Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rock Creek Falls

These remote waterfalls are located on the side of Unaka Mountain in Unicoi County, TN. The photo here of the main (or upper) falls doesn't really do it justice. The way the water plunges 50 feet down its two tiers is unique and beautiful -- and difficult to adequately capture. It's one of those that I guess you just need to go see for yourself.  Standing there you also get an idea where most of the rocks in Rock Creek came from. You're surrounded by sheer rock walls on three sides that have been shedding fragments both large and small which have been washed down the mountain over the time. When I arrived a steady rain began. So I didn't get to stay long. On my way back I stopped by the lower falls, which I passed on the way up. The rain had slowed to a mist and I was able to get a better shot of the 30 foot tall lower falls (below, left) -- which is more of a cascade.  In between these two falls are the aptly named middle falls - which would be very difficult to reach.  You can get a glimpse of this 15' waterfall from the trail above.

Though the sign pointing the way to Rock Creek Falls says 2 miles, it seems quite a bit longer than that -- maybe it was the heat, or the rain, or the 1200 foot climb in elevation. The first part is easiest, as the trail takes you around the campground and along the creek.  You eventually come to the first of four creek crossings -- all of which have been greatly improved since my last visit to the falls. As long as the water isn't too high, you shouldn't have too much trouble rock hoping these crossings.  The trail gets more steep after the third crossing.  But in all, the trail is well maintained, and follows the tumbling creek the entire distance, giving some nice views of cascades on your way up. (More photos included in my prior post here).  Click here to read Hiking Bill's excellent account of this hike.

The flow of Rock Creek varies a lot throughout the year...from a torrent in the spring, down to a trickle in the late summer. There's a small man-made waterfall near the beginning of the hike, which directs part of the flow of the creek to a man made swimming pool/cement pond in the park. I use this as a guide/indication of whether to continue on up to the falls. If there's water flowing over this waterfall, that's a good sign that the waterfalls above will be worth venturing to.  Here's a pic of this man-made waterfall this past spring when the water level was very high.  Yesterday, there was only a thin curtain of water coming over, but still it was worth the climb.

Directions: From I-26 take the Erwin Main Street Exit (#36), at the end of the ramp turn east toward town and you will immediately arrive at a stop light. Turn right onto Rt. 107 and drive 1/2 mile, turn left at stop light onto Rock Creek Road (Rt. 395) -- continue on for 3.1 miles, turn left at entrance to Rock Creek Park.  Circle through the park making your way to the parking area next to the bath house/swimming area (in the winter months, you'll have to park further back and walk in).  Park here and begin walking north toward the campground.  You'll immediately see a sign pointing to a gravel trail to Rock Creek Falls to the left. Follow it for 1/2 mile (a nice walk along Rock Creek) and you'll come to a bridge, but don't cross it, instead, dog-leg to the right and you'll come to a bulletin board containing this map (above right). Continue past the gate to the falls.  It's a well marked trail -- and you can't miss either waterfall. The lower waterfall is down a fairly steep and muddy embankment - it's not too bad if you take your time.  The upper falls is about 5 minutes further up the main trail.


  1. We moved here 2.5 years ago and have been using your blog faithfully to visit all the waterfalls. Thanks so much for the great information. Today we visited Rock Creek Falls, and the flow of water was strong and beautiful. However, I must admit that the 2.5 mile hike with 1200 feet of elevation gain has made me quite tired tonight! Well worth it though.

    Mark and family

  2. I have been checking out this blog recently -- I am wondering if it is possible to reach this waterfall from the Appalachian Trail itself. I will be walking this section of the trail and do not mind side trips, but I will not have access to a car and would love to visit some great waterfalls.

  3. Unfortunately, there are no trails connecting the AT to the waterfalls on Unaka Mountain (Rock Creek Falls and Red Fork Falls). The best waterfalls to see along the AT in our area are Laurel Falls and Jones Falls. A side trail off the AT also leads to Coon Den Falls (another possibility). But these are quite a ways north of Unaka Mountain on the AT!

  4. Thanks for the reply. I may be out of luck - but I found a map suggesting that, where USFS 230 runs along the AT, about 1.6 miles South of the Unaka Mtn Overlook and about 1.4 miles North of the Beauty Spot loop road, there is a trail that goes West to Rock Creek with some waterfalls along it. I do not know if that is a way that you can get to Rock Creek Falls or not. (I do not mind walking a mile or two off the AT now and then.)

  5. There is a trail from Unaka Mtn Overlook that leads down the mountain to Dick's Creek Gap and then onto Rock Creek Park....it's called rattlesnake ridge trail, but its steep and long. It doesn't hookup immediately to the AT....and it's steep and long. You could take it and visit Dick's Creek Falls (accessible from Dick's Creek Gap) or Rock Creek Falls, but both would be quite a trek! Not a simple mile or two side trek. Don't know the precise distance. You'd have to leave the AT south of the Unaka summit (where it meets the Unaka Mtn Road) and then walk up the road a half mile to the Unaka Mtn Overlook, and then take the Rattlesnake Trail down from there. Like I said, it'd be quite a trek!

  6. You could come off of the AT at Indian Grave Gap, down Rock Creek Road (3 miles) to get to campground.


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