TO THE TRAILHEAD: To get there, go to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and park in the visitor’s area. From here, finding the trailhead might be confusing for some, which is perhaps why you will often not see anyone but student groups along the trail. Once you park, walk up the pavement looking for the Lumber Ridge Trail sign and the sign that says “falls.” You’ll walk past the classroom complex and continue walking to the left, again following the signs. From this point, about .2 mile from where you parked, the real trail begins.
THE HIKE: This is an moderate, 2 mile roundtrip hike that basically hides in plain sight. Perhaps that is why it will often not be busy. You will find that the trail has roots all over the place. It is moderately steep in places, but nothing too crazy at the beginning. Then the rocks start. You will have rocks all over the place. Big ones, small ones, you name it. Even though the trail isn’t that difficult, you will want real hiking shoes or boots.
There are some things to detract from the wilderness experience here. You will see big tents that the institute uses as you climb, as well as a big and ugly water tower. Still, it’s not loud and busy, unless there is a big group of students on trail. As you ascend, and ascend, you will have drop-offs on one side and you will start getting some very nice views, including the great Thunderhead Mountain. There are steps and log step downs that have been built to help deal with the erosion on the trail.
As the trail begins to finally descend….steeply, by the way, you will start to hear the water and get a glimpse of the falls. You will walk very steeply down to the base of the falls, with a nice shallow pool of water fanning out from the base. And these falls are nice. From the top, they run straight down about 30 feet before cascading down another 25 feet over rocks and branches before reaching the base and continuing to the Middle Prong. It’s a nicer waterfall to me than Laurel Falls, Grotto Falls, and Henwallow Falls. It is really something that it doesn’t receive more traffic.
Simply retrace your steps to get back to your car. This hiking trail does twist and turn around numerous switchbacks, but it is well-marked. There are signs pointing you to the falls all over the place, so you have little chance of getting lost. I think the thing that gets people about this hike is its location. At most visitors centers and structures, the hiking is very easy, like a nature trail or quiet walkway. This hike is short for sure at only a mile each way, but it will challenge you. The good news is that it is over before you get to tired or out of breath. This is a really great hike that is on very few people’s radar but certainly should be on everyone’s list for a trip to the Smokies.