Mountains and Waterfalls, Cullasaja Gorge and Hiking the Great Smokie Mountains-2018

After our trip on the Appalachian Trail in 2018 we went to the Cullasaja Gorge and the Great Smokie Mountains.

Refresher: in 2018 I planned a trip to hike on the Appalachian Trail. This was my goal when I renewed my interest in hiking. My sister from Montana and my niece and her boyfriend came with me. We did the Standing Indian Loop as recounted in my last post.

Since my guests had a whole week and the hike was less then three days we planned to go on to the Smokies since we would be nearby. They all agreed as none of them had ever been there. I drove into the park through Soco Gap and the Ocanaluftee River Valley. We set up our base camp at Cosby Campground in the north eastern section of the park.

Let’s take a moment to backtrack.

In doing research for this trip I learned of the Cullasaja Gorge. And that US 64 ran east from Franklin right through it. The Cullasaja River runs through the gorge and that river and it’s tributaries give the gorge four water falls. And who doesn’t like a good waterfall.

The river and gorge name, Cullasaja (pronounced cu le seid gi) is of Cherokee origin and is an Anglo version of the Cherokee word Kulsetsiyi, meaning Sugartown. The Cullasaja River has three waterfalls and there is also Bridal Veil Falls on an unnamed tributary.

the main cascades of Cullasaja Falls

US 64 through the gorge is known as the Waterfall Scenic Byway.

So we figured to take an hour or so to check it out. As pictured, this section of Cullasaja Falls is right on the road.

Cullasaja Falls cascades and falls 250Ft down the gorge.

We next stopped by Bridal Veil Falls. Interesting note about this waterfall is that US 64 used to run behind the falls although that has since been closed to all but pedestrians.

The original road was built behind the falls in 1929 as a sort of unique opportunity to travelers. But in winter the falls would freeze and drop ice on the road and icicles on cars! In 1959 the road was recut to pass by the falls instead of under it.

Bridal Veil Falls falls a total of 120 feet. Most of that is a slide down the mountain with a 40 ft free fall at the national forest site. It may become just a trickle during dry summer months.

Bridal Veil Falls.

Next we stopped at Dry Falls. This is a misnomer as you would think a dry falls has no water. This was a thundering waterfall. It gets it’s name because you can walk behind it and stay dry. Dry Falls falls 75 feet over the grotto behind it. It has been known as Dry Falls for quite sometime but has also been known as Pitcher Falls, and High Falls. Here at Dry Falls the National Forest Service has built the facilities for the Byway.

Dry Falls.
Dry Falls
more of Cullasaja Falls

So now it’s on to the Great Smokies for some outstanding hiking and maybe we can find another waterfall or two.

Our first day we hiked the Alum Cave Trail to Alum Cave. Not really a cave but more of a grotto. It was none the less and excellent hike with great views.

Arch Rock on the Alum Cave Trail

The hike to Alum Cave isn’t especially long at 2.5 miles one way but it is believed to be one of the most scenic in the Smokies. The trail follows a small creek to Arch Rock.

beautiful creek

After Arch Rock the trail ascends slightly more steeply to the bluffs at Alum Cave.

View from Alum Cave
Mountains near Alum Cave

A beautiful view and shade what a great place for lunch. We spent about an hour here eating ,talking and taking pictures. We even had a lunch visitor.

our lunchtime visitor

I have found in my visits to GSMNP that a lot of the wildlife is not especially afraid of humans. I don’t know if they don’t know any better or they are just accustomed to coming out and begging food.

2. “Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves………..

J.R.R. Tolkien

After our hike here we went to Laurel Falls,(see told ya we could find another). This hike is very popular and the trail and falls area was somewhat crowded. Laurel is a two level waterfall. The park service has placed a bridge on the trail between the two falls. 1.3 miles of the trail is paved and it ascends Cove Mountain (4077FT). So although paved it is moderately strenuous.

Upper Laurel Falls
Lower Laurel Falls.

We headed back to our camp and planned tomorrow’s day; we decided on Clingman’s Dome and Grotto Falls.

We first headed for Clingman’s Dome which took my guests through the northern section of the park and Gatlinburg. I have no pictures as I have been here so much it no longer excites me to take pictures unless the clouds are doing something funky. Next we headed back into Gatlinburg to hit the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to the trailhead of the Trillium Gap Trail. It is 2.5 miles and 551 ft higher to Grotto Falls. This is another of the parks busy trails as this waterfall is fairly close and easy to get to.

Bonus!….. now it’s a twofer! We passed this small falls on the Trillium Gap Trail enroute to Grotto Falls.

Now a little history of this trail. The Trillium Gap trail is the only horse trail on Mt Leconte. It is used three times a week by a Llama train to supply the lodge on top of Mt LeConte. The trail runs beside Roaring Fork which is also the source of Grotto Falls.

The Lodge on Mt LeConte is the highest operating hotel in the eastern United States at 6400 feet. it is unique in that you can’t drive there. If you want to stay at LeConte Lodge there is only one way to get there, Hike in! There are five trails to the Lodge ranging from 5 to 9 miles. The Trillium Gap Trail is 6.5 miles but we are only going in about 1.5 miles to the falls.

Grotto Falls falls 30ft.
The trail actually passes behind the falls.

Our time in the Smokies is almost done but this trip is not quite over. My niece is a high-pointer. A high-pointer is a person who endeavors to visit the highest point in every state. And wouldn’t you know it I can take her past another one on our way back to Raleigh. And we can visit and see part of the Blue Ridge Parkway which again, none of my guests have been to. Since we have just been to Clingman’s Dome my niece has high pointed Tennessee also.

Our first stop was at Mt Mitchell (6684FT) the highest point in North Carolina and the highest point east of the Mississippi River.

Here we are

It’s a little disappointing to my niece as you drive to the top of the mountain. There is a nine mile trail but we have no time for that. Should have planned a day for it I guess.

I had been up here once before with momma when we were travelling home from a stay in Asheville but it was raining that day and so cloudy that you couldn’t see a car in front of you let alone do some long range viewing. So we stopped at the restaurant had some great pie and coffee and bought a few souvenirs before we headed back down the mountain

But this day was perfect for the views from Mt Mitchell.

View from Mt Mitchell. I believe this is Mt. Craig.
Mt Mitchell is in the range known as the Black Mountains

But the trip is still not over. But it isn’t the never ending trip. Since we are so close I take the family to Linville Falls. I liked it the first time I loved it this time. North Carolina had just had about a week of rain. All the streams and waterfalls were running pretty full.

Upper Linville Falls
Linville Falls is thundering on this day!

The trip home and this journey has ended. Little did I know that this was going to be my last regular trip to the North Carolina Mountains. About a month after I returned home momma told me she was being transferred to Texas at her request so she could be near the grandchildren. Well let’s see what kind of hiking Texas has to offer!

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