The marvel at the end of the Abrams Falls trail in Cades Cove is...well, Abrams Falls.
For those of you who are like me and prefer some reward of grandeur at the end of your hike, then Abrams Falls certainly doesn't disappoint.
The waterfall stands at only 20 feet tall, but has the most volume of any fall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It truly is impressive.
I've lived in East Tennessee my entire life, and until Sunday I had never experienced hiking in Cades Cove.
A close friend of mine suggested the trip and planned the itinerary, right down to a picnic lunch. One of my resolutions for 2014 was to get my "hiking legs" under me, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Our excursion almost stalled before it even got started. Heavy snow and rain leading up to this past weekend had caused some of the roads in Cades Cove to become impassable. The main loop was closed on Saturday, but fortunately I woke up the following day and saw on Twitter that it had reopened.
For those that are unfamiliar, Cades Cove is a valley located on the Tennessee side of the GSM National Park. Its main draw is a one-way, 11-mile paved loop that features several preserved historical structures along the route.
Wildlife is also abundant during the trek. We saw many deer and turkeys during this trip, but black bear are also said to be roaming around. Cades Cove also has plenty of camping and picnic areas.
The gravel parking area for the Abrams Falls trailhead is on the right at the 5-mile mark on the loop - stop number 10. There is a restroom there. If you reach the old mill and visitor center on the loop, you've gone too far. I guess since it is one-way, though, there is no turning back?
The hike to Abrams Falls is 5 miles round trip, and in researching it, I've seen it labeled anywhere from easy to moderately difficult.
Backpacker magazine once included it as one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in America. The reason was mainly due to the "strong currents beneath the falls" and the "slick rocks" around them.
The hike itself though is relatively simple, even for a novice like myself. The trail is flat and well maintained for the most part. Eventually you will encounter two separate climbs, which will take you up over 1,800 feet. These put the trail closer to the moderately difficult level, I would assume.
Still, we passed several small children on both our way out and way back in, and they all seemed to have plenty of energy left in the tank.
You have to navigate three foot-bridges along the way, as the path meanders along the side of Abrams Creek. There are many areas in the first stretch where you have easy access to the water, and I've read that there is good trout fishing up in the area (permit required!).
I'm not sure what the creek is like on a normal day, but the rains and snow melt had it moving along at a brisk pace on this afternoon, so much so that it didn't seem like a good idea to wade out into it at any point.
The water runoff from higher up in the mountains also made parts of the trail wet and muddy, and there were a couple of instances where we had to jump rocks to cross side creeks - nothing that appeared dangerous, but required taking your time and erring on the side of caution.
The base of the falls offers a scenic watering hole, though the Park discourages swimming due to the unpredictable currents. In fact, there are several warnings that state that swimming near the waterfall is extremely dangerous.
The Abrams Fall trail continues on past the waterfall for another two miles. We journeyed along the better part of this before the threat of darkness forced us to turn around and make the long trek back to the parking area.
We weren't sure where the continuation of this trail led at the time we were on it, but after researching, I found out it joins the Hannah Mountain Trail and the Rabbit Creek Trail.
In total, we hiked roughly nine miles over a five-hour span. We did enjoy a nice picnic (fixed by your's truly) at the base of the falls, and took several short water breaks on the way back in.
After reading up on the hike, I felt like we probably chose the best time of year to go - particularly due to the fact that fellow hikers were sparse. There were about two dozen people at the falls when we arrived, but all of them had left by the time we finished our lunch. We passed a handful of couples along the way, but didn't meet a single person once we passed the falls. (By the way, for those that continue on past the falls, the trail does get somewhat more difficult than the first 2.5 miles.)
I have read that during peak season, there are some days when more than 1,000 people make the walk to the falls. To me, that would take the enjoyment out of the hike, but to each their own.
If you haven't been to Abrams Falls, though, it is certainly worth the time.
Abrams Falls is named after Chief Abram (he originally went by the name Oshuah but later changed it), who was once a leader of the Cherokee Nation.
There is a short side trail that leads to the Elijah Oliver place. He was the first settler of Cades Cove back in 1818.
There is a sign near the falls that makes reference to the fact that four people have died in the pool over the years. "Please, don't be next!", it states.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit in advance for all backcountry camping. Visit smokiespermits.nps.gov.
Abrams Creek is the longest stream within the GSM National Park.
You will see many downed trees during the length of your hike. Many of these were the result of an EF-4 tornado that came through the area in April, 2011, packing wins of 170 miles per hour.
Roads in the park may be closed during the winter months. For road statuses, call (865) 436-1200 ext. 631 or follow @SmokiesRoadsNPS on Twitter.
From Pigeon Forge: Turn at Traffic light #3 onto Wears Valley Road and take 321 to Townsend. Turn Left onto highway 73 and go untill you see a sign for Cades Cove where you will turn right onto Laurel Creek Rd. This road runs straight into Cades Cove.