Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Find Waterfalls--Part One

Upper Meigs Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

How to Find Waterfalls --Part One

Dana Koogler

Monday September 29, 2014

     The purpose of this blog entry is to share some techniques for finding waterfalls.
I am certainly no expert, but I have some experience in this department. I have had
a degree of success in finding and visiting waterfalls.   I have spent a great deal of time
learning to do what I do, and I am still working on it.   I used to be more secretive
about it and there was a time I would never have considered sharing any information 
like this.   I have re-considered for several reasons.  I have been benefited from 
fellow outdoors men and women who did not have that secretive approach.  They were
gurus, but teachers as well. They did not use their knowledge and skill as some sort of
social currency, but wanted to make the world better and brighter by sharing 
what they knew.  I have met others who did use their knowledge as social currency.
They were fair weather friends at best.   What I found is that the  true
giants of the outdoor world were grounded enough to not be afraid of sharing what they had learned with others.  The other kind.. the fair weather sailors  had fragile egos.  
The only thing they had going for them was the bit of knowledge they held about certain 
places and how to get there.  Once I began to get out there on my own and no longer 
needed them to take me they did not like it.They were losing their audience. 
How dare I learn to find things on my own?
 I call it "At your feet or at your throat" behavior.  They are either
Kissing your feet in love with you or ready to tear your throat out.  
 I refuse to be that sort of person.   

         Another huge reason for the shift in my thinking is that the National Park Service
and National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are using some sketchy
tactics and pushing for fees for public lands.  I am not going to launch into a political diatribe.
Instead I urge watchfulness in the public and that you contact your congressional reps
to express your concern.  Public watchfulness and outcry against it
may yet help hold this trend at bay.  Meanwhile I am determined to get the knowledge
out there available for folks who are interested to learn to do what I do. I am not the 
only one doing it certainly. I can only share what limited knowledge I possess. 
Spreading the visitation around to areas other than concentrating it to one spot
will help ensure that even if the fees for all public lands passes at some point.. no one 
entity is going to get rich off it.  I assure you there are places out there  that will remain
accessible and fee free. You have to know how to find them. I will write a separate blog
about finding places in general.  Today's blog focuses on waterfalls. 

    Last of all I am coming to believe that it is better if a lot of people know about
and love the places I visit so these areas are a concern for not only me, but A LOT of people!
I realize there has to be a balance between causing a place to become heavily traveled and damaged by all the visitors and being so obscure it is neither known or visited or cared about!
I believe there is a middle ground and compromise.  Responsible visitation and use can happen.

              Finding Waterfalls for the Beginner

 Waterfalls are beautiful and just about everyone at least likes them.  Other folks flat out
love them!    Generally what it takes is a stream and some elevation loss over some rocks
to produce a waterfall.  Places where waterfalls occur are often popular travel destinations.
National Parks, State Parks, Scenic areas, picnic grounds, State natural areas, and city parks
are often built around these locations to protect them and keep them accessible.  
One of the simplest ways for the beginner to find waterfalls is to pick a destination and begin
to research it before you go or after you arrive.    Go into the visitor center of your National Park
and see if they have maps or guidebooks that tell where to find the waterfalls in the vicinity?

    My first trip to the Smokies I was about three years old and I don't remember a lot about it.
My second trip to the Smokies I was about thirty-three years old and came with my husband on a trip. March 1997.  I went in Sugarlands Visitor Center and they had photo panels up on the walls
showcasing the area waterfalls. I was intrigued.  I wanted and needed to get to the woods
very badly.   I bought a guidebook and a map or two and went out hiking.  That was that.
The love story began there. I got healing and restoration from some serious depression.   
I found my passion and have not looked back since.  I am using a lot of references to 
Tennessee and the surrounding area, but the same principles apply anywhere you go.


 Grotto Falls .. was my first waterfall hike in the Smokies.  Little did I know then that I'd move here and would be bringing my grandchildren here in the future! My five year old grandson Michael is in the orange shirt in the photo.  Memorial Day Monday 2014.  Tessa's first hike at 
age 9 months!


Above is a photo of the second edition of the same guidebook
I originally purchased.  Both are by the same authors.
The second publishing includes other falls and is a bit
more comprehensive.   Be warned though.. not
all the waterfalls in the second publication are beginner material.
For that matter.. not all the ones in the first edition are for beginners!

You can buy these guides in the visitor center, but you can
also buy them new, used or collectible at  online and
have them shipped right to your home.    You can save money
by purchasing them used but in good condition!

 Sounds pretty simplistic, doesn't it?  Once I got the guidebook and map and started hiking
I set a goal to hike to all of the waterfalls listed in the guide.  I did it too.  It took a few years
to accomplish especially since I was not living in the area and was coming down about twice
a year.    It was not as simple as it sounded.   I'll get into that a little later.

       What you will find as you begin to seek waterfalls will surprise you.
I started out with the assumption that this guidebook I bought was **IT.**  I was going to visit
all the waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Surely they put them all in the 
guidebook and on the map.  I had that thought in mind and believed I had purchased THE authoritative guide on the subject.   It was a wrong assumption. 

              Before moving on to the next section for the intermediate waterfall seeker.....
Lets address that assumption thing.   Do not assume anything.   Find out for yourself.
Don't assume a guidebook is THE all inclusive source book.
Don't assume the rangers and park officials know what is out there.
Don't assume the maps will show you where they are
Don't assume no one else knows about the existence of waterfalls just because
the park officials don't and they are not listed in the park literature.
Don't assume you cannot find them yourself. 

Part two is next... the intermediate waterfall seeker. 
Mouse Creek Falls in the Big Creek section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
One of my later excursions in completing all the guidebook waterfalls.  October 2001.



  1. Thanks for sharing, Dana. There's a lot people know, a lot they think they know and a lot they need to know. Your blog covers all of the above and is a great reminder that there is no "definitive guide" that tells us everything there is to know.

    1. Thanks. Well said. We can all make one another better if we set aside the secrecy, egos etc. Its hard sometimes. Been there. Done that. Had to learn humility the hard way.


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