Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rainbow Falls Hike GSMNP

Elevation Profile shamelessly borrowed from
     A month ago, Jackie and I went to Rainbow Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We were planning on hiking Chimney Tops, but Jackie was not into scrambling over the rocks.  We were hoping to catch Chimney Tops on a weekday when the pressure would be less, but the Park is doing work and the trail is only open on the weekends.  So going through my Smoky Hiking books, I chose Rainbow Falls.  This was an area of the park that we had not hiked before.  I was hoping for an early, early start so that we might possibly be able to go to Rainbow Falls and Groto Falls, which would have us hiking about 6-7 miles, but we did not get that early of a start.
The trail head just passed the signs
     We left our home about 12 and got to the trail head around 2 PM.  There are some restrooms at the trailhead.  They are the standard pit toilets that are found throughout National Parks and Forest Service areas.  If needed, the restrooms are some of the best ones I have seen.  The trail head is on the Roar Fork Nature Trail out of Gatlinburg.  This makes it one of the more popular trails within the park.  Something about being easy to drive to, translates to being popular.  One thing I must say though, be ready to hike up hill the whole way.  This is one trail that starts off on an uphill and only ends when you get to your destination.  The Rainbow Falls trail is one of the trails that allows you to hike to the top of Mount LeConte and the Mount LeConte Lodge.
     The trail starts off innocently enough.  Make sure to stay close to the signs though, many people have made short cuts to save a couple of steps.  Just after the left turn in the picture above, the trail begins to get into its normal swing.  There are rocks and roots that fill the trail and it is pretty much constant for the first mile.  There was a power couple who were crunching through the trail and stopping to take pictures every tenth of a mile or so.  I was amazed at how they were never getting sweaty.  I was about to sweat to death and they were still cool as a cucumber.  The trail switch backed several times in its climb.  The trail follows LeConte Creek for the first half mile or so and then it leaves it behind and the trail becomes a forest walk with switchbacks occurring fairly regularly.
The bridge at mile 1.7
     After 1.7 miles, the trail comes back to LeConte Creek again.  There is a log bridge built over the creek.  It was a nice place to catch our breath.  The picture takers ended their hike here.  I guess they felt a little sweat on their brow or had something else to do.  We were snacking when a girl caught up to us.  We had passed her earlier while she was going to the bathroom right on the side of the trail.  I know when you have to go, you have to go, but with your feet still in the trail and no brush cover?  I quickly figured out what was going on and turned around and talked to Jackie until she was done.  Getting back on track, the bridge is a one person affair and is a level spot on the trail.  With the creek making a waterfall behind/uphill from the bridge, it makes a good place for a quick photo op.
     After we passed the bridge, we kept going up the trail.  I let Jackie take the lead on the trail and we were talking about how the Park did not mark the trails with i's or paint or anything like that when we ran into two deer in the middle of the trail.  They looked at us and began to walk up the trail away from us.  Jackie kept trying to get close and take pictures, but with one of the deer being a faun, I was afraid of her getting too close and having mom come after her.  Another power hiking couple caught up to us, right after the deer turned a corner.  I told them about the deer being up ahead and they said thanks.  They guy started talking about how he hoped that they ran into a bear.  I rolled my eyes and told Jackie if they saw a bear, I was going to trip the guy as we ran down hill away from it.  They ran into the deer and took out their phones and started snapping pictures.  The deer began walking up the side of the mountain eating as they went.  It was a neat experience for us, something that had not happened before.  We were really excited about it.
Rainbow Falls!
     After seeing the deer and going up another switchback, I began to wonder if we would ever get to the waterfall.  I like to hike, but an uphill slog the entire way was not something that I was expecting.  I was really happy to run into the second bridge at mile 2.4.  The speed couple was there taking some selfies by the waterfall behind the bridge.  We hiked across the bridge, turned a curve and could hear the waterfall roughly two tenths of a mile away.  It had not rained much before we went on our hike.  I was hoping that there would be water going over the falls.  All of the information on the hike I had been able to find said that the hike should be good, even with little water.  The falls gets its name from a rainbow showing in the mist from the falls that appears in the afternoon.  We reach the falls around 4 PM and I was hoping for the rainbow effect, but we did not see it.  After a little scrambling, we were able to sit at the base of the falls.  We ate our snacks and drank some water and took a break.  It was a long climb up from the parking lot and we were both happy to take the rest break.  Unfortunately, we did not really plan for the time that it would take us to reach the falls, and the time it would take us to drive to the trail head.  So we were both really ready for lunch.
     We needed to rest further, but our hunger pushed us from the falls.  We started going back, and when we were about 2 miles from the car, I did something to my knee.  I do not know what I did, but it made the hike a long two miles back to the car.  The trail is a tough trail, with lots of rocks and tree roots.  If you are not ready for it, the trail can get you when you least suspect it as any trail can.  I did not want to say anything to Jackie, but by the time we reach the car, I was ready to start asking people in the lot for some hydros or morphine.  The doctors say that I just stretched the tendon that runs up the outside of my knee.  I know that I was glad that I was able to complete the 5.4 miles we hiked and made it to the car under my own power.
     We had ran into several people going up to the falls, and with it being after 4 PM, I did not expect to run into many other people.   Instead as we kept getting closer and closer to the car, we ran into more and more people going to the falls.  It took us a little over 2 hours to get to the falls and these people were just starting out.  Most did not have any water and the few I saw with drinks were taking Coke's and Dr. Peppers along.  I told Jackie that I wished them well but did not think that they would make it to the falls.
     Over all we enjoyed this hike.  True I messed up my knee some how but overall it was a good hike.  There is something about taking your special someone to a place they want to go to.  Plus being in the woods is always a good thing.  As long as the water is running, this hike would be a good one to do.  Always be ready for anything!  We had the two deer on the trail with us and as we were leaving, we saw a Momma Bear and two cubs with her.  I would recommend this trail to anyone with some time to spare in the Gatlinburg area.
     Directions:  Turn onto Historic Nature Trail Road at red light number 8 at Ripley's Believe It or Not.  Go out this road until it turns into the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  The first trail head is on the right.  If it and the parallel parking areas are full, there is another parking area on the right.  Parking at the second parking area will add about .5 miles to the hike.

Turtletown Falls Trip

     A little over 4 years to the day since we had last been to this trail, Jackie and I decided that we would redo this trail.  This trail has two waterfalls along it's 4 mile length.  The last time that we hiked this trail, we only went to one waterfall for some reason.  I would think that we were trying to get back to the paved roads before dark.  We did get lost and had to ask directions the last time we were there. I am happy to admit that I did not have to do that this time.
The Trail Head.  The trail begins in front of the Jeep
     Today, we got to the trailhead around 2.00 PM.  There was one car there already and a Jeep followed us in.  We clipped Mia's nails and headed up the trail.  The trail starts off following an old logging road going up a ridge.  After a steady climb, the road drops down the ridge and begins to follow the creek.  If one wanted to try and fish this stream, there are a couple of good looking holes, but I do not know if it holds any fish.  If you aren't into fishing, there are several good swimming holes along this stretch.  If there has been a lot of rain before hiking this trail, you might want to wear boots since there are little streams that cross the trail going to the creek.
This is the Choice.  Waterfalls go to the left if that is all you
want to see.  For a loop ending with the waterfalls, go
 After .7 miles the road begins to climb again.  Looking closely, off to the left there is a white blaze and a trail going down.  You have to make a choice here, straight or turn?  This time we went straight.  I wanted to end the hike with the waterfalls rather than begin with them.  We hiked up the ridge and then dropped down the back side.  The trail climbed back up another ridge and runs into another trail sign.  To go right would take you to another trailhead that requires an old Jeep or 4x4 to get to.  We turned left and walked along Shinbone Ridge.  The trail winds along this ridge for about 2 miles or so.  We ran into a woman and her dogs and talked waterfalls for a little bit before going on.  The trails comes to what looks like a Y after about .75 miles.  Make sure to stay right, on the road, if you want to get to the waterfalls.  If you want to camp and get away for a night, then go left up the ridge to a nice camp site.      After this Y, the trail goes down hill for the rest of the time.  The trail looks to dead end at Lower Turtletown Falls, but it does not.  Look closely for some of the white i's that mark the trail and it will take you to a lookout for the bottom falls.  Below is a video that I shot from the lookout for the falls.
The trail junction to look for.  Easily missed
     After looking at the waterfall, trace your way back along the trail.  Look closely for a tree marked with the white i and a trail going off on the right.  It is after the blow down damage that litters this part of the trail.  The trail goes from logging road to single track.  This trail is better marked than the logging road section, but paying attention following it would not be a problem.  After a mile, this trail comes to Upper Turtletown Falls.  There is a set of steps that the trail follows and to get to the base of the falls, there is a side trail to the right that leads to a viewing area.  The views of the upper falls are much better than the lower falls.  Below is a video that I shot of the Upper Falls.
     After climbing the steps from the Upper Falls, the trail switchbacks a couple of times and continues to climb.  After the switchbacks, the trail's climb is not too steep.  The trail is only .4 miles from the switchbacks to the main trail going back to the car.  
     Overall, this trail is not too difficult.  Make sure to go after a rain so that the falls will be running well.  There are some places along Shinbone Ridge where there might be a view during the winter, but the two waterfalls are the main attraction of this trail.  There are a couple of places to pitch a tent if you are looking for a quick night away.  I am glad that we revisited this trail.  It is always nice to have a secluded trail not too far from home when the urge comes for a quick get away.
  Directions:  take TN HWY 68 to the Farner, TN Post Office.  Turn onto the road running in front of the Post Office and cross the railroad tracks.  After crossing the tracks, take the first road on your left. It looks to be a driveway running right beside a house, but it is a road.  At the next Y, stay left.  There is another Y with Newman Road, stay left but know that you are close.  On the right in the woods ahead, there is the Forst Service road you are needing.  Take it for 1.5 miles to the trail head.  There is an improved creek crossing, with concrete helping to keep it from being rutted out.  This road is not bad.  My Chevy Cobalt did not have any problems going down this road.  If you use GPS, type in 1234 Farner, or Old Farner, Road.  You could all use the intersection feature for Farner Road and Forest Service Road 1166