Spruce Flats Falls
Spruce Flats Falls receives fewer visitors than some of the other waterfalls in the Smokies, but I think it's one of the nicest in the park. The hike is about 1.5 - 2 miles round trip and is moderate to difficult. Probably not for smaller children, but bigger kids should be OK. You could combine this one with a hike to Lynn Camp Prong cascades and have a very full day in the area. The photos are from both a spring and fall visit. Even though this trail isn't on the maps, you had better go early for solitude and the best light.
Directions: From the Sugarlands Visitor Center, drive west on Little River Rd for 17.6 miles to the intersection of Laurel Creek Rd and TN 73, also known as the Townsend Wye. Bear left on Laurel Creek Road towards Tremont and Cades Cove. In .2 miles, turn left on the road towards the Great Smoky Mountain Institute. Drive 2 miles up this road and turn left across Middle Prong. Park at the Institute parking area for the trail on the right.
Begin the hike by walking towards the institute housing area in the back, but head up the gravel drive on the left for about 300 yards towards Caylor Lodge. Look for the information kiosk and the sign directing you to the trail. (The old directions had you walking the paved drive through the institute, but they have rerouted the trail for the waterfall hikers.) The trail begins on the Lumber Ridge Trail, but soon bears right on to the Buckeye Trail. Follow this up passing the back side of some tent housing for the institute and towards the water tower. Look for the signs for the 'Falls Trail' which doesn't appear on any maps that I have seen and follow this trail the rest of the way to the base of the waterfall. There are partial views along this section of trail and you'll hear Middle Prong below. The trail gets a rocky and rooty in places and you'll cross Bull Branch along the way. You'll also have to negotiate a long big log that has had steps carved out of it before heading down the remaining distance to the cove that holds Spruce Flats Branch and the waterfall.
The main waterfall in the background of the above image is 25-30' high. The stream then flows a short distance and over the smaller drop in the foreground. If the rocks aren't wet, you should be able to get closer for a better view of the main falls as shown in the video and additional photos.
Depending on the water level, you may be able to cross the creek without getting your feet wet and continue to the top of the next drop of the stream before it meets Middle Prong. A steep scramble will get you to the base of this section. Do not attempt to cross Middle Prong at this point to get over to the road and back down to the parking area. The river is very swift and the rock bottom is very slippery. One slip and you'll be a goner. The last photo is the very bottom section of the waterfall.
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