MARYVILLE - Abrams Falls is one of the top hiking destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, especially during the dog days of summer.
Most visitors get there by hiking the Abrams Falls Trail located halfway around the Cades Cove Loop Road. The five-mile round trip is one of the most popular hikes in the park, drawing as many as 1,000 users per day during peak season.
A less-crowded way to reach Abrams Falls is to hike in from the Abrams Creek Campground/Ranger Station at the western tip of the park. Following Little Bottoms-Abrams Falls trails, it's a 10-mile out-and-back trip that can easily be done in a day, even when allowing time for a picnic at the Abrams Falls.
Unless you've paid to stay at the campground, you'll need to begin the hike at the small parking area across from the ranger station. The initial 0.9 miles of the hike follows the Cooper Road Trail past Abrams Creek Campground. The gravel road is flanked by tall hemlocks that have been treated by the park service to survive the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation that has destroyed virtually all of the park's backcountry hemlock forests.
Just past Abrams Creek Campground, turn right at the trail marker onto the Little Bottoms Trail. Almost immediately, the trail begins a short but steep ascent over a ridge and into the Abrams Creek drainage. At the top of the climb, you can look to your left and see on a clear day the Look Rock observation tower along the Foothills Parkway just outside the park boundary.
From the top of the ridge, the Little Bottoms Trail drops into the Abrams Creek drainage. On a hot summer day, even the sound of the creek's rushing water comes as welcome relief.
For the next 2.3 miles the Little Bottoms Trail roughly parallels Abrams Creek, sometimes following the water, and at other times veering away from the stream. The rolling terrain makes for a moderately difficult hike.
At several points along the Little Bottoms Trail you may notice the telltale signs of the Buck Shank wildfire that burned almost 1,000 acres along Abrams Creek in the spring of 2007. In places, the ground remains blackened and bare, but for the most part, a fresh understory has reclaimed the scorched ground.
Sadly, dead hemlock trees are scattered throughout the Abrams Creek drainage as a result of the hemlock woolly adelgid infestation that reached the Smokies in 2002.
After 1.6 miles the Little Bottoms Trail passes backcountry campsite number 17. Less than a mile later, the Little Bottoms Trail merges with the Abrams Falls Trail, and from there, it's another two miles to Abrams Falls.
On our recent hike, we reached Abrams Falls shortly before noon, and there were maybe a dozen people when we arrived. By lunch time, the falls was teeming with visitors. We asked around, and from what we could tell, everyone but us had hiked in from Cades Cove.
The pool below Abrams Falls is one of the largest and most picturesque in the Smokies. The falls are only 20 feet high, but what they lack in height, they make up for in volume. Several people have drowned at the base of the falls from the strong undercurrent, and the rocks are slippery, so caution is advised.
To reach the Abrams Falls Campground/Ranger Station, take U.S. 129 south to Chilhowee Lake (toward Fontana) and look for the Foothills Parkway on your left. Immediately after the Foothills Parkway, turn left onto Happy Valley Road, and follow it about five miles to Abrams Creek Road. Turn right onto Abrams Creek Road and drive one mile to the ranger station and campground.
Morgan Simmons may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6321.
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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