Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day hike passes two waterfalls in GSMNP

Indian Creek Falls. Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains NPS.
Topo map for Deep Creek/Indian Creek Falls Trail, Plate 1
Topo map for Deep Creek/Indian Creek Falls Trail,
Plate 2
Topo map for Deep Creek/Indian Creek Falls Trail,
Plate 3

Old road heads
pair of creeks

Day hikers can enjoy two waterfalls and a series of small cascades on a trail in south-central Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Located near Bryson City, N.C., the Deep Creek/Indian Creek Falls trails are an easy walk over fairly flat terrain. The 1.6-mile round trip also is much less crowded than the national park’s popular Laurel Falls area.

Spring marks the best time to hike the route; with snowmelt and rain, the waterfalls will be more spectacular, and you’ll also miss all of the noise from intertubers heading downstream during the summer swelter. Autumn also is nice with fall leaf colors in September and October, but water flow will be diminished.

To reach the trailhead, from Bryson City take West Deep Creek Road (aka Route 1337) into the park via the Deep Creek Entrance. The parking lot sits where West Deep Creek and Tom Branch roads meet near the Deep Creek Campground. From the lot, walk back onto Deep Creek Road and go left/northeast into the turnaround; there, the Deep Creek Trail heads northwest into the woods.

The trail is an old road paralleling Deep Creek, so it’s a solid and wide walking surface. Hemlock, oak and pine trees line the route.

In short order, the trail comes to the Juney Whank Falls Trail intersection. Continue straight/northeast, where the trail comes alongside Deep Creek.

Wildflowers dot the ground beneath the tree canopy. During May and April, expect to see flame azalea in bloom; in May look for mountain laurel, and in June keep an eye out for rhododendron.

You'll soon hear the roar of the first waterfalls, where Tom Branch meets Deep Creek. A bench near the creek provides an opportunity to rest as enjoying the 60-foot-high Tom Branch Falls.

The three creeks encountered on the hike flow over the remnants of what are among the oldest mountains in the world. The Great Smoky Mountains were formed approximately 200 million-300 million years ago and likely once soared as high as today’s Rockies.

Indian Creek Falls
After the trail veers north, it crosses Deep Creek via a footbridge, offering views of cascades from both railings, then heads northeast again. Deep Creek now is on the trail’s left.

Don’t be surprised if you spot wildlife on the walk. Eastern cottontail rabbit, groundhogs, river otter, and white-tailed deer all inhabit the region. Also present but much more elusive, as they keep to themselves, are black bear, bobcat, coyote, red fox, red wolf, and wild boar.

As the creek and the trail curve northwest, you’ll reach the Indian Creek Trail intersection. Go right/east onto it; Indian Creek flows on the trail’s left side.

In no more than 200 feet, the trail reaches a spur leading to picturesque Indian Creek Falls. Take the short spur to the falls, which cascades about 25 feet down a series of ledges into a wide pool. Keep children off the rocks, which can be wet and slippery.

After taking in the falls, return the way you came.

Learn about other great trails at this national park in Best Sights to See at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.