TO THE TRAILHEAD: Take traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg onto Historic Nature Trail Road. Continue straight onto Cherokee Orchard Road until you get to the one-way, Roaring Fork Motor Nature trail. The parking area is just .2 past the start of that road. Alternatively, you can park just before you get to the RFMNT and walk to the trailhead. That would save you time after the hike driving all the way around that one-way road. It is also the only way to reach the trailhead in winter when RFMNT is closed.
THE HIKE: As more and more people visit the Smoky Mountains, nearly 10 million annually, there are precious few hidden gems left in the park. Many people know about the best places to go, and as a result, the best trails tend to be full of people. BUT, Baskins Creek Falls trail is the exception to the rule.
The Baskins Creek Trail is located right off the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail just outside of Gatlinburg. This trail literally connects to two parts of the road during the 2.7 miles that it runs. There is some great hiking in this area of the park. Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, Bullhead, Trillium Gap, Brushy Mountain, and of course Mount LeConte are just some of what you can do out here. As a result, these well known trails get almost all of the traffic while Baskins Creek sits waiting for you to visit.
There is not a large area for parking here like there is at the Trillium gap trail and others like it. It is simply not needed. You might see another car or two, but usually not much beyond that. There will be many times that you hike this trail that you will not see another person. At most, you might see one or two, so the solitude can not be beat.
This moderate hike is on the easier side of the spectrum with only about 700 feet of elevation change in the 1.5 miles it will take to get to our destination.One thing that sets this hike apart from many others is the elevation. Unlike most hikes in the Smokies, you will travel downhill to your destination here. That’s right, you go downhill almost the entire way. Of course, that means you are going up the whole way back, but it is an interesting way to do a hike.
So why do this hike? The solitude is excellent, and you do not have to drive or hike for forever to get it. This is a great place to be alone with your thoughts, see some great wildlife, and have a fairly relaxing hike. Views here are few and far between, so don’t expect things to open up frequently. The foliage blocks most chances for views, though you do get them occasionally and especially in the winter. But that is not what this hike is about. Baskins Creek Falls is a great waterfall. It is actually surprising that it is not busier than it is. Along with Rich Mountain Loop, I would say that this is the best overlooked hike in the park, and certainly the best overlooked waterfall.
Though this hike is overlooked, the signage is excellent, so you do not have to worry about getting lost. Any trail connection is clearly marked. Do be aware that there are couple of water crossings and there are no footbridges to go over. Most of the time this amounts to a good jump or rock hopping across, but you could get wet feet on this one, so consider your footwear before you go.
A mile into the trail you will see your first intersection with a short spur trail to the Baskins Cemetery to your left. This short spur is worth the time. There are more water crossings to get there, but nothing substantial. When you arrive you will see a variety of mostly homemade headstones. Most of them have faded so much over time that they are difficult or impossible to read. It is an interesting look into history and worth your time to stop here. Go back to the trail and continue towards the falls. Just .2 miles later, you will reach the last trail intersection. A left takes you to the falls while continuing straight takes you the remaining 1.4 miles to the end of the trail where it meets the other side of RFMNT. We will be taking a left to go to the falls.
The remaining .2 of a mile down to the falls is steep. You will want to watch your footing in this area, especially after rain or snow. It is easily the steepest part of the trail, and most of what gets it a moderate rating, despite the short distance. The trail eventually takes you to the base of Baskins Creek Falls. The falls are a 30 foot, 2 tiered waterfall, meaning that the water runs from the top, hits flat rock, and falls again. A large pool is made at the bottom, perfect for cooling off in the heat of the day. The spray from the waterfall can be large. The closer you get, the more mist will be falling on you from the falls. Of course, with any waterfall, the area including rocks and roots are very slippery. Horseplay here is both stupid and dangerous, so don’t do it.
The area at the falls is not wide open like Abrams Falls or Laurel Falls. The falls seem to be nestled into a little cove in the trees. This helps make this a great place to stop, rest ,and maybe have a little lunch before you return to the car. Once you have had enough, get your legs ready for the steady uphill as you journey 1.5 miles back for a grand total of three miles.
You can take as long or short of a time to finish this hike. This like can be completed in as little as an hour and a half and as long as 3 hours if you slow down and take your time. However you decide to do it, this is one hike that should not be missed at any time of year.