TO THE TRAILHEAD: Drive on Heintooga Ridge Road for 5 1/2 miles to a gravel pullout on the left where you can park. The Flat Creek Trail will be right there to begin your hike. This is a 1.6 mile roundtrip easy hike that does not receive a lot of traffic and is a gem hiding in plain sight.
THE HIKE: You will almost immediately cross a footbridge over water as you begin. Water will be constantly with you as you go down the trail. The forrest here is old and has many towering trees that give you some relief from the sun but do keep you from having any great views along the way. You will have a trail junction soon after the footbridge at .3 mile. Take a left to continue. You will notice a few places where you have to rock hop along this area over water. You likely won’t get wet, but it might not hurt to pack a pair of sandals or extra socks if you are worried about it. But even if you do get wet, the hike only lasts for just over a mile and a half, so you can likely deal with it until you get back to the car.
As you continue you get a sense of the dichotomy of the forrest here. Some old trees remain while much of the forrest is new due to the extensive logging that happened in the area. This is a pleasant hike at any rate, and many people write this one up as the best “stroll” in the Smokies. I wouldn’t go that far, but it a hike that I really enjoy.
You will get part of the waterfall before you reach the end of the trail. That is because the shallow falls goes for hundreds of feet down little rock hops. It is more of a cascade than a waterfall, and some might even take it for a stream at first glance. But it is beautiful. The biggest drawback for this hike is the view of the waterfalls. At places like henwallow, indian creek, grotto, abrams, and about all the others, you can see the falls straight on and take it all in. The trail here doesn’t work like that. You basically end the trail at this spot where a canopy of tree branches and the position of the trail obstructs your ability to see the whole thing. That’s not to say there are not ways to to it though. You will see several places from this spot where people have blazed their own way through brush to get better view points further up the trail and even down into the water. Some of these are safer than others, but I would definitely tell you to exercise caution if you decide to follow one of these unofficial paths. Especially in the summer months, snakes are out and about in the area and the unofficial paths make it difficult to see where you are putting your feet in places. Either way, even if you settle for the broken up view, this is a great hike in one of the most remote and pristine areas of the Smokies. You head back to your car exactly the way you came for a grand total of 1.6 miles. Keep in mind that the access road, Heintooga Ridge Road, is a seasonally open road. It closes on October 14 and does not open again until mid May of the next year.