Sunday, January 18, 2015

Benton Falls, The First Hike of 2015!

Benton Falls Running Full
     For the past four years, a hike to Benton Falls in the Cherokee National Forest has been our first hike of the year.  I have been hiking there so much, that I can practically hike the trail in my sleep.  To prove that to myself, I did hike about a mile of the trail while reading a book one time.  But I digress back to the trip.  Yesterday, 1/17/15, we went for the first hike.  I purchased one of the annual passes for the Cherokee Forest and it was our first use of it.
Looking down from the top of the falls
     There were several cars in the parking lot so I expected the trail to be busy, but we hardly saw anyone.  The trail heads from the parking lot and goes across the dam holding back McKamy Lake.  Then it turns left and beings to descend the mountain heading towards the falls.  Overall, the trail is 1.5 miles long.  Hikes and Mountain Bikers share the trail,  I was super surprised that there were no mountain bikers.  We did not see anyone till we were almost to the waterfall.  The trail is mostly packed sand, but there are rocks that need to be watched for.  Going to the waterfall, it is downhill all the way so it takes no time to reach the stairs that lead to the base of the falls.  From the research that I have done, you loose about 300 feet from the parking lot to the base of the falls and you make it all back up going to the car.
     The trail starts off in a hardwood forest, then passes through a clear cut for power lines and then goes into a mixed forest with some pine trees.  The Pine Beetle has made its presence felt here, but I believe the Forest Service has it under control or the pest has moved on.  Once the trail comes close to Rock Creek, which is the creek that makes Benton, Rattlesnake, and Scenic Falls, Magnolia trees begin to become prominent.  From the main trail down to the top of the falls, there are steps, but going down to the bottom, there are rock steps that have been there for as long as I can remember.
     I do not want to give this trail short shift, but it is like an old friend; someone that you have known forever and have gotten used to the little details and nuances that make others stand out and appear spectacular.  Jackie and I use this trail now to take us to other trails in the area.  The Benton Falls Trail links up with the McKamy Lake Trail, Elderberry Trial, the Slick Rock Naked Widow Loop, Redleaf Trail, and the Clemmer Trail.  This one little 1.5 mile trail allows you to hook together trails that can run in length from 3 miles to just about as long as you want to walk.  We have used this trail to go to the Clemmer Trail and then the Rim Rock trail across to the Clear Creek Trail and back up to the Beach Trail for a hike that ran 7.5 miles.  Needless to say I forgot how to add and told Jackie it would be about 4 miles total and she went for a 2 mile run that morning.  She wasn't real happy with me, but I got the Trangia 25 Stove system due to that hike!
     I always like to try and end our Benton Falls hike with a trip around McKamy Lake.  I look for fish or anything else I might see.  The last time we hiked the lake, from the Gazebo Trail, we saw 3 Water Moccasins.  This trip there was ice still on the lake from our colder temps earlier in the week.  As we were making the turn past the Campground Loop A area, I spotted this turtle sunning itself.  I pointed it out to Jackie, snapped a quick pick and moved on.  It was a good way to end the hike.
Turtle trying to get warm in the sun 

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