Snowbird Loop Hike

The Wildcat to Lower shuttle hike on Slick Rock Creek remains my top hike in the Robbinsville Hub but the Snowbird Loop hike I recently completed comes in as a close second. The route we took offered a different way of visiting the four waterfalls while minimizing the amount of backtracking and condensing the climb. After about four miles, the rest of the hike is primarily downhill. The four falls on the trip were Sassafras Falls, Upper Falls, Middle Falls and Big Falls in that order. This loop approach follows graded and numbered trails the entire way and will require two creek crossings, three is you count crossing the same creek twice.

The first crossing (the last) we had to content with would have been required regardless of the route. Getting to Sassafras Falls required crossing of Sassafras Creek. The other crossing occurred on Snowbird Creek between Middle Falls and Upper Falls. The water level was average on my visit and the second crossing was not a problem, even though it was a wade. In higher water, you would want to consider a different hike.

The hike started at the end of Big Snowbird Rd at the gate. This trailhead is the one specified in the third edition of Kevin’s Book (pg 434). Two trails leave from beyond the gate. Our hike took the left path, the Snowbird Trail #64. From the start it followed a gentle grade upstream. The lower part of the trail was open and easy to hike, with only a few rough patches and a couple of wet areas where small drainages run over the trail. The trail doesn’t offer much in the way of reference points until you reach the rusted-out shell of an old car on the right side of the trail. It is tucked in the woods. My track had us at 2.5 miles.

This is the sign that the boring part of the hike is over

After stopping for a photo op at the car, the trail led us down to a crossing of Sassafras Creek, which proved to be an easy rock hop but if the water were up even a little more, it would have been a wade. Once across it was back to the gradual climb. It looks like a path leads upstream bordering the creek but this isn’t the way you want to go. We followed the Snowbird Creek Tr for around a quarter of a mile to to where a trail intersected from the left. The is the Sassafras Trail #65 (2.72 miles into the hike). The trail was easy to follow and not overly steep. Following this trail, it doubled back into the Sassafras creek drainage for 0.65 of a mile to a sign for Sassafras Falls. We had reached our first of 4 stops and were 3.4 miles into the adventure.

Following a short steep path down led us to the lower portion of the 60-foot Sassafras Falls and a brief photo op. We returned to the Sassafras Tr and made a left. We passed another sign pointing to a path for the upper section of the falls but today we skipped this side trail and kept hiking upstream. The grade remained modest for the rest of our time on the Sassafras Tr. There is a signed junction less than 0.2 of a mile from the lower access to Sassafras Falls, where the Burntrock Tr #65A splits off to the right (3.5 miles in). We turned onto the Burntrock Tr (elevation 3469) and followed it to the top of the ridge. It was a 0.4 mile climb to a hard left turn at the top of the ridge where the elevation read 3959. This was the end of the strenuous uphill hiking.

We remained on the Burntrock Tr 1.7 miles, enjoying the mostly level and downhill portions as it meandered down to a meeting with the Snowbird Tr close to the top of Middle Falls. (I had this point as 5.2 miles total). We were tempted to cross but opted to take the Snowbird Tr #64 upstream to Upper Falls, planning to hit Middle Falls on the way out. Along this stretch was the one crossing of Snowbird Creek, which was a wade. The trail along this segment was open and flat. It wasn’t until we were near the falls that it narrowed to climb several rocky areas.

After pulling away from the creek, the trail led us back to Snowbird Creek near the base of Upper Falls 1.1 miles later. There wasn’t a view from the river left so we did have to cross to river right to see the falls tucked back in the corner. Surrounded by dense summer foliage the 25-foot sliding waterfall looked nice and as an addition to the Middle Falls hike, it is worth the two-mile round trip detour. The pool and the boulders on river right do present a nice setting. After 6.3 miles we had reached the furthest point of our adventure.

We returned to the Snowbird Tr and retraced our steps to the creek crossing but didn’t cross, keeping to river left, following a narrower trail downstream. This ensured being on the correct side when we got to Middle Falls. The trail took us away from Snowbird Creek to an eventual crossing of a tributary that enters Snowbird Creek across the creek but close to the spot where the Burntrock Tr brought us down the ridge. The trail led to a junction with the Snowbird Alt Tr #64A, which we took after our visit to Middle Falls. This was one-mile from Upper Falls and 7.3 into the hike.

Still on the Snowbird TR, it was two-tenths beyond the 64A junction (7.5 miles) that a spur path turned right toward Middle Falls. The path brought us to a rocky area on river left across the pool from the creek-wide Middle Falls. It was an awesome spot where we had lunch. There is no canopy and the warmth of the sun was a treat with the occasional clouds providing better photo conditions. Recharged after a break, we hiked to the Snowbird Tr and made a left in order to reach the Snowbird Alt Tr. We opted for this route since it had no creek crossings. I had our mileage clocked at 7.8 miles when we got on the 64A trail for the hike to Big Falls.

In the first 0.75 on Snowbird Alt, there were some modestly uphill sections but once cresting the ridge at the 8.5 mile mark, it was downhill to the finish. After rejoining the Snowbird trail less than a mile later (8.6), we crossed a bridge spanning Snowbird Creek at 8.75 miles. When we neared 9 miles, we heard Big Falls churning on our left. In order to see the various drops, numerous steep paths dropped off the left side of the Snowbird Tr, each leading to a different piece of the falls. I found Big Falls on Snowbird Creek to be one of the more difficult waterfalls to photograph due to the spacing of the drops and the curve of the river. Each of the drops is photo-worthy but it did become time-consuming getting below the individual segments. Maybe if the water were lower the creek would have provided a more expedient route but not on this day.

I had us at 9.1 miles after climbing back to the Snowbird Tr for the hike out after visiting the lowest drop. The moderate grade and wide trail helped the pace and 1.1 miles below Big Falls (10.2 total), we came to the crossing of Sassafras Creek. Once across, we had 2.5 miles of mundane hiking on the Snowbird Tr to reach the trailhead. Our total mileage according to AllTrails was 12.88 miles with a bottom to top elevation gain of 1300 feet (Trailhead elevation 2707 with a high point of 3987) and and a total elevation gain of 1923 feet. The hike time total was 7.5 hours including stops and a total moving time of 5 hours and 8 minutes. Our average pace was slightly less than 24 minutes per mile.