Smoky Mountain Hike - The Abrams Falls Trail

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Abrams Falls Trail - Smoky Mountains Hike


What do you think of when you talk about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Maybe its the 270 miles of roads, over 800 miles of trails, or the more than 500,000 acres of land? Probably not, but it's interesting nonetheless. And don't forget, there are 50 species of mammals, 80 kinds of fish, 200 types of birds, and 1,300 different kinds of flowering plants. Even seven trees of record dimensions can be found in the park. How's that for luring in tourists?

Due to many of those factors, more than 10 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on average each year, though some only see the park superficially. The best part is the park itself, yet most people's views and experiences are limited to the main roads, a handful of the park's trails, the Cades Cove loop road, and the carnival-like atmosphere of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. While visitors come away richer for the experience, they've still missed a vast majority of the park. So there's enough left for another trip? While that may be a worthwhile notion, it's been shown that most travelers will simply revisit the places they remembered following their first visit. What's left is a lifetime of adventure and experiences that have yet to be discovered.

With as much land and as many sites, discovering the national park's beauty and solitude does not have to be a one shot deal. Rod's Guide was created to assist visitors plan their trip to the park. Rod's Guide essentially allows you to get out of your car and get lost (figuratively speaking) in the splendor of the park. So let's take a look at a fairly easy hike from the Cades Cove Visitor's Center trailhead. This trailhead follows Abrams Creek approximately 2.5 miles to Abrams Falls.

 Abrams Falls Trail Map

 How to Get To Cades Cove and Abrams Falls:

To get to the Smokies area from where you are, seedirections to get to Gatlinburg or Townsend, Tennessee. From Townsend take TN 321 to the park entrance, turn right on Little River Road to Cades Cove. From Gatlinburg, turn right at the Sugarlands Visitor Center onto Little River Road and on to Cades Cove, where you will travel nearly halfway around the 11-mile loop road to the parking area for the 5-mile round-trip hike to Abrams Falls.

Summary: The Abrams Falls Trail is a fairly easy 5-mile trek (round-trip) that is ideal for the novice hiker or a family. Depending on your pace and whether you are bringing small children, plan on a roughly three hour hike. Starting in Cades Cove (the park's most visited spot), you won't find much solitude unless you start out in the early morning, or in the "off" season before May or after the last bursts of Fall color have disappeared. Still, even if it isn't the perfect time of year, the hike to Abrams Falls is reward enough for the effort. Abrams is shortened from Abraham, a Cherokee Indian chief whose village was located on the Little Tennessee near the mouth of the current day Abrams Creek.

Elevation: At one point you will climb to approximately 1,800 feet, but at the falls you are really 300 feet lower than when you began.
Point of departure: Entering Cades Cove from either Gatlinburg or Townsend via Little River Road (refer to map above), take the one-way Cades Cove Loop Road 4.9 miles and turn right onto a gravel road that terminates within 0.5 mile at a parking area. Signs mark the area well, but if you get to the Cades Cove Visitors Center you've gone too far. The Abrams Falls Trail begins at the end of the parking area at the wooden bridge.
Abrams Creek Trail: Starting in the parking area, enter the forest and cross the wooden bridge at Abrams Creek. The trail leads right 0.5 mile to the Elijah Oliver Place and left to begin the hike to Abrams Falls. The trail to Abrams Falls parallels Abrams Creek for the most part, with one exception. That exception, is when Abrams Creek twists left from Arbutus Ridge to form a nearly one-mile loop resembling a "horseshoe”. This stretch of creek is highly-trafficked by trout fishermen. You cross Wilson Branch at mile 2.5 and take the short side trail to the falls.

Abrams Falls Photo

Approximately 18 streams of various size drain the slopes of the Cades Cove enclosure and empty into Abrams Creek. A relatively serene Abrams Creek is immediately diverted into a narrow chute along the right side at the falls, transforming the creek into a beautiful, yet violent 20-foot plunge over the ledge. The natural pool attracts swimmers and sunbathers during the hot summer months. In June, laurel and rhododendron that have grown up the steep bank frame the falls. The mist produced by the falls creates a natural air conditioner, and the pool is a welcoming spot to pause, cool off, and enjoy the park's illustrious beauty.

For the hardier hiker, the remaining two miles of the trail are more isolated and challenging. Ending at Abram's Creek Ford, the hiker can pick up the Hannah Mountain Trail (which leads left 1.9 miles to the Rabbit Creek Trail at Scott Gap) and Hatcher Mountain Trail (which leads right 2.8 miles to the Cooper Road Trail and the Beard Cane Creek Trail). Your other option is to retrace your steps to the Abrams Creek Trail and return to Cades Cove, thus capping off the 5-mile trek to Abrams Falls and back. From there take the Cades Cove Loop Road to the visitors center where you can plan your next adventure in the Smokies and enjoy the other sights Cades Cove has to offer.

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Take a knapsack and carry a few extra items if your trek to Abrams Falls is a day hike. Some of those items should include bottled water and a snack. One thing, never drink water from a park stream without boiling it first. The streams in the park, though deceptively cool and invitingly clear, contain bacteria that can ruin your trip that day and possibly many thereafter. Think about taking a camera with you too. If it's an overnight trip to LeConte Lodge, you should be carrying a backpack, and we assume that you have arranged for the required reservation at the lodge and packed the necessary items. In the backcountry, a backcountry permit is required for overnight stays. Some campsites call for reservations in advance. Permits can be obtained at visitors centers or by calling (865) 436-1231.

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