Alarka Falls 8-10-08
8-10-08 - Alarka Falls is a little known gem hidden high in the Alarka Mountains of Swain County. If you are a plant lover, a trip that combines the Alarka Laurel Preserve where Alarka Creek originates and the over 200' high Alarka Falls will be one you won't soon forget. My first visit was in 2004 with my pals Dana and Kenny and we came in from the bottom. My next trip was to the Alarka Laurel - again with Dana and Kenny - but we didn't know how to get to the falls from this way. My most recent trip was solo with the intent of finding the waterfall from the top of the mountain.
Directions to the base - all vehicles: Get on Hwy 74 west from Bryson City and take exit 64 which is Alarka Rd. Head south on Alarka Rd through the Alarka community. The road turns to gravel after about 8.5 miles - continue another mile to the end in a small turn around area. A private drive continues left at this point. A gated forest road was to our right before the parking area and the road ended at the turn around for the falls just after crossing Alarka Creek. Two trails head up creek to the right over some Jeep mounds, but they join after a few hundred feet so you can take either one. The 2 maps I looked at are wrong. They show Alarka Rd continuing up past Alarka Creek. I assume that's the gated road on the right that we passed. It took us about 15 minutes to get a good view of the falls. The trail wasn't too bad, but there are some rocks and logs to climb over close to the falls. It gets a little steep in this area also. You should notice a trail on the left side that leads steeply up to the top. The waterfall is in several sections and can't be seen entirely from one spot.
Directions to Alarka Laurel Preserve and the top of Alarka Falls - 2WD passenger vehicles may have a very hard time with this drive. Get on Hwy 74 whichever way is best from the direction you are coming from. Your destination is Whittier (exit 72 off of Hwy 74) which is between Bryson City and Dillsboro. Once you get off the exit at Whittier, drive about 1/4 mile and turn left at the Post Office. Drive a short distance, cross the Tuckasegee River, and come to a stop sign. Turn left - which I believe is Whittier Depot St - pass under Hwy 74, then immediately turn right on Old Bryson City Rd. Drive a very short distance and turn left on Connelly Creek Rd which takes you up the mountain. The road begins as pavement while passing some new development and the Smoky Mountain Country Club. It then turns to gravel and gets steeper and windier before it flattens out at the Alarka Laurel about 8 miles from Old Bryson City Rd. I do believe Connelly Creek Rd changes to FR86 near the top, so beware of that. Also, if your navigation system tells you to take this road as a short cut to the other side, don't do it! I met a couple on my way out that had made that mistake and had to turn around.
There's not much info published on this area, so you are kind of on your own once you get to the top. You'll see a few camping areas and gated roads - to get to the waterfall, look for FR86E which was marked and gated on my last visit. It will be on the right and follows Alarka Creek. If you drive across Alarka Creek on FR86, you went a bit too far. Walk down FR86E through the red spruce forest and bog. This road is an easy walk and continues for about 1.5 miles before it kind of ends in a small circle. You will have crossed a smaller creek and will begin hearing Alarka Creek on your left as you get near the end. Just before FR86E ends, look for a smaller trail to the left and take it. It goes down a short ways, then cuts back to the left and down the ridge towards the top of the falls which you previously heard back on the main trail. This is not an area for small children! When you get to the top of the falls you'll see a very steep trail heading down the mountain next to the creek. Water levels were low on this visit, so be extremely careful during higher flow! These next 2 shots are top sections of the waterfall. The 1st photo above is from closer to the bottom.
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