Located deep within the Cherokee National Forest, this trail kicks off from the Bald River Falls parking area, and this can be a round-trip adventure, or a point-to-point as you make your way from Forest Road 210 (Tellico River Road) to Forest Road #126 (Bald River Road). The trail follows along narrow ridgelines with views of the river down below and the quiet beauty of the forest all around you. While this is mainly a day hike, there are backcountry campsites and a campground in the area, so feel free to stay for the night. Bald River Falls is the main highlight of this hike, but there’s another (just as spectacular) waterfall farther in.
What Makes It Great
Once heavily logged, the trail is now entirely encapsulated in the Bald River Gorge Wilderness, shielding it from future logging endeavors. You can start this hike at either end, off Forest Road 210 (Tellico River Road) or Forest Road #126 (Bald River Road). If you are driving in, most people start at the north terminus, which is off Tellico River Road. From here, the falls are just a short way in and then you’ll continue along the river down to the southern terminus. If you are camping in the area at the Holly Flats Campground, your best bet it to start off Bald River Road and hike your way up to the falls from there. The campground is about a half-mile from the southern trailhead.
Along the way, you’ll follow high ridgelines with sheer cliffs over the water and see another waterfall a couple miles in. Part of the trail also goes down by the water, where you’ll find several campsites and you might even spot a beaver. Keep your eyes peeled for sights of bears, boars, beavers, and wild turkeys, too—wildlife is thriving in the Bald River Gorge. (While wildlife is abundant, cell phone coverage isn’t, so plan accordingly.)
When hiking the Bald River Trail, don’t have to worry about a lack of water. While it needs to be filtered and sterilized, the crystal clear water from the river and any of its tributaries can be added to your bottle or reservoir. The river is also a great place to dip your toes or to go for a cool swim after a hot summer hike. Just be careful, especially if you are swimming in the area above the falls (it’s easy to get swept up).
The river is also a popular spot to cast a line, so it’s easy to make a weekend out of your day hike.
Who is Going to Love It
Those with an affinity for fly fishing will be happy with the opportunities that about along the trail. Hikers that like heights and depth defying views will also enjoy the Bald River Trail. Because it’s moderate mostly due to its length, it’s a trail that’s somewhat challenging but largely accessible to all skill levels. If you’ve got a picnic in tandem with a bit of swimming on your roster for a summer day, the enclaves you find along the trail will keep you busy all day. Campers will also enjoy the remote options to chose from along the trail, especially if you don’t like having to pack water in for a whole day hike (who does?).
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Visitors can park at the Bald River Falls parking area which is on Tellico River Road about 6.3 miles past the intersection with the Cherohala Skyway.