk River. About 6 or 7 years ago, while visiting family in Newland, NC for Christmas, 2 of my younger cousins had a wonderful idea. It just happened to be a warm spell in Newland and the temperature on Christmas day was 50 degrees, a heat wave for Newland. I was asked if I wanted to ride to see a waterfall….my answer was…why not?? Read more

Elk River Falls to Jones Falls

What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in February. The winds were light, temps about 50, sunshine was bright, water levels were up and the trails were barely dotted with hikers. There were 2 spectacular waterfalls in this hike, one at the beginning, and one was the destination. Along the way, I crossed the Tennessee State Line along the Appalachian Trail for an added bonus. One hike, 2 waterfalls, 2 states, and the trail I would love to have the opportunity to hike from beginning to end some day, the Appalachian Trail. This was a fine day.

This day begins at Elk River Falls, a location that I have visited numerous times. The waterfall is only about 0.2 miles from the parking, so I usually visit here and hike somewhere else like Roan Mountain, or Grandfather Mountain. Thanks to the internet and some other hiking blogs like http://www.appalachiantreks.blogspot.com, and http://www.hikingbill.com, I became aware that additional hiking opportunities exist right where I was parked, at Elk River Falls. After walking down to the base of the falls and enjoying the scenery for a few minutes, the new hike began, to Jones Falls.

This journey leaves the Elk River Falls parking area on an old dirt road, that is currently gated off to traffic. The road is fairly easy hiking, going up and down a little. After leaving the river for a short while, it finds its way back to the river, where it crosses or fords it. Do NOT cross the river here. Instead, there will be a small open meadow here to the left of the road. At the right edge of this meadow, a faint trail picks up and runs along side the river. There will be some stakes marking this trail. On the other side of the river, it opens up quite a bit to some rolling pastures and meadows.

The river ford above and cool horseshoe shaped rapid on the Elk River below


After a short up close walk along the river, the Elk River makes a sharp right turn. It is here that you leave the river. The trail continues into the woods at this point and crosses a creek which I later learned was the Jones Branch. This is the only tricky creek crossing on the hike but it is fairly easy to make it across dry. After the creek, the trail goes up, somewhat steeply. It is fairly short though and after a few switch backs the trail ends at a junction with the Appalachian Trail. This is marked by the familiar white rectangular blazes painted on the trees throughout.

To reach the Jones Falls , make a left turn at the Junction and hike for about 0.6 mile. The trail this direction will be mostly uphill, but not terribly steep. Just after joining the AT, the trail crosses the state line and you are now in Tennessee. There are no markers that show this, but it is indicated on my Everytrail Google Maps. After some switchbacks, the trail begins to head into an area where the waterfall can be heard. If you look carefully, it can be seen to the left on the other side of the steep drop off. It is just after this that the AT continues to the right and a blue blazed trail with a sign for Jones falls takes over.

At this point, Jones Falls is just ahead. The sign says 1M, but it is more like 1/10 of a mile, not sure about that one. Once there, look up. This beauty is over 100 feet tall and on this day at least flowing pretty freely. With this being on a smaller creek, I can imagine this drying up to just trickles in the dryer summer months. Footing at this fall is tricky, be careful, and enjoy. This is the end of the hike and at this point, head back the way you came.

Jones Falls

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Compression Falls – Short but Steeeep!!

Compression Falls is a gorgeous, wide, scenic, and picturesque 30 foot waterfall with a plentiful water flow. It is located on the Elk River in the very eastern most section of Tennessee. The other waterfall that this river is famous for is Elk River Falls. It is located just 4 miles upstream in North Carolina. To my knowledge, there is no trail connecting these two. It would be a sweet hike though. While these two are fairly close on the river, they are more like 45 minutes apart by car. This can be attributed to the extremely remote location of these falls, and the ruggedness of the gorge the Elk River runs through.

To get there, take US highway 321 to Elk Mills, Tn. If coming from NC, Be looking for Poga Rd for a left turn. Follow Poga Rd up the mountain about 3 1/2 miles. Make a right turn on Clawson Rd for 1/2 mile and then a right turn onto Dark Ridge Rd. The road will change to gravel. Parking used to be up by an old barn, but now there there is a small parking area off to the right. On my last visit, the access to this, needed some serious maintenance though. This was only a 1.4 mile roundtrip hike that begins fairly level and the waterfall was very nice. With that in mind, before you consider viewing this falls, a section of about 0.2 or 0.3 miles is absolutely straight down. Once the trail comes out into a clearing under some power lines, a trail to the left goes down to the river. This might be the steepest section of trail that I have ever hiked, no switchbacks either. I fell once and nearly 3 or 4 other times down this rocky steep trail that just seems to never end. It was clear by some of the bent trees that people were using these for leverage. If you do this, be careful and take your time, it can be done.

Once at the river’s edge, you will be able to see and hear the falls, and there will be 0.2 miles or so from the river to the base of the falls. Make sure you mark the spot where you came down to the river. The trail to the river would be easily missed on your return trip. Luckily for me, someone had a bandana tied on a tree. Next is just walking along the river side, along the rocks until…..you reach the spray zone. Here the rocks are all wet, and to get to the big rock that juts out into the river for the best photos, will require some technical and careful maneuvering up some rocks. There was also a well placed dead tree connecting two parts over the pool. Be careful, you could get hurt if you fall here. It is not a long ways down or anything, but rocks are rocks and they usually win when in a confrontation with skin and bones. This part would be a lot easier if you are willing to get wet and just get in the river and wade, but I wasn’t. Despite this extreme short hike to the falls, it is a very popular place that gets a lot of visitors and you might see some kids jumping off the 30 foot falls, which doesn’t seem to be a smart thing to do.

As steep as this trail was going down, it is quite the beast to get up. No rope was needed, but the steepness and length of it, had me totally out of breath. After a few rest stops, I finally made the top and made my way out of there. This waterfall is really a treat, but I would like to see some improvements made on accessing this beauty!

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Waterfalls Hiker

I was following the advice of a fellow hiker/blogger, Tom Mangan, http://www.tommangan.net/twoheeldrive/. I wanted to create a blog and share my hiking experiences with those that would be interested in them. I remember him telling me to choose a catchy name, but one that does not tell the entire story. While I still do not believe I have accomplished that, I did choose a name that represents what has been the fuel and primary motivation for my hiking, seeing waterfalls. This is how ‘Waterfallshiker” began.

I have been an avid “Day Hiker” for several years now. As a Day Diker, I usually do hikes that are in the 5-7 mile range. Some are as short as 1 mile and I have hiked as much as 12 1/2 in a day. This is usually over pretty rough terrain, as I definitely prefer mountain trails over anything accessible at the lower elevations. In the location where I live in western NC, there are endless trails and waterfalls to pursue all within a 3 hour drive at the most. I feel like I have hiked all over the state, yet I know I have only scratched the surface. I have seen somewhere in the range of 50 waterfalls in NC. Knowing that Transylvania County has over 250 waterfalls alone, tells me that my feet have much work to do.

Why waterfalls? On Christmas day in 2007, I was visiting grandparents in Newland, NC. This is a small town outside of Boone, and usually one of the iceboxes of North Carolina in terms of climate. It just happened to be 50 degrees that day, which is warm for that location and after lunch and the opening of gifts, one of my teenage cousins had an interesting question: “Does anyone want to go see a waterfall? I was intrigued, and quickly replied “why not”. So we were off, two teenage cousins, their father, and myself. The 16 year old drove with myself and James in the back. We took off down a very tight road with many curves. All I can remember thinking was “should she be driving this crazy road or should it be one of us” …. Anyway, we made it safely, and after a short walk, there we stood on the top of Elk Falls. I was taken away. It was stunningly beautiful. The large rocks at the top allow you to literally walk to the edge, although I do not recommend doing this. We then took the trail that leads down to the base where a large rock leads halfway out into the Elk River. The view you have at this point is amazing. A very large pool waves up to the rock you stand on and the view of the waterfall was awesome. This is an amazing place to swim in the summer and boy is it packed with people, I later found out. Any way we trekked downstream a bit, I remember stepping on a log that was not stable and my leg went knee deep in the river. The waterfall was so beautiful though I did not even get pissed, maybe only 1 four letter word, or 2. There is just a special peace of mind when visiting one of these gems up close, certainly an escape from the real world and all of the problems that exist with it.

From then, I just wanted to see more. I started searching the web for waterfalls in NC. One of the best resources I found was at http://www.ncwaterfalls.com. This is a website owned by “waterfallrich” or Rich Stevenson, who has been doing this since 1998. If there is a waterfall in NC and you wish to see it, chances are he has pictures of it and directions of how to find it. It is a great resource. He is now venturing into South Carolina, and Tennessee, which also has some really nice waterfalls. Another great resource, almost of equal value to me is the book, “North Carolina Waterfalls” by Kevin Adams. This book is nearly 600 pages long, considering it is all focused on one state, that should tell you that Mr Adams has covered it pretty well. This book is actually a resource for WaterfallRich as well. I have other books and other websites I use, but these are definitely the main two, and the first two that any newbie should consider. By the way Mr. Adams, if you read this, how about getting your books available on the Kindle or Itunes book store….lol.

Now that we have a passion, and the resources, all we needed to find was the free time, and the gas money. The free time was fairly easy to come up with, I just borrowed some of my time playing golf and put it into walking to waterfalls. The gas money was about the same, green fees for gas money, but with prices of gas the way they are these days, car pooling or just not going out as much has been a sad reality. As I look toward the future, I see no reason to slow down though, the mass number of waterfalls left unseen is still very large, there are close bordering states left to explore and plenty of other points of interest (not waterfalls) left to see. I have also found this to be a great way to exercise, although this was never a reason to do this. So check back with me, I will post my experiences and discoveries and along the way, hope to become a better photographer and blogger.

Some views of Elk Falls, and those that helped me find the passion for this hobby.