Saturday, January 22, 2011

Upper Sill Branch Falls

Set out to discover Upper Sill Branch Falls without a map and without much of an idea where we were going. So after much effort and uncertainty, we turned back. As it turned out, we were on the right trail, but didn't go far enough. Ugh. I hate when that happens! To the left is a small cascade we found before turning around, admitting our defeat. The beautiful photo of the actual falls above was taken by Marty Silver (Thanks, Marty!). Follow the link to see some of his photos - posted under the screen name Mole.

Upper Sill Branch Falls is rarely visited - and for good reason. The trail to the falls is in horrendous shape with fallen trees and overgrown brush. What used to be a logging road is almost completely choked and impassable in places.  So this isn't a hike to take the kiddos on.  It's a bushwhack.  But if you are up for a challenge, this hike would probably be best accomplished in the winter months when the vegetation is at a minimum. To the right is a photo of a good section of this "trail."

Others have made it to the falls and lived to tell of it. Hiking Bill has a fabulous description and GPS track of the hike. Wendell Dingus also has a helpful GPS of the trail and photos. RATtreks also has a helpful post with lots of photos. And over on Tennessee Landforms, you'll find GPS waypoints as well as another photo.  Click here for photos of lower Sill Branch Falls (which is much, much easier to visit)

Directions: Take I-26 to the Erwin/Jonesborough exit #37. At the end of the ramp, turn right and take State Route 81/107 west for 6.5 miles, stay on Rt. 107 by turning left and continue for 5 more miles. Turn left on Clark's Creek Road and drive 3.1 miles (the last 1.7 will be gravel) into the Cherokee National Forest to a parking area on the left. A small sign will indicate the trail head for Sill Branch Falls. Take this trail to where it splits (less than a half a mile). The trail to the left (labeled North Sill Branch) will immediately cross the creek and lead you to lower Sill Branch Falls. To get to the Upper Falls, go right at this fork and continue 1/2 mile or so. During this stretch you'll see some awesome rock formations to your right and eventually cross the south branch of Sill Branch and not long after that you'll see a logging road climbing the hill back to your left (check out Wendell Dingus' topo map). This is the 'trail' to the upper falls. You'll immediately encounter fallen trees, take in some beautiful views (thumbnail, right), and eventually question your own sanity for embarking on this adventure. But the photos of the upper falls show a beautiful, stunning and remote waterfall. The trail leads back to North Sill Branch, which you'll follow to the falls. This is a very low-flow stream, so if you're going, I'd recommend going after a period of heavy rain.

Click on 'comments' below for additional, helpful info provided by readers...


  1. i get the feeling from your post and the links you referred to that this is not an official trail, more like an unused logging road and a side trail.

    Do you know if the CNF folk would be willing to let a group of like-minded folk organize a "trail maintenance" day where the trail could be made accessible again?

  2. No idea what they'd say to that -- except that it would take an army of chainsaws to clear the road! But it would be great if it would be improved - it's very gradual in term of elevation, and offers some nice views this time of year. I'm not sure of the last leg of the hike, my guess is that it's pretty much undeveloped. We turned around, guessing that we had somehow missed it or overshot it. At the point of the cascade you see above, the trail pretty much gives out.

  3. that bad eh?. i tried to get there myself late last fall, but i had no real idea where i was going. my plan was to get above lower sill branch and follow the creek upstream ... epic failure.

    this incident pushed me to get a gps, which should up my chances of finding it now. if you try to get there again sometime, let me know, i'd like to tag along.

  4. If you had met back up with the creek above Sill Branch Falls you weren't that far away probably. It gets tighter at that point with more rhododendron and the creek to contend with. When I was there most of the downed trees were on that road cut on the side of a very steep bank. And there were a lot of them...

  5. Do you trek much off the beaten trail, Mark? I would love to hike both on and off the trail. I like the idea of exploring areas that are not commonly trekked on. =)

  6. Hi Wendell, yes, that's the painful part of it...we were so close. Tina, I get lost enough as it is staying on the trail... :) But I do enjoy hikes like this that are obscure and remote - and rarely traveled.

  7. Thanks to your information, and the GPX file on the TN Landforms website, was able to find Upper Sill Branch Falls yesterday. Trail is definitely NOT cleared all the way - a fair number of blowdowns, some dog hobble thickets, etc. But not at all hard to follow. GPS was not really needed, but was reassuring... As you probably know, you can download the GPX file of the exact location from TN Landforms website, and put it on your GPS.
    Not nearly the flow of the main falls, but still a lovely waterfall. And there were several sets of Black Bear tracks in the thin snow!

  8. We just made it here yesterday. We had no idea where the trail was exactly, so we went to Lower Sill Falls and (facing the Falls) scrambled up the right side of the mountain until we had reached the old wagon trail. We then hiked along the trail to the Upper Falls, following the water all the way. The trail is very overgrown and in need of maintenance, but therein lies it's appeal. It's an achievement to get to the falls, and even in the low water level days of summer, it's a great view.

    Here is the easy way to get there:
    Once you turn off of the car road where the marker indicates the Sill Branch Falls Trails, head down the trail to the split for N/S Sill Branch Falls trails. Take a right at the fork towards Sill Branch Falls North. About 3/4 mile afterwards, you will come to the wagon road. The road will be on your left and it's not easily seen. There is a marked tree at the fork. Make a sharp left and follow the wagon trail up and around the mountain until you reach the falls. There are three river crossings that are dry crossing in the summer, and a section that is VERY narrow and travels along the center of the river paths with sharp dropoffs to either side. You will find a few trees along the way marked with pink tape. And as for the bear tracks... yes. They're there.

    1. I wish I had read your directions before I started on this trail. I did this trail a few days ago and went all the way to the top but because there were no markers, I wasn't sure I was on the correct trail at the top. I finally turned around and went back down.

  9. I was just up there this morning. Like everyone else said, it is very overgrown, although someone had been through there with a machete in the past few months which helped. I was able to follow the trail fairly well with the exception of walking right past the beginning of it.... buy like a mile. Look for the marks on the trees and some pink tape that marks the trail throughout. There are some amazing views along this trail!


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