Accessibility – Hard
Height – 30′ (multiple drops)
Distance – 16.5 (out and back)
Beauty – 4
Photo rating – 3
Solitude – 5
GPS Info: LAT 35.54514 LONG -83.58291
Last Updated – 08-07-2019
So you’re looking for a challenging hike with not much of a payoff as far as the waterfall at the end is concerned, then you’ve come to the right page. Hazel Creel Cascades is like the name says, a series of cascades on the upper reaches of Hazel Creek. Does it have a nice peaceful setting? Yes. Is it worth the arduous 16.5 mile round trip hike, not really. if you want to enjoy a challenging hike that ends at a small waterfall then this one is for you.
The trailhead is located at Clingman’s Dome in the GSMNP. That one is easy enough to Google so I’m not going to provide turn by turn directions to where you park. Parking is at the end of Clingman’s Dome Road. I arrived around noon on a Wednesday and I had to park on the side of the road and hike half a mile to the trail to the top of Clingman’s dome, adding almost a mile to my hiking for the day. I suggest you get here early.
The Hike: The paved path to the top of Clingman’s Dome ascends from the upper end of the parking lot. Just past the kiosk on the left a trail drops off to the left. This is the Clingman’s Dome Bypass Trail. If you’re just here for Hazel Creek Cascades, make the left and start down the steps. At 0.1 of a mile the trail is going to split. Make a right to stay on the Bypass Trail. The next half a mile stretch is exceedingly rocky as it climbs to a meeting with the Appalachian Trail (AT) at a well signed intersection. Make a left (heading away from Kingman’s Dome).
After the brief ascent to get to the AT, the next 7 miles are going to be down hill so keep this in mind for the way out. It is going to be a long climb back and the worst of it is going to be the climb back to the Bypass Trail. 1.9 miles from the Bypass Trail, the Goshen Prong Trail comes in on the right, I only mention it as a waypoint. Remain on the AT. In another 2.2 miles the Welch Ridge Trail is going to intersect on the left. The intersection is signed. The hike to this point has been rocky. That’s about to change.
The Welch Ridge Trail follows Welch Ridge down a gradual descent, swinging from one side of the ridge to the other. The path is hard to follow in places as the encroaching underbrush covers the trail. There are six foot tall blackberry bushes bordering the trail, their thorny stalks ready for you and some stinging nettle. This is also a horse trail so there are piles of droppings as well. The trail will alternate between wildly overgrown when the canopy is open to manageable with the canopy closes, FWIW, about 0.5 of a mile from the AT, I came up on a bear, which ran off when I came crashing out of the brush. It was a touch unsettling but I was too far in to turn back. The grade will increase as you near the intersection with the Hazel Creek Trail. This intersection is signed and located 1.8 miles from the AT.
The Hazel Creek Trail goes to the right and is signed “No Horses”. After the horribly overgrown Welch Ridge Trail I was surprised that the Hazel Creek Trail was much nicer. Over the next 1.7 miles the trail is going to switchback down the mountain, shedding 1000+ feet in elevation.. On the way you will cross an unnamed tributary with a nice little waterfall just upstream of the crossing. When the trail comes to Hazel Creek it is going to follow it closely to the actual cascades with several crossings along the way, the last of which is above the main drop of the cascades. If you drop off the trail just past the final crossing you can see a faint path down to the flat area below the drop. You’ll have to cross the creek and work your way up the rocks to get a decent picture.
You are now 3000 feet below where you parked and 8.3 miles away, To get back to your car, reverse the route. There are no shortcuts unless you wanna try and cut the switchbacks but this is going to be very slow going on the steep mountainside. It took me 3.25 hours to get to the base and 3.75 hours to hike out. The last two miles getting to the bypass trail were the worst.