March 30, 2019

Sill Branch Falls

  • 1.5 miles
  • 1:24 duration
  • 367 foot elevation gain
  • 72° F

On Saturday I enjoyed a rare chance to hike with my sweetheart and our pups. We traveled to the Clark’s Creek area of Unicoi County to hike the North Sill Branch Falls trail. Andy and Itsy were excited to be going on an excursion. Itsy sat expectantly in the back seat of Deban’s car while Andy paced back and forth from one window to the other to see what was happening outside.

Andy (left) and Itsy (right) are ready for some fun

Being a good sport who is tolerant of my geocaching habit, Deban stopped along the way so that I could log a nearby cache that I had not yet found. The pups were very agitated that I got out of the car without them.

The road into Clark’s Creek is a pretty drive, but very rough. Deban drove slowly trying to avoid the potholes, but some of them sneaked up on her. Since we were driving slowly, we opened the windows so that Andy could enjoy the fresh air.

Clark’s Creek Rd
Enjoying the wind in his hair

Deban said that she hoped there wouldn’t be anyone else hiking this trail. I wasn’t sure her wish would be granted on such a beautiful spring day. As we approached the trail head, we saw that it was crowded with vehicles. There was no room for us to park, so we drove about a tenth of a mile further down the road to park.

As soon as we got out of the vehicle, I began seeing tiny wildflowers. As we walked along the road, I stopped to take pictures of Rue Anemone, Spring Beauty, and Coltsfoot.

Rue Anemone
Spring Beauty
Coltsfoot

Several years ago while visiting San Fransisco, I found a great belt in a pet store. It has a hook on it to attach to your dog’s leash so that you can hike with your pup hands-free. I attached both dogs’ leashes to the belt, leaving one had free for my hiking stick and the other for my phone, which I had to keep pulling out to take photos.

At the trail head we counted 10 vehicles. We hoped that some of those people would be continuing on up the South Sill Branch trail and wouldn’t all be at the falls. As we hiked up the trail, we passed several groups of people coming back down. A couple of them asked if they could pet our dogs, and we were happy to let them. It is good for them to be socialized with other people.

The hike to Sill Branch Falls is relatively short, about .65 mile. The first .50 mile is along a trail that climbs slowly along Sill Branch. I have done this hike numerous times, but this was the first time I had hiked it in spring. I made several stops along the way to take pictures of the flowers I saw. Deban was impressed that I knew the names of most of them. She said my mama taught me well.

Halberd Leaf Yellow Violet
Purple Violet and Star Chickweed

For those who don’t know, my mother loved wildflowers. She minored in botany in college, and was very well versed on the wildflowers of the Smoky Mountains. My long-suffering daddy would take her on drives through the mountains, always prepared to hear the words, “Walter, STOP! There is a (insert name of wildflower here)!” I did not learn nearly enough from her, but developed my own love of wildflowers as an adult. My older sisters have helped me learn most of the flowers that I can now identify. The “Tennessee Wildflowers” app helps out when we see a flower we don’t recognize.

Andy was eager to play in the water, so whenever I found a spur path down to the creek I took him down it. One such path was lined on either side by beautiful anemone. There was a pretty little cascade here, so I took a photo of it while the pups played in the water. Deban told us she was going on ahead since she hikes more slowly. Seeing her head up the trail agitated the dogs. Andy kept tugging at the end of his leash, jerking me just as I snapped pictures. I eventually gave up, and we all ran up the trail to catch up with her. They definitely prefer for their pack to stay together.

I wanna play in the creek!

After half a mile, there is a trail junction. From this point you can continue on the South Sill Branch trail or turn left and take the North Sill Branch trail. Turning left takes you to the falls.

We took the turn, and forded North Fork Sill Branch. This is an easy, shallow crossing, even when the stream is flowing well on a day like this one. We all made it across and then faced the toughest part of this hike.

Creek crossing

Just past the stream crossing is a very steep, but thankfully short, section of trail. The pups and I went up first and Deban followed. It helps knowing that once you climb that section you are nearly to the falls.

Fraser’s Sedge

Sill Branch Falls is 40 feet tall and very pretty. I have visited it at various times of the year, and the water flow can vary widely depending on recent rainfall. The pool beneath the falls is very shallow, making it possible to cross over and take photos from various angles. Today there were several children playing in the water while parents watched and took pictures. There was also one serious photographer who was a bit grumpy that so many other people were there.

I took photos as well, and let the dogs splash around a bit, still on their leashes. Once the children had left, we let them off leash for a short romp, and they had fun playing. We put their leashes back on, and started to pose for a selfie in front of the falls. A woman saw us and offered to take our picture, so we gladly accepted. It didn’t turn out to be a very good picture, but it was very nice of her to offer.

We then sat on a nearby rock and had a drink and snack before heading back down the trail.

The trip back down went more quickly, although I did stop for more photo ops.

Hepatica
Cutleaf Toothwort
Sweet white trillium – pre-bloom

We met many other groups coming up the trail, and some had dogs with them. Unfortunately, we did not do a good job of socializing Andy and Itsy with dogs other than our pack when they were young. Andy has been around other dogs when I have taken him on group hikes, but Itsy has not. Andy can be shy, but Itsy gets very defensive. He barks loudly when he sees another dog, acting like he is tough and much larger than he is. But, if a dog gets too close, he starts squealing like a scared little girl. We did our best to give all of the approaching dogs a wide berth.

Once we reached the trail head, we still had a short walk along the road to our car. The parking area was just as crowded as when we had started, and another car had joined us in the remote parking spot.

We were looking forward to a cold drink once we got back to the car, since we had emptied the drinks we had carried with us. Before leaving the house, I had put two bottles of Gatorade in a cooler bag with an ice pack. But, when I searched the car, the bag wasn’t there. I had left it just inside the back door at home.

As we drove home, Deban stopped so that I could hunt for more caches. I found two more, but did not find two others. I did not spend much time searching for them since we were hot and thirsty. We stopped at the nearest convenience store for cold drinks and a snack.

Although I saw many flowers blooming on this hike, there were many more than will be blooming in the next few weeks. I may have to make another trip to Sill Branch soon to see what other wildflowers I can find.

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