Sunday, May 24, 2015

Big South Fork NRRA: Angel Falls Rapid Trail (Blog Hike #516)

Trail: Angel Falls Rapid Trail
Hike Location: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Geographic Location: west of Oneida, TN
Length: 4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2015
Overview: A riverside out-and-back to noisy Angel Falls Rapid.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at the park’s Leatherwood Ford Trailhead; follow the driving directions for the Leatherwood Loop hike.

The hike: For my general comments on the hiking options at Leatherwood Ford, see the Leatherwood Loop hike.  The Angel Falls Rapid Trail described here leads 2 miles one-way downstream to its namesake water feature, a powerful and dangerous rapid in the Big South Fork River.  Despite the length, the wide trail across relatively flat terrain makes this hike easier than most hikes in this area.
Big South Fork River
            While the Leatherwood Loop Trail departs from the south end of the parking area near the restroom building, the Angel Falls Rapid Trail starts at the north end of the parking area.  To get there, you could park at the north end or walk through the parking area, but a boardwalk trail along the river provides a more scenic option.  The boardwalk is called the Riverwalk, and it offers some of your best views of the river, which was wide and muddy on my mid-May visit the day after a thunderstorm.
Trailhead at north end of parking area
            However you get to the north end of the parking area, a carsonite post, a sign, and an information board identify the trailhead.  The trail is marked with green fiberglass rectangles, but you will also see some faint red arrowhead paint blazes, the park’s old method for marking hiking trails.  Some numbered posts indicate the existence of an interpretive guide, but none were available at the trailhead.
The wide gravel and dirt trail heads north with the river on your left and the gorge wall rising to your right.  The forest along the river consists of maple, beech, and tulip poplar, but there are also some large hemlock trees down here.  Rhododendron, mountain laurel, ferns, paw paw, and sassafras live in the understory.  The white flowers of the mountain laurel were in full bloom on my visit.
            700 feet from the trailhead, you pass a small cave in the hillside to the right.  Just past 0.2 miles, you cross a small unnamed stream on a nice wooden footbridge.  In the moist environment along the river, my feet stepped over numerous black and yellow flat millipedes.
Flat millipede
            At 0.8 miles, you cross a large stream called Anderson Branch on another nice wooden footbridge.  Some car-sized boulders appear between the trail and the river, as do several attractive established campsites.  Piles of rock representing slag from old coal mines remind you of this area’s mining history.  At 1.9 miles, you pass an exposed coal seam in the cliff to your right that provides another reminder of what lies underneath this land.  If you rub the black coal with your hands, you will learn why coal has such a dirty reputation.
Coal seam in cliff
            Just past the coal seam, you reach the signed spur trail for Angel Falls.  Angle left and walk a few more feet to reach the wooden observation platform.  Angel Falls Rapid was created in 1954 by an attempt to dynamite a 6-foot river cataract in order to make the river navigable for barges.  This platform gives the side view of the dangerous rapid the ill-fated effort created.  The cliffs on the other side underlie Angel Falls Overlook, which sits over 600 feet above you and can be reached by another trail that starts at Leatherwood Ford.  A canoe portage trail leads to the north (downstream) side of the rapid.  Some rocks beg you to sit and enjoy the sound of rushing water.
Angel Falls Rapid

Cliffs overlooking Angel Falls
            The trail continues north from the rapid.  The next point of interest is the John Smith Place, which is an old homesite and mine reached after another 1.3 miles.  Next comes Station Camp Ford, an equestrian trailhead and campground that features Chimney Rocks, some unusual spire-type rock formations.  Station Camp Ford is more than 6 miles away, and no nice loops can be formed.  Thus, I chose to turn around at Angel Falls and retrace my steps to Leatherwood Ford to complete a 4-mile hike.


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