Friday, June 28, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Juney Whank Falls and Deep Creek Loop (Blog Hike #400)

Trails: Juney Whank Falls and Deep Creek Loop
Hike Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geographic Location: north of Bryson CityNC
Length: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2012
Overview: An exceptionally scenic hike passing three significant waterfalls.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Bryson City, go north on Deep Creek Road, following signs for Deep Creek Campground.  Enter the national park and drive to the signed waterfall trailhead, a large blacktop parking area to the left of the main road.  Park here.

The hike: For my introduction to fall hiking in the Smokies, see the Flat Creek hike.  How many hikes do you know that squeeze three significant waterfalls into less than 5 fairly easy miles?  I suspect not many, but that is what you will get on the Deep Creek Loop described here.  I timed my visit here to make this hike my 400th blog hike, and I was not disappointed.  Of all of my Smoky Mountain hikes, this one might be the most scenic.
            Unfortunately, Deep Creek’s scenic value and ease of hiking are well known.  You can come early in the morning to minimize the crowds, but you still almost surely will not be alone here.  When I hiked here on a crisp fall Friday morning, the parking lot was about half full when I returned around noon.  I suspect it overflows on nice summer weekends.           
Trailhead: Juney Whank Loop Trail
            The first stop on this waterfall tour is Juney Whank Falls, and it is reached by taking the wide gravel trail marked “Juney Whank Loop Trail” that leaves the west side of the parking lot.  The trail climbs via two switchbacks to reach its intersection with the Deep Creek Horse Trail, where a sign directs you to turn right.  Horse traffic is allowed on most of the trails used on this hike, and their stinky calling cards will be noticed several times.
            The climb continues, albeit on a more gradual grade.  At 0.2 miles, our trail to Juney Whank Falls exits to the right and descends some steps to reach the wooden bridge that serves as the viewing platform.  This 20-foot waterfall has a twist: water spills over the first ledge, disappears to the right, then drops down the rock face directly in front of you.  The sheer rock face around the waterfall looks imposing, so take a few minutes to enjoy the water’s antics.
Juney Whank Falls
            Past the waterfall, the Juney Whank Loop Trail climbs briefly to again meet the Deep Creek Horse Trail.  Our trail turns right to join the horse trail briefly then turns right again to leave the horse trail for good and descend moderately through a rhododendron tunnel.  Notice the unusual trail construction here: the trailbed uses the left half of the construction while the slightly lower right half is reserved as a drainage channel.  This construction is designed to prevent trail erosion, and it seems to be working quite well.
Descending on Juney Whank Loop Trail
            At 0.5 miles, the Juney Whank Loop Trail ends beside Deep Creek at its junction with the Deep Creek Trail.  Turning right would lead 0.2 level miles back to the trailhead for a hike of only 0.7 miles, but two more waterfalls await by turning left.  The wide two-track Deep Creek Trail (not to be confused with the Deep Creek Horse Trail) heads upstream with the clear-flowing creek bubbling to your right.  This ravine is a true slice of mountain paradise rarely equaled in the Appalachians.
            0.6 miles into the hike, two benches beside the trail give places to rest as you view Tom Branch Falls, the second significant waterfall on this hike.  The 40-foot waterfall drops and slides down several layers of rock before emptying directly into Deep Creek.  Shrubs on either side frame the falls nicely.
Tom Branch Falls
            At 0.7 miles, the trail crosses Deep Creek for the first of three times on wide wooden bridges with stone abutments.  In case you had not guessed, the Deep Creek Trail is an extension of the road you drove in on.  Some drill marks in the rock beside the trail indicate places where dirt and rock were moved to make room for the roadbed.  The trail is wide enough and smooth enough to make it one of the few trails in the national park that is open to bicycles.  Also, in the summer you might pass people carrying inner tubes up the trail with intentions of floating the creek back down.
Deep Creek
            1 mile into the hike, the Indian Creek Trail exits to the right.  This intersection marks the beginning of the loop portion of this hike.  To make the climbing a little easier, this description will continue straight on the Deep Creek Trail and use the Indian Creek Trail as a return route.  Note that if all you want to do is see the three waterfalls, the third and final waterfall, Indian Creek Falls, is only 200 feet to the right of this intersection at the very end of our loop.
            The Deep Creek Trail crosses Indian Creek on a bridge and, just after crossing Deep Creek for a second time, intersects the upper end of the Deep Creek Horse Trail.  Turn right to continue up the Deep Creek Trail.  The trail continues its gradual climb as some picture-perfect views of the creek and surrounding mountains open up on the right.
Deep Creek valley
            At 2 miles, the trail crosses Deep Creek for the final time just before the Loop Trail exits to the right.  Turn right to begin the Loop Trail and leave the (henceforth considerably narrower) Deep Creek Trail.  The 1-mile long Loop Trail is 0.5 miles all up and then 0.5 miles all down as it crosses the ridge between Deep and Indian Creeks.  Some wooden steps built into the ground make the climb and descent easier, and the trail follows the contours to ease the grade.
Climbing on the Loop Trail
            At 2.5 miles, you reach the highest elevation on this hike as the Sunkota Ridge Trail exits uphill to the left.  Some nice maple trees live near the top of this ridge, and their leaves were just starting to change color on my visit.  Immediately the descent begins.  The upper part of the descent passes through open broadleaf forest, but as it nears Indian Creek the trail passes through a tight ravine with a nice falling stream and dense rhododendron.
            3 miles into the hike, the Loop Trail ends at its junction with the Indian Creek Trail.  Turn right to begin the final leg of this loop.  The Indian Creek Trail is another two-track dirt road similar in width and appearance to the Deep Creek Trail.  Thus, the hiking is once again very easy.
            At 3.5 miles, the trail crosses Indian Creek on another old road bridge.  Being a tributary of Deep Creek, Indian Creek is narrower than its deeper counterpart and has much more rhododendron crowding its banks.  At 3.8 miles, Indian Creek Falls can be seen below you to the right, and soon a short spur trail leads down some steps to the falls’ base for the ideal view.  Indian Creek Falls is a cascading waterfall about 20 feet in height.  The dark colored rocks contrast nicely with the white froth on the water and green rhododendron.
Indian Creek Falls
            Past the waterfall, only 200 feet of hiking remains to arrive at the Deep Creek Trail and close the loop.  Turn left on the Deep Creek Trail and retrace your steps past Toms Branch Falls and the trail to Juney Whank Falls to arrive at the parking area and complete the hike.

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