April 8, 2017

Tank Hollow Falls/Laurel Fork Falls

  • 1.23 miles/4.03 miles
  • :48 duration/3:08 duration
  • 188 ft elevation gain/870 ft elevation gain
  • 2 traditional caches, 1 earth cache (FTF)

LakeBum (Rob) and I decided to hike to Laurel Fork Falls to be First to Find (FTF) on a new earth cache there recently published by our friends Cache Cracker Jacks (Tom and Dori). We got a little later start than usual (10:30 am) because I had just gotten in at 6:30 am after an all night drive from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But, that’s another story for another time.

On the way to the Laurel Fork trail head, Rob suggested that we stop off at Tank Hollow Falls. This is a spot between Elizabethton and Hampton that I have wanted to visit for a while, and was happy to add this to our adventure for the day.

We parked at a gate next to the bridge over the Doe River and walked down to the old highway bridge. Rob told me that there was once a cache at the near end of the bridge that has been archived. I dug around in the leaves a bit and actually found it. We then spent some time admiring the views of the Doe River before crossing the bridge. This is a bit of an unnerving walk, since there are large holes in the bridge that you must navigate around – large enough to lose a car in!

Just up the hill from the other side of the bridge is a tunnel that can be seen from the highway. It was built in 1881 to provide a route through rock for the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) railroad.

Abandoned since 1950, this tunnel is still in remarkably good shape. There are no longer rails running through it, but there is a concrete walkway. We continued through the tunnel and along the old rail bed to reach Tank Hollow Falls. This is a small waterfall, but has a lot of character, with many small cascades in different directions. To the left of this waterfall is another geocache, which was the object of our hike here.

We returned through the tunnel and back across the decrepit bridge to our vehicle, and then continued our journey to the Laurel Fork trail head.

There are two routes to Laurel Fork Falls, one from Hampton and the other from Dennis Cove. For today’s hike, we chose the Dennis Cove route. This hike follows the Appalachian Trail. After about one mile along the trail, you can choose to turn off the trail and go down some steep stone stairs to reach the falls, or continue on the Appalachian Trail until you reach a shelter for through-hikers. From the shelter, you follow the trail down to Laurel Fork, and can then follow it upstream to reach the falls. This is the route we chose today.

But, before heading down to the falls from the shelter, we took a detour to see a waterfall near there. I had heard that there was a waterfall there, but had never hiked over to see it. According to maps and to the wikitrail page for the Laurel Fork Shelter, these falls are on Waycaster Spring so I am calling them Waycaster Spring Falls.

The trail from the shelter takes you to the middle of these falls. In fact to continue on that trail, you must cross the creek with cascades above and below you. A few years ago my boss shared a story of an adventure he and his wife had here where she slipped on these rocks and ended up with a gash in her head that needed stitches.

This waterfall  consists of several short shelf-type drops in a row. I bushwhacked downstream a bit to get a photo of several of the cascades at once, and still was not at the bottom.

From there, we made our way down to Laurel Fork and along this picturesque river to Laurel Fork Falls. This was my third visit to these falls. The first was about 20 years ago, and the second was last summer. On today’s visit, the falls had much more volume of flow than my previous trips. They were spectacular. We had the view to ourselves for some time and after taking a few photos we sat down to have some lunch. We also gathered the information we needed to be able to log the earth cache.

After a bit, other travelers began to arrive, so we gathered our things and began the trek back. This meant climbing the steep stairs that we had passed by earlier.All the hiking we have been doing this winter has prepared us well for that challenge, and we were even able to offer encouragement to a fellow hiker. He was ready to give up and go back down to the waterfall and follow the creek back out by the longer trail. His plan was to send his young sons on to the Dennis Cove trail head to meet his wife, and then have her come back around to Hampton to pick him up. We got him to the top of the stairs, and assured him that the rest of the journey back was much easier. We then left him with his sons to make their way out at their own pace.

We stopped to look for one last cache on the hike out, but were not able to find it. With spotty cell coverage, we were not able to pull up the cache page to see the hint or any other info to help us find it, so decided to leave it for another day. By this time, I was ready to go home and take a nap, having just had a quick three hours of sleep before the hike.

We had beautiful, sunny weather all day. Of course, this made photographing the falls harder since the sun was reflecting off the water. I had also forgotten to put my tripod in my backpack, so had to shoot at higher shutter speeds, or use rocks to brace my camera for longer speeds. We also were treated to some beautiful wildflowers along the way. It was another great day with my cedar hiking stick.

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