Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mingo Falls, Cherokee Reservation near Cherokee, North Carolina

9/13/2016 -  Mingo Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.53406   -83.27617,  2230 ft.
  Mingo Falls:  35.53177   -83.27543,  2407 ft.
Pet Friendly: I think so.  I saw no signs prohibiting dogs on the trail, and this is on the Cherokee reservation, not the National Park.

Motorcycle Friendly: Yes, it is. This is on a paved road with a nice parking location.

Hiking Statistics:   This hike is just under one mile round trip, with a minimum to maximum elevation change of 180 feet.  Most of that 180 feet is in the first hundred yards from the parking location. The National Park Service calls this a moderately strenuous hike, but I am going to disagree.  This is an easy hike.  A lot of folks complain about the vertical ascent over a short distance, but it is all stairsteps.  If you find 162 steps tiring, just take your time.  This should be easily doable for hikers of all ages and hiking ability.

GPS files (.gpx format) 
  Great Smokey Mountains National Park waypoints - contains waypoints for 89 waterfalls in and around the GSMNP.

Mingo Falls (180 ft)
While roaming around Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), my wife Bethany and I ran across another hiker that assured us Mingo Falls was by far the most spectacular waterfall in the park.  "It isn't a very long hike," he said, "but there are a thousand stair steps going up to the falls, and it will flat out wear you out."  Intrigued, I checked out the information the GSMNP had.  It is listed as one of ten waterfalls with hiking trails, but it is not actually in the park.  We had intended to drive across the park to the southern border anyway, just to take in the sights and see what was there.  We checked with the rangers at the Sugarlands Visitor Center who assured us it was indeed one of the prettiest waterfalls around, and told us "there are a lot of stairs at the start, maybe 60 or so."  Now we had to check it out, just to see how many stair steps were on the trail.

So off we went across the mountains.  Highway 441 goes from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, across the Smoky Mountains at Newfound Gap, then out the southern entrance at the Oconoluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina.  This highway, in addition to being one of the most scenic in America, is the reason why the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the only one the National Park Service can't charge an entrance fee for.  Back in the 1930's, when the federal government was trying to complete all the acquisitions for the park, they had to get the rights for Highway 441 transferred from both states.  The North Carolina state legislature was happy to sign the highway over and let the federal government maintain it.  The state of Tennessee was also happy to do that but was worried that this highway, which was the only one into that part of the state, might someday have a toll collected by the federal government that would restrict commerce.  So as part of the deal, they stipulated that the federal government could never impose a toll on the road.  That was acceptable to the feds, and everyone signed on the dotted line and had a photo op.  But to this day, The federal government can't charge to use this highway, the only one running through the park.  

To get there, from the Oconaluftee Visitor center, go south on Highway 441 out of the park.  You are now on the Cherokee reservation, but no special permission is needed to go to the waterfall.  Go past the Blue Ridge Parkway turnoff, and take the next left onto Big Cove Road.  Go five miles on Big Cove Road to the Mingo Falls campground.  There will be a sign for Mingo Falls and a small parking lot at the trailhead.  The Cherokees even keep a couple of porta-potties at the trailhead.  

Sure enough, right at the start of the trail is a very long set of concrete stairs to take you up almost all of the vertical ascent.  We determined almost immediately that to the guy we first talked to, it probably just seemed like "a thousand stairs".  It isn't, but it is more than sixty, so the Ranger's perception was somewhat off as well.  On the way down, we counted and there were 162 stair steps.  So, not all that bad at all.  Anyone can make it, and I would recommend it for small children.  The entire trail is only a half mile long, and from the top of the stairs, it is mostly hiking on the level to the footbridge going over the creek at the base of the waterfall.

Mingo Falls is as spectacular as we had been led to believe.  At 180 feet, it was second only to the 210 foot Silver Falls we had seen (inside a cavern!) on this road trip.  Today, it did not have a lot of flow, but still was well worth the trip.   This is another one I'll have to take another look at the next time we come here.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post, I like the post and thanks guys for sharing such kind of great post with us.