Off Trail hunting waterfalls
New Years Eve Hike--Hilliard Falls?
Thursday Dec. 31, 2015
Dana & Kenny Koogler
1.5 miles RT approx.
Photos are here starting with frame 96
Hilliard Falls Pix?
I have done something to my right shoulder and at my appointment for my yearly check up
the doctor recommended I start physical therapy for it. I started therapy in Maryville at 9:15 am on New Years Eve. We wanted to get out and do some hiking and exploring. We both figured we'd best pick something close to home since we'd be getting a late start on our day.
The original plan was to go into Cades Cove and explore behind Kermit Caughron's old place.
I had visions of finding waterfalls back there. After checking with Barb and with Mike Gourley that seemed less appealing. They spoke of old home sites, but no waterfalls. Neither of us cared anything about it at that point. I tossed out several other ideas for Kenny and he liked the idea of going over toward Rhea County to explore. I had been talking about my curiosity over the listing of Hilliard Falls on Tennessee landforms. It was intriguing to me because it had no photo shown and no height estimate. We decided to go find out about it for ourselves.
Plan C was Paine Creek nearby if Hilliard Falls turned out to be a total bust.
I was not done with physical therapy until 10:30 am. Kenny was mostly ready to roll out.
I had him quickly look over the google map and satellite images of the trek today. I printed out maps and off we went. We stopped in Kingston to eat lunch at Zaxby's and with that over we continued toward Dayton. Today's adventure lay atop Evensville Mountain closer to Summer City. We rode along the plateau and without any real trouble found a powerline
easement and parked off side the road. We gathered our stuff up and began our hike.
It started with climbing over logs and through brush. The day was mild and overcast.
The terrain was not too bad to begin with. It followed the powerline and it was on a dirt track
that looked like it was being kept open by ATV travel. We didn't go far until we passed a hunters blind turned over on its side. It looked funny. We crossed a small stream and walked right through the way point hearing the GPS give its beep that indicates you have arrived at your destination. No waterfall here.
The trail continued so we kept going. It went left and curved down the hill where we could hear water a bit stronger to our left. We went off the trail into the forest and came to this.
Certainly no waterfall, but the confluence of two streams, both flowing in the same direction.
We were now 280 ft from the original waypoint. We had noticed a rock outcropping and a steep drop off on the satellite images before the hike. Before the trail started down the hill we were able to see the starts of the rocky place. We headed back toward the trail and continued hoping that the way point was just off by a bit. Perhaps we'd find a falls down at this rocky drop off? We hiked about another tenth of a mile and forded a stream. We then went downhill and had to ford another time. We climbed up a slight bluff and were able to get a vantage point of the stream below us. It was a little closer to being a waterfall. We were looking at a run of low cascades eight to ten feet high. Further down the stream where it dropped off the mountain in the gorge was a single "waterfall" of 10 ft. Was this Hilliard Falls? We had found a neat overlook at least.
I am standing on the overlook and seeing down the mountain at a rocky gorge.
Kenny and I both wanted to follow the trail we had been on out just a little further. It looked like it headed toward a second neat overlook. We figured we'd walk out there since we had come this far and see the rest of what was here. The overlook was very neat. A piney woods and very craggy rocks with a view down off of Evensville Mountain at the valley below.
It was nice. Kenny began hollering "Holy smokes, Dana come out here. There's a BIG waterfall!" I went out to where he stood and looked off in the distance where he pointed.
Sure enough there was a large waterfall dropping off the side of the mountain.
A large powerful falls in the distance.
all the way from here.
We both began wondering if it would be possible to get round there to see it? Hard to say from here. We walked on out the ridge a short distance. Kenny brought me to the edge of the bluff and told me to stay put while he scrambled down to see if it was going to be possible to continue. It was no time until he hollered back to me to come on down. We worked our way down the slopes through a tangle of logs and boulders. The woods were fairly open and we were not fighting rhododendron. We got to a point down the slope where we could see the lower cascades in the stream boiling through massive boulders. We did not have a ton of daylight left. Kenny told me if I wanted to get photos of the lower cascades to go ahead and do that. While I was taking care of that detail he would go up the slope and see if there was a way to continue so that we could reach the main drop of the falls.
I got down there the rest of the way by myself and took photos and video of the lower drops. It was neat, but not that great. The boulders were so chopped up and large it made the
stream seem tiny. It was like that at Rock Castle gorge, but this not as attractive. Part of the problem was trees blocking the view from lots of different angles. Finally I put the camera away and decided I'd just head up the slope to see what was going on with Kenny. About that time I heard the Hooty Hoo! I was hoping for. I knew what that meant! I toiled bravely up the hill. It was steep! I got up there and sat down by Kenny and died for a brief spell. Once I had recovered my breath and gotten something to drink we continued toward the main falls.
Cascades through the boulders. Not a very good view of the lower part of the falls.
The approach to the main falls is along the base of the bluff. It is certainly not the hardest thing we've ever done. The terrain is rugged though and it is narrow.
It involves climbing around through boulders to arrive at the main part of the waterfall where it plunges off the mountain. It looks like the main part of the falls is 50-60 ft high with a lower cascade part of 20 ft or so. It is a nice waterfall and was very powerful. We were now 0.3 miles further than the original waypoint. Was this Hilliard Falls? Kenny believes so. He thinks it is likely that the person who originally submitted the waypoint did a guesstimate plugging it into the google map where they believed it was. And picked the wrong stream in the process.
That is possible, but at this point we do not know the answer. I did not much care. All I knew was that we were having a fun, exciting adventure together. It is greatly rewarding to find something like that and make it to the base of the falls to experience it up close!
First vantage point looking up at the falls.
A closer, more intimate view of the falls.
Below is a video that chronicles the journey and the various steps along the way.
I have written to Tom Dunigan of Tennessee Landforms. I am waiting his opinion on what is going on here? I am eager to see if the Hilliard Falls waypoint is just misplaced and what we found is it.
or if what we found is an entirely different waterfall and will be added to the database as something new. I will update the blog as I find out.
We had an exciting day and it filled up our time! We had no need of going anywhere else.
We hiked back out to the jeep. It was growing dark and the sun was starting to set.
We headed toward home. The next morning I woke up wondering if it had all been a dream?
***Edited to Update***This is Mill Branch Falls. Hilliard Falls has been removed from Tennessee landforms database. It still appears on google maps. Do not go looking for it unless you like snipe hunts. Kenny's first addition to Tennesee landforms! We found something new! Tennessee Landforms Waypoint for Mill Branch Falls