Friday, May 6, 2011

Ramsey Cascades Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 4.0
Trail Miles Hiked: 8.0
6 May 2011

There seems to be some debate about the spelling of this trail name.  The little brown book and old maps have it as "Ramsay," while the new maps and the park service sign have it as "Ramsey."  Some info suggests that it is named for the Ramsey family that lived in the area, so I'm going to go with that spelling...

Things at school are winding down for the semester - classes are over and it's finals week so I have a little flexibility with my time.  My buddy Shane works four ten-hour days and so has most Fridays off and he was game to come along with me today.

The Ramsey Cascades trail is in the Greenbrier section of the park and leads to one of the tallest waterfalls in the park.  For most of its length the trail parallels either the middle prong or the Ramsey prong of the Little Pigeon River.  With the wet spring we've had the river was running strong.

While wildflower season is starting to wind down, there were still several nice flowers out along the trail.

Foam flower 

Clinton's Lily  or Speckled Wood Lily 


Red Elderberry

For the first 1.5 miles the trail follows an old road, and while it gains elevation slowly and steadily it's quite an easy trek.  From the 1.5 mile point on, the trail becomes steeper, rockier and the footpath laced with tree roots.  But it's a beautiful trail!  Because it follows the river you can always hear the rushing of water, and the trail passes through and around some huge boulders, especially as you get closer to the cascades.  AND - this part of the trail is true old-growth forest - never been logged.  These are some of the biggest trees I've ever seen in the park.

Shane on the trail as it passes between two ginormous Tulip Poplars

The falls themselves are amazing!  The area around the falls is all big boulders piled on top of each other, and the falls are almost 100 feet high.  There was a fair amount of water coming over them and there are great rocks to sit on or climb around on.  We stopped for lunch and chatted with a very friendly guy who had gotten there just a little while before we did.

Before we set out on this hike I read several other folks' accounts of this trail.  They ALL mentioned the danger of trying to climb up the falls and that at least four people have died here.  The park service clearly wants to drive home that point...

After taking some time to lunch and lounge we explored the area around the falls and then headed back down the trail.  It was considerably easier going down (it's about a 2000 ft elevation gain from the trailhead to the falls) and with the sun out, the river rushing and the good company it flew by.

This is definitely a trail I will go back to some day.  It's challenging enough to be interesting, but not so challenging as to be intimidating.  The trail itself is beautiful and the huge rocks and trees just made it even better.  The Ramsey Cascades are well worth a visit.  All in all, another great day in the Smokies!

til next time, happy hiking!