Accessibility – Hard
Height – 60′ (4 drops)
Distance – 10.6 miles (shuttle)
Beauty – 5
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.42747 LONG -83.99967
First Visit: 04-13-2019
Last Visit: 06-22-2020
When it comes to Wildcat Falls you have two choices. You can come to it from Big Fat Gap as an out and back hike, which I have done and the hike back to Big Fat Gap is awful. I have also done this as a shuttle hike to include Lower Falls. This is a difficult and rewarding hike. It is time consuming and there are EIGHTEEN creek crossings, each getting progressively deeper as Slickrock Creek gathers more tributaries on it’s run to Cheoah Lake. The thru-hike is all downhill, which is nice but positioning the cars is time consuming due to the distance you have to drive up FR62 to get to the Big Fat Gap TH. The lower TH is off of US129 across from Cheoah Dam and it a popular take-out point for kayakers so parking can be tricky. When you come out at 10 at night like I did, there was no issue.
The trailhead: Leave downtown Robbinsville follow US129 13.3 miles from the light at Main Street and make a left onto FR62. Cross the Cheoah River and after 0.2 of a mile, FR62 makes a hard right switchback. Take the switchback to remain on FR62. Follow the road uphill until it ends at Big Fat Gap TH. There are a bevy of trails that intersect in the parking area so make sure you take the correct one.
The hike: Start on the Big Fat Gap Trail which leaves the upper end of the parking area by the information kiosk. The trail is going to descend steeply. Before long the trail will Parallel Big Fat Branch. It crosses the creek a few times before swinging to the left a little to cross Buckeye Branch. It comes back to Big Fat Branch but you need to pay attention to the signs to make sure you end up on the correct trail. You will have one more crossing of Big Fat Branch right before Slickrock Creek. You will then have to cross Slickrock Creek to get into the Slickrock trail.
Once you are on the Slickrock Creek Trail follow this for 0.4 of a mile to the top of Wildcat Falls and cross to the rocky area on the other side and continue downstream to get to the base. The falls consists of four drops but there is no way to see all four from any location so you will have to do some exploring to see all the drops. You have a lot to see but if you are doing the shuttle hike, you don.t want to waste too much time since there are eight more miles to go. if you’re doing this as an out and back, reverse course, and climb back to the trailhead. If you are pressing on to Lower Falls, continue on the Slickrock trail heading downstream.
The trail is going to repeatedly cross the creek over the next four miles as it heads toward Lower Falls. Each time you cross the creek you are also changing states. If you are on river right you are in North Carolina and if you are on river left you are in Tennessee. You can see Lower Falls from the trail but to get a good view you will have to climb down flat area across the pool. It’s not a grand waterfall so the effort to get to it is going to be way more than most will want to exert. From the base of the Lower Falls, the trek continues downstream for another 4.1 miles. The Slickrock trail will make a few crossings and before nearing the lake. When the creek ends and the water calms, look for a trail heading up away from the water.
Once you are on this trail you will cross a series of wooden bridges before the trail veers to the right and starts to parallel the lake. This section of the trail is narrow and high above the lake. There are some trees down across the trail so the going will be slow. There are two small tributary crossings but little else to make this section of the hike interesting. It will feel like you have been walking forever before you finally get to the lower trailhead. close to Cheoah Dam.