Scattered throughout our mountains like precious jewels, waterfalls in Graham County are not generally seen from the paved roads. Inevitably, when you reach one, you will be glad you did.
Yellow Creek Falls
Yellow Creek Falls is located at the end of a 0.3 mile walk and is a perfect place to have a picnic lunch and still get back for afternoon fun. The trailhead is on Highway Route 129 heading north from Robbinsville, about four miles south of the Tapoco Lodge, on the right. Park your car at the gravel parking area, then follow a trail along a glorious mountain stream filled with small trout. There are numerous small waterfalls along the way as the trail meanders up the mountain. After a short descent, you reach several large, flat boulders overlooking Yellow Creek Falls. This is a favorite swimming spot and utterly delightful at any time of the year.
Twenty Mile Cascades
After lunch, you might like to spend the afternoon exploring the Twenty Mile area. Continue north on Route 129, past Tapoco Lodge to the junction with Highway #28, which leads easterly along the north shore of the Little Tennessee River to Twenty Mile Ranger Station. With a small information kiosk and parking, this is a great spot for another short 0.5 mile hike up to Twenty Mile Cascades. Numerous trails branch from this area, including access to the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, Twenty Mile Loop Trail (actually 7.6 miles) and other paths.
Lower Falls and Wildcat Falls
If you want to challenge yourself with a long hike through exquisite wilderness, spend the day exploring the Slickrock Creek Trail and the waterfalls that can be found there. The Slickrock Creek trailhead is just north of the Tapoco Lodge on Highway 129 before the bridge. The trail follows Slickrock Creek and leads you through diverse hardwood forests and myriad species of wildflowers.
Along the way, you will discover three waterfalls that provide lovely places to stop and picnic, fish or swim. The trail is not easy or flat. You will hike through rhododendron and laurel thickets and patches of dog hobble. If you hike in June, many of these plants will be in bloom and their flowers will light up the dark forest like stars. The first waterfall, Lower Falls, is about 3 miles from the trailhead. The second waterfall is Wildcat Falls, which is actually three falls close together with a swimming hole below them. Wildcat Falls is about 4 miles past the Lower Falls, and unless you plan to spend the night, you might want to consider starting early in the morning to ensure returning before dark.
Big Falls, Middle Falls, Upper Falls, and Sassafras Falls
Interested in trout fishing as well as waterfalls? The Snowbird Back Country in the Nantahala National Forest contains four waterfalls whose source is Snowbird Creek in the Snowbird Mountains; Big Falls, Middle Falls, Upper Falls and Sassafras Falls.
Big Snowbird Creek, located near Robbinsville North Carolina, flows into Santeetlah Lake. The most photogenic of the first three waterfalls listed is the Middle Falls and it is recommended that you visit it in August when the scarlet Cardinal Flowers line the banks of the creek. The other two are cascades that are surrounded with large, flat rocks perfect for fishing, picnicking and napping. The Snowbird Mountains are not for the timid. The best brook trout fishing is above the waterfalls.
To reach these waterfalls, drive to the end of the Big Snowbird Creek Road, which is Forest Service Road #75, to a location known as “Junction”. From Junction it is a hike of six miles round trip. Most of the trail is along an old, overgrown narrow gauge railroad that was used to haul out logs in the 1930’s. Sassafras Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls in Graham County. You can reach it by hiking a 3.5 mile trail starting at the Junction. The trail crosses a stream and then follows Snowbird Creek for a while. A sign indicates where a side trail goes off to the left towards the falls. There are numerous camp sites along the water that make wonderful family camping spots. Planning an overnight trip with your family and making the camping spot your base is ideal. Sassafras Falls is gorgeous and if you arrive at just the right time, the rays of the sun filter down over this exquisite, sparkling, very slippery and steep waterfall. Make sure to stay away from the edge!
Other Smoky Mountain Waterfalls
There are several other waterfalls, including Wright’s Creek Falls and Burgan Creek Falls. These waterfalls are so difficult to locate that it is best to hire a professional guide to lead you to them. Remember to always take a map, compass and a stout walking stick when hiking in our mountains. Wear shoes that are designed to cushion and protect your feet from the roots and stones on the trails. Pack up some water and snacks and start your adventure.