Located in the Citico Creek Wilderness of Cherokee National Forest, the 1.3 mile (2.6 mile round trip) hike to Fall Branch Falls is a gorgeous day hike into a virgin forest that features a 70-foot waterfall at the end.
What Makes It Great
This trail is a great hike in any season and offers a unique experience any time of year. Starting at the parking area the trail descends into the forest along a wide trail, clearer in the fall and winter, but lined with wildflowers in the spring and jewel weed in the summer. The trail is always moist so it’s littered with ferns.
A couple of notable features along the way include an old, hollowed-out tree stump, a large fallen tree that kids will enjoy climbing on, and a thick rhododendron forest. Roughly a quarter of a mile from Fall Branch Falls, the trail narrows and begins its steady descent to the base of the falls.
Plan to carry a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes, as the trail is wet, rocky, and steep. In the winter months you can see the falls, but during months when the foliage is thick you can only hear it.
Once at the bottom, there is a simple creek crossing over large rocks after passing old, knotty trees untouched from the days of logging in the area, and there will be loads of trillium in the spring (burgundy and yellow).
After squeezing through a narrow pass between two boulders, with a tree growing out of one of them, you will arrive at a small clearing perfect for a picnic with a view of the 70-foot waterfall. A little more climbing either up the creek or on the trail to the left leads you to the base of the falls where you can enjoy the spray of the water on your face in the summer. The return trip to the parking lot offers a nice workout for the lungs and legs, as you retrace your steps back up through the forest to the parking area.
Who is Going to Love It
Everyone, including experienced children, will enjoy this hike. Be prepared for wet, muddy, and rocky conditions though, and be sure to pack plenty of water to stay hydrated. This hike poses a bit of a challenge due to the descent to the falls (and the subsequent climb back out), and it can seem a little longer than the 2.6 miles.
For beginners, this hike can be slightly intimidating due to the remoteness and somewhat higher elevation (3,000+ feet), but for the most part it's very manageable. Expect weather conditions to be cooler, possibly wetter, and dress appropriately. Pay attention and be prepared to take lots of breaks if anyone in the hiking group has health issues that may be affected by higher elevations such as asthma. The trail is lightly traversed, so you shouldn’t run into too many hikers especially in colder months.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Falls Branch Falls Trail #87 and is 2.6 mile round trip. It is located off of the Cherohala Skyway. Parking is located at the Rattlesnake West parking area. There is not a sign designating the trail on the road other than the trailhead marker at the beginning of the hike. No fees are required. Leashed pets are welcome. And as always, practice Leave No Trace Principals.