629 – Sweat Heifer Cascades

Accessibility – Moderate+

Height – 50′ (numerous drops)

Distance – 7.4 (out and back) or 8.3 (thru-hike)

Beauty – 5

Photo rating – 5

Solitude – 6

GPS Info: LAT 35.61808 LONG -83.38079

First Visit: 08-06-2019

Most Recent Visit: 03-22-2020


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Sweat Heifer Cascades is not going to make it onto your top 10 list but if you’re looking for a nice hike in the Smoky Mountains, you might enjoy this one. The cascades cross the trail above and below so they are easy to access and with a little deft footwork you can work your way into position to get some nice shots. The overall height it hard to judge since there is a ton of small drops and slides. The part below the trail is more scenic than the part above.

The trailhead is located on the side of US441 in the Smoky Mountain National Park. From where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends at US441, head North on US441 for 7.7 miles. Along the way you will pass the visitors center (0.6 miles from Parkway), Mingus Mill and the entrance to the Smokemont Campground. The parking is on the right and left sides of the road. The trailhead crosses the creek on a wide bridge.

Begin across the bridge and head upstream following the Kephart Prong Trail. The trail is open and easy to hike, albeit rocky in places as it ascends moderately for around 2.0 miles to the Kephard Shelter. Along this section you will have to cross several log bridges. The shelter is at the junction of the Sweat Heifer Trail and the Brushy Creek Trail. The Sweat Heifer Trail goes to the left and almost immediately crosses Kephart Prong as the ascent resumes. After Kephart Prong the Trail will cross an unnamed branch on a foot bridge before swinging away from the small stream.

The trail will then follow around a long ridge and begin climbing into the Sweat Heifer drainage as it parallels the creek. When the trail first enters the drainage it is high above the creek but as it heads further upstream the creek will be visible even with the leaves on. I could easily see the main portions of the cascades below the trail crossing. As far as getting into place to take a picture, I climbed down the cascades to the base of the biggest drop but I prefer to walk the creek and climb on rocks versus plowing through the overgrown banks. You’ll have to decide how you want to proceed at this point.

While not high the cascades do present a nice photo subject and the fact the entire hike is on maintained and marked trails is also a bonus. Don’t treat this one as a waterfall hike. Treat it as a nice 7.5 mile hike in the woods with a cascade to cool off in at the turn around point.

Alternate route:

Update: After doing this one as an out and back in August I returned in late March of 2020 and hiked it a second time as a thru-hike with a second car left at the Kephart Prong Trailhead on US441 we drove to the Newfound Gap Overlook and started there. The shuttle hike was longer but there was a lot more to see than on the out and back. If you’re going to thru-hike it, start on the AT heading north, hiking mostly uphill for 1.7 miles to the trail junction with the Sweat Heifer Trail. The AT will gain about 800 feet in elevation on the way to the junction and it will be all downhill from there.

The Sweat heifer Trail will drop away from the AT and parallel it for half a mile before it turns downhill. The trail is in good shape and easy to follow. At 3.3 miles into the hike the trail dies a hard left switchback and at this point there is a collection of rusty relics from the logging days scattered near the apex of the turn. I did some exploring and there is a lot of scattered stuff.

After the switchback the trail will head toward Sweat Heifer Creek but before getting there it will pass two more points of interest. The first is about a quarter mile after the switchback in the trail when you come to an area where a landslide stripped the hillside above and below the trail. Less than a tenth of a mile later an unnamed tributary of Sweat Heifer Creek crosses the trail, creating a very nice waterfall both above and below the trail. Since it is on a unnamed trib of Sweat Heifer Creek, we called it Hugh Heffner Falls, although this is not the official name. It is a nice waterfall, probably nicer than the namesake creek.

A third of a mile past Hugh Heffner Falls you will reach Sweat Heifer Cascades. The best way down to the base is to drop off the right side of the trail before getting to the crossing. The woods are open and easy to navigate. From the base of the cascades you can climb the bank on river left and resume the hike to the Kephart Prong TH following the directions in the out and back hike.

DSC_22674

One section of the cascades – August 2019

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The bigger drop – August 2019

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