8-6-15 The hike to the waterfalls on Road Prong from Clingmans Dome Rd is another great one if you want to get away from the crowds. The trail drops about 1500' in elevation over 2.4 miles and is very rocky in places, so be prepared for a moderately strenuous hike. Part of the trail is actually in the stream bed, so I wouldn't recommend it in times of high water or you'll be getting your feet wet. Otherwise, you'll be treated to a beautiful section of the forest, a pristine Smoky Mountain stream, spring and summer wildflowers, and some very nice smaller waterfalls and cascades if you do this hike. I've been down this trail 3 times now and the photos are a combination of all 3 visits.
Directions: From either North Carolina or Tennessee, get on Hwy 441 and head up to Clingmans Dome Rd at Newfound Gap. Turn on to Clingmans Dome Rd and drive 1.2 miles to the parking lot on the right. The Road Prong Trail begins behind the interpretive sign and there are trail head signs indicating which way to go. The Appalachian Trail crosses here also, so be sure not to take it by mistake! The other end of the Road Prong Trail is in Tennessee along 441. It begins at the Chimney Tops parking area and you could take it up hill to access the same areas. There's also a Chimney Tops picnic area in a different location on 441, which is not the same. The trail description below is coming down from Clingmans Dome Rd.
The trail begins by heading down into a mossy mixed fir/northern hardwoods forest where you know you are in the higher elevations of the park. The trail is also rocky to begin with, so watch your step. About 10-15 minutes into the hike, you should begin hearing the trickling of the headwaters of Road Prong. In about 3/4 of a mile from the trail head, you'll come to the first creek crossing. This is a fairly easy one. Continue and cross the creek again, then begin a stretch of the trail that is in and out of the creek. The wet rocks in this section are very slippery! You should hear another creek come in from the left, then cross Road Prong again and come to an open area that is filled with summer wildflowers in mid to late July. You'll have to get back in the creek at this point for a stretch of maybe 50 yards, but you should be able to keep your shoes fairly dry by stepping on the rocks. At less than a mile from the trail head, you'll cross Road Prong one more time and be on the right side of the stream. From here down to the first waterfall, the trail rises high above the creek, then eventually comes back down to meet it just before the waterfall. At about 1.5 miles into the hike, look on the right side of the trail for a beautiful moss covered area. The waterfall is a short distance past this area.
The photo above is the first glimpse you'll have of this waterfall from the trail. It's not very high, but has a lot of character and a nice swimming hole at the base. Just past this is a place where people have been scrambling down to get a better view (picture below).
Go just past this and you'll have a different view of the falls from the trail. Continue down the trail for about a tenth of a mile and you'll see another small cascade from the trail. There's a scramble trail that goes down to this one also for a creek side view. Both views are below.
From here, continue down the trail to another crossing of Road Prong. By now, the stream has picked up a lot of water from feeder creeks. There used to be a nice log foot bridge here, but it's now gone (August 2015). Luckily on this last trip the water levels were quite low and we were able to rock hop across without getting our feet wet. This might not be possible during normal water flow and would probably be very dangerous during high water. You are now 2 miles from the trail head and it's another 0.4 miles to the intersection with the Chimney Tops Trail. You'll have glimpses of other waterfalls and cascades through the bushes and you'll notice scramble trails down to those also. From the Chimney Tops Trail, it's another mile down to the Chimney Tops parking area.
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