Gentry Creek Falls hike features fall foliage, scenic waterfall
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of five hikes that are available around our region. Hiking is a fun, safe way to get outdoors and get some exercise, especially during this time of social distancing.
Do you want to work your core? Take a hike! Are you ready to improve your cardiovascular fitness? Take a hike! Do you need to reduce stress? Build bone density? Improve balance? Lower blood sugar or blood pressure levels? Take a hike!
Hiking is a gift that keeps on giving when it comes to physical and mental health. From Harvard University’s Cardiovascular Performance Program and the International Journal of Sports Medicine to Stanford University, research has proven hiking’s many benefits. It’s also affordable, and most anyone can find a hike well within their ability levels.
Everyone knows that gifts come in many packages, though, and that is where the Greater Tri-Cities region stands out. Some of the Appalachian Trail’s most outstanding sections form the region’s southern flank. The north is a stunning jumble of mountains cut through by small, beautiful rivers that cut spectacular gorges like that found at Guest River Gorge near Coeburn, Va.
Between those very different natural borders lies the ridge and valley region. And scattered throughout it all like gems in a crown are trails – long trails, short trails, flat trails (yes there are a few) and steep, grinding calf- and lung-burners.
With its mild temperatures, low rainfall and burst of color, fall is an ideal time to give hiking a try if you’re a novice, return to a once-favored pastime if you’re out of the habit, or hit the trail as often as possible if you’re a regular.
Each of the five hikes in this series provides an enticing getaway with some attractive features. The quiet of the forest, the clean air and the exhilarating feeling of blood pumping through your system make for a physical workout that’s good for body, mind and soul. Hiking is low-impact, so it’s generally easy on your back and knees.
Simply put, getting out in nature and putting one foot in front of the other, with the birds calling overhead and a stream rushing nearby, is one of the best ways to get or stay healthy, reduce stress and unwind. It’s a great family activity people (and pets) of all ages can enjoy.
The descriptions are not exhaustive. A couple good resources to learn more include www.alltrails.com, and a local site by former Milligan College professor Mark Peacock, www.appalachiantreks.blogspot.com. Alltrails includes a free app that provides detailed maps and has articles on most hikes in this region, and Appalachian Treks’ descriptions, including directions, are excellent as well. And be sure to look up the “10 essentials” so you can hit the trail prepared.
Gentry Creek Falls (Johnson County, TN)
Getting There: From the Highway 421/91 intersection in Mountain City travel about 6.6 miles north on Highway 91 to Laurel Bloomery. Turn right on Gentry Creek Road at the Laurel Bloomery Fire Department. Bear right at the split after about three quarters of a mile and take the road another 2-plus miles (some of it gravel) until it dead ends at the parking area for the trail.
Distance: 4.6 miles round trip (2.3 miles to falls). Longer loop possible by hiking to top of falls, upstream and up to Rogers Ridge then back down (closer to 10 miles)
How Strenuous: Moderate
Parking: Space is available for a number of cars near the trailhead and also along the road leading to it. Parking is rarely full.
Special Considerations: Numerous creek crossings. Be prepared for wet feet or bring waterproof boots. During low water in fall most or all crossings can be rock-hopped. Follow the green blazes.
Hardwoods rise above yellow birch in this out-of-the-way creek drainage near where Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina converge. The trees create a colorful canopy in the fall, combining with the relative ease of crossing in the low water levels of fall to make this a worthwhile trip.
Despite frequent creek crossings, in fact, this is a popular trail year-round. The elevation gain of just over 600 feet is steady, with few steep sections. The creek is nearby much of the way and hikers should look for interesting rock formations. This is a great hike for dogs, and manageable for children.
The trail does get rocky in many places, and it is a large boulder along the trail that acts as a portal to the prize – the two-tiered falls of about 35 feet (the lower) and 25 feet (the upper). The base of the lower falls is a lovely spot to stop, relax, eat and get photos. During one fall visit, leaves by the hundreds swirled down gracefully from the surrounding trees as the water spilled over in the background, creating an unforgettable scene.
Like Lower Higgins Creek in Unicoi County, which we will feature in a future installment, Gentry Creek’s drainage widens above the falls, though getting there requires care. A scramble up the left side of the falls leads to the upper falls’ pool, after which one crosses the creek below the upper falls. Climbing above that fall and then descending leftward leads back down to the creek and a trail that continues along the creek.
The next 4-plus miles are beautiful. After about a quarter mile, look for an old piece of metal with “Meadows Mill Co., North Wilkesboro, N.C.” stamped on it. Remote as the area is, the timber was too valuable to pass up if a way could be made to extract it. After about 1.2 miles, a steep trail ascends to the left, reaching an old road in 0.1 miles and then climbing another half mile to intersect with the Rogers Ridge Trail. Turn left, follow the ridge and descend and you’ll reach a parking lot just down the road from your vehicle.
The Payoff: A lovely waterfall with some nice spots to hang out and relax. Beautiful forest with eye-popping color in the fall.
Next week’s edition of the News & Neighbor will feature the second hike in this five-part series.