The boss says “You work too much!”. The husband says “You hike too much!”. I say I obsess over waterfalls too much. But really, if “work” and “non-work” are no longer options…what am I left with exactly?
That’s kind of how you too will feel if you don’t read these directions and try to find the right trail to the waterfall off Three Forks Trail.
Is it goat approved? Dunno. But with this much unmarked awesomeness any boys in green or unexpected families with quadruplets will be easy to escape.
How you get there: Get to here – 34.962330, -83.228944. There is plenty of pull off parking. .
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 2.5 miles round trip out and back including the Pothole Falls and the Chattanooga River. The hike in to the pothole falls is very quick if you are coming from parking at Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road, which is what I did instead of hiking the whole Three Forks Trail.
Best season to do this hike: Winter or early Spring. This area appears to be a popular camping area. To really enjoy it with a goat you probably don’t want tasty snacks and interesting humans around to tempt the goat into…well, being a goat.
Trails to Take
The trail head is right off Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road(s). There’s some obvious pull offs and another one of those excessive engraved boulders marking the trail. You want to go towards the river, not down Three Forks Trail away from the river! The blaze is grey metal diamonds nailed occasionally to trees.
The official trail winds out into the woods, interrupted on a pretty regular basis by serious piles of fallen trees, (at least, there were a lot when I went). As you descend keep an eye out for a large, obvious UNOFFICIAL trail heading off to your left. It will probably have a piece of orange tape tied to the rhododendron surrounding the entrance. The entrance to this trail is also in a curve of the official trail. If you reach a large, open area, you have gone about 20 paces too far. If you reach “Three Forks Spur” signs you have gone too far – the spur is harder to follow than this unofficial foray.
When you find the trail, go straight down, following it with a dry creek bed to one side. The trail will dump you out on Holcomb Creek right at the Pothole Falls, (GPS 34.965919, -83.216288).
Climb back out to the main trail, and go up to that clearing, (which is the official end of the Three Forks Trail). Now the fun begins. There’s the trail you came up. There’s the “Three Forks Spur”. There’s a trail headed up both hillsides. Then in front of you are another two trails, one wide and the other going over a hump and headed down hill. You want the trail with the hump.
Follow it. It goes along a ridge, continuously headed downwards. Eventually…it just kind of stops. Ahead the ground drops off fast to the Chattanooga river. Follow your ears and slide down for the last 1/4 mile to the river and a fantastic array of potholes and rapids. There’s also an actual campsite down here! GPS coordinates for campsite: 34.963132, -83.209032 .
Then, climb back out, find the trail again, and head back to the truck.
- The main issue with this hike is it takes you off trail. If you are not comfortable with finding your way back, don’t have a compass/GPS, or tend to get lost in a crowded room, this is not the hike for you.
- If climbing up on your hands and knees while bushwhacking is not your thing, skip the Chattanooga side trip. Also, if it’s raining the slog up will suck and is best avoided.
- The Chattanooga loves to flood. That campsite – it ain’t exactly on high ground.
- The road up to the trail head is best traveled in a high ground clearance vehicle. In snow/ice/heavy rain the Overflow Creek Rd is not your friend as it is very shaded and has been washed out in the past, (it is as of this posting, however, not washed out). Take Hale Ridge instead, and be prepared for predatory potholes, unexpected gravel cavitation, and serious suspension surprises.
- More on the road – there were a lot of downed trees next to or partially blocking the road in winter. If it’s been stormy or windy you would benefit from bringing the chainsaw and some gas if you plan to reach the trail head in the truck.
Off trail means being willing to admit to yourself when you’re lost! Or you might be dead…
It also means when you come upon a random sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere…you make sure there isn’t someone still in it (or what’s left of them anyway).