Editor’s Note: This is the second 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. To read about the first hike in the series, click here.
Much like last week’s hike to Gentry Creek Falls in Johnson County, this week’s hike to Lower Higgins Creek Falls/Bearwallow Hollow in Unicoi County will feature a majestic waterfall and plenty of fall foliage. The description below is 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.
All trails include 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. Lower Higgins Creek Falls/Bearwallow Hollow (Unicoi County, TN)
GETTING THERE: Travel east/south on Interstate 26 through Erwin. Take Exit 43 and proceed to the old Asheville Highway (19W), which runs parallel to the interstate. Turn right (south) and then turn right again in ¾ mile onto Lower Higgins Creek Road. Take the road about 1.5 miles to its absolute dead end. Parking there does not constitute trespassing.
DISTANCE: 2 miles (out and back to falls – further fun awaits upstream)
HOW STRENUOUS: Easy-moderate PARKING: Parking is limited at the dead end.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: Trail is not blazed but is easy to follow For hikers prepared to take a short, steep side trip that may involve use of their hands and some getting dirty, the short excursion to Lower Higgins Creek’s primary waterfall offers a misty, awe-inspiring reward. Even if viewed from the main trail, the falls are impressive as the leaves thin, and the relatively short trek to them offers plenty of peaceful beauty.
Just one drainage north of Tennessee’s newest state park, Rocky Fork, Lower Higgins boasts many of the same features that led to Rocky Fork’s preservation. These include impressive second-growth forest with lots of hardwoods; steep slopes that rise more than 1,000 feet above the creek and hem its valley in; and abundant rhododendron, ferns and other flora that thrive in the moist environment fed by branch after branch tumbling down the slopes and into the creek.
It all makes for a rugged environment, yet one that even inexperienced trekkers can enjoy. Hikers will find themselves on a double tracked path that usually guarantees solitude. In the first half-mile, signs of the creek’s popularity with fishermen greet the eye as the trail passes makeshift camps. The creek is often visible as it splashes over rocks and boulders. Then the trail ascends more steeply above the narrowing walls that create a perfect setting for whitewater, cataracts and the main fall itself.
Hikers should hear the falls after nearly a half-mile of more rigorous climbing. Dogs or kids are likely to keep one motivated, and the elevation gain is roughly 600 feet to the falls. Rest a bit, gird your loins and scramble down (carefully) to the creek for a peaceful respite in the cool of the spray.
This hike can continue upstream. Several more falls, smaller than the main one, await, and the drainage broadens in an area known as Bearwallow Hollow. If you have the stamina and the desire – and are up for a creek crossing or two – this is a great way to extend the hike for several more miles up toward Higgins Creek’s headwaters. Come this far and the colors of fall will spread in all directions.
THE PAYOFF(S): Solitude. A sense of accomplishment. Selfies at a waterfall that the vast majority of Tri-Citians will never see in person.
Next week’s edition of the News & Neighbor will feature the third hike in this five-part series.