421 – Thomas Falls

Accessibility – Difficult+

Height – 80′

Distance – 3.4 miles (out and back)

Beauty – 8

Photo rating – 4

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.02300 LONG -83.55978

Last Updated – 01-26-2019


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NOTE: I’m giving a lot more detail on this hike than most of my off-trail hikes because people have been emailing me for directions to some of these remote hikes. I’m going to describe this one as best I can but you need to make sure you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. I employ two invaluable apps when I hike, Waypoint Manager and All-Trails. I suggest using something similar. I’ll tell you what I did and saw but the rest is us to you and as always, error on the side of caution.

Thomas Falls is another one of those waterfalls where providing step-by-step directions is going to be problematic, especially since I’m only going to provide the route I took from New Falls to get there as well as the way out. Here’s why. Prior to my hike I had never seen a picture of Thomas Falls and there wasn’t much info out there but it is on most topo maps, simply marked as Falls. With an X on a map, I had what I needed to find the way from one remote waterfall to the next. Considering this, the hike wasn’t hard as far as off-trail bushwhacks go but for someone unfamiliar with hiking off-trail or how to follow the lay of the land, this would be torturous. That said, there is plenty of opportunity to get lost or hurt on this hike. If you don’t know how to hike off-trail, bring a friend who does.

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An Off-Trail GPS track of the hike – January 2019

Thomas Falls was our second stop after visiting the more distant New Falls. The waterfall is on an unnamed stream and going by the look of it, this one could dry up to nothing in the summer. The Tallulah River was way up and there wasn’t much water on Thomas Falls. Thomas Falls is about 80 feet high with much of it a freefall down a black rock cliff. The lower section is a sloped cascade of about 15 feet. If the water is up too much, crossing the Tallulah River is going to be a problem. It required a knee-deep wade and some time locating a good crossing point, especially on the way in.

Starting from New Falls, follow the obvious trail with the faded blue blazes back toward the Tallulah River. Due to the ease of walking the open trail we bypassed the crossing into the unnamed drainage we used on the way in and stayed with the trail almost to the Tallulah River. Along the way we crossed Wateroak Creek (the creek New Falls is on) and close to the Tallulah River we hopped the tiny drainage we had crossed further up on the way in. From close to the Tallulah, we began our ascent into the correct drainage. The little info we had for New Falls was like a step-by-step hike compared to what we had now, which was the GPS location of the falls.

We knew where we had to get so the hike was a matter of dead reckoning. After climbing an overgrown bank just past the small creek, the woods opened up, allowing us to head higher. Our ascent through the open area was easy and as we advanced higher we angled to the left, putting us on an intercept course with the correct creek. Our objective was to come out close to the main falls but above a lower falls of about 25 feet.

Our angled ascent led us to a dry drainage crossing to a narrow ridge spine heading deeper into the valley. The ridge spine showed indications of previous use as a trail either by people or wildlife. We followed this spine up before veering left again toward a line of rhodos on the top of the next ridge. This was the highest ridge thus far and the line of rhodos made it an obvious waypoint. On the opposite side of the ridge was the creek we were after and this high ridge spine was also going to be our route out. Crossing the ridge spine we side-hilled along, staying above the creek until we spotted a large flat area. At this point we climbed down the grade and followed the creek upstream.

By this time we could see Thomas Falls falling down the black rock face. Getting up to the falls wasn’t overly difficult but it did require crossing the creek several times before we reached the base of the falls on river right where the valley narrowed.

This may seem like an abbreviated account but these were the major landmarks and contours we used to reach the falls. Beyond these major features, there isn’t much to use as landmarks. A tree is a tree. I guess I could say angle toward the poplar tree but this would assume you know the difference between a poplar and a spruce! You need to know what I mean when I say things like ridge spine, dry drainage and contour. If you pay attention, you can tell a lot from the terrain. This little bit of information in the hands of someone familiar with hiking off-trail is as good as a map. If you don’t understand what you’re looking for you are going to get lost and frustrated.

OK, time to leave.

Head downstream along the flat area near the creek until the rhodos start to get thick. At this point head back up the high ridge toward the rhodo line at the top. Once you get there you will be on top of the ridge spine, a relatively flat area with steep drops on either side. Head down the grade staying as close to the middle of the ridge as you can. If you get too far to one side or the other the ground falls away steeply. If you stay on the spine the grade will remain doable all the way to the Tallulah River. If you stray, it will get steep and unruly in a hurry. Almost the instant we reached the bottom of the spine we picked up an overgrown but obvious logging road that paralleled the Tallulah River. We followed it downstream until we found an easy crossing, which still required wading the river. Once across the we had to scale the steep bank. At the top we were on the Deep Gap Trail heading for the trailhead, another epic off-trail adventure in the books.

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