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Elk Falls & Jones Falls

Posted by on February 26, 2011

100′ Jones Falls

I took advantage of all the rain this week and hiked to two of the most grand waterfalls in our region… Elk Falls and Jones Falls.

Elk Falls (also known as Big Falls) is probably one of the most visited and well-known waterfalls in the area… easily accessible by car.  And with a 45′ sheer drop and plenty of water volume, it’s a great site to see.  However, Jones Falls is just as impressive (or more) with the right weather conditions, but rarely visited due to it’s location in a somewhat remote area off the Appalachian Trail.  Few people realize that you can visit both at the same time with a moderate, short (3.6 mile) hike.  Getting to Jones Falls from this direction can be a tad confusing though, so read my “Trails” directions below very carefully before you set out.  I also have a download of the GPS track of the hike, along with important waypoints, in the Hike Planner below, if you have a GPS unit.

The hike to Jones Falls is well worth it, as I rank it #2 of all the waterfalls in this region with my Waterfall Rating System. My photos do not do it justice.  It is a high elevation waterfall though, so it’s very dependent upon  rainfall.  Do this hike after a good rain!  Check out more photos below, or click here for one of my previous hikes in this area.

45' Elk Falls

More of Jones Falls

Upper Tier of Jones Falls

 

 

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Overall
Recommendation:

Great family hike.

Outstanding
Features:

Two outstanding waterfalls.  Hike along the banks of the Elk River and on the Appalachian Trail.

Difficulty:
Easy to Moderate.

Driving:
From Elizabethton, take 19E south, and continue on through the town of Roan Mountain and into North Carolina.  Just before getting into the community of Elk Park, turn left onto Old Mill Road (there’s a black sign there for Elk Falls, but it’s hard to read).  Go about .25 mile on Old Mill Road, and then take a left onto Elk River Road.  Follow it for four miles into the Pisgah National Forest (when it turns to gravel), to a parking lot at the end of the road.

Trails:
Once parked, begin on the yellow-blazed trail… at the steps with the wooden hand-rail.  Follow this trail for approximately 0.2 miles to view Elk Falls from the base.  Then return back up the trail toward the parking area, and then get on the forest road (normally gated) and take it heading in the downstream direction.  Hike on this road until it ends (or fords) at the river.  At the point where the road ends, there is a grassy meadow on your left.  Continue walking through this meadow (still heading downstream), and at the end of the meadow you will see a faint trail near the river, continuing downstream.  Follow this trail, which is right on the bank of the river.  Once the river takes a sharp turn to the right, you will leave the bank and the trail goes left into the forest.  Almost immediately you will see a stream, which you will have to cross.  After crossing the stream you will immediately begin a steep climb.  The trail here is still unmarked, but it should be easily visible.  In about a 0.1 mile climb, you will come to a trail junction with a flat rock (good to sit and rest on).  This junction is the Appalachian Trail (white blazed).  Take a left on the Appalachian Trail, and follow it for approximately 0.5 mile until you see a blue-blazed trail and a small sign indicating Jones Falls.  Follow this blue-blazed trail for another 0.1 mile to come to the waterfall.

Needed
Gear & Tips:

Standard Day-hiking gear. Trekking poles help with the steep banks at Elk Falls, and exploring the upper tier of Jones Falls.

Distance:
Approximately 3.6 miles round-trip

Time
Allotment:

2-3 hours

Type:
Out & Back.

Vista
Rating (1-5):

2.0 – Some mountain views along the river.

Waterfall
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):

Elk Falls:
H(5) + F(9) + V(5) + W(3) + G(3+2+6) = 33

Jones Falls:  H(10) + F(4) + V(4) + W(3) + G(3+4+8) = 36

Water
Crossings:

Two… One (easy) and One (moderate)

Scrambling/Climbing:
Easy

Hazards:
Slippery slopes and steep areas.  As with almost all waterfalls, take caution when exploring around the falls.  Many people have died while swimming and jumping from Elk Falls.

Maps/GPS
info:

Download GPS Track and Waypoints here! (.gpx format…  Right click on link and chose “Save Target As”)

More
Information:
Alternate Trail Following the River (instead of using the road).  See directions at the bottom of the page.


11 Responses to Elk Falls & Jones Falls

  1. Ben Trotter

    If you want to visit Upper Jones Falls. Go above Jones Falls to the top of the ridge, and there will be a an old wood road (old AT) that splits off of the AT crosses over the ridge and back down to Jones Branch. Follow Jones Branch downstream, there is a rodo thicket you have to climb through to reach the cliff and waterfall. I remember seeing some old blazes.

    You can also follow to the end of Campbell Hollow Road to the forest gate. Walk the forest road (old AT) all the way down.

    Remember its Campbell Hollow/Buck Mtn BE CAREFUL

  2. Matt J

    I hadn’t been to Elk River Falls and Jones Falls in several years until I went on May 23, 2011. Back when I went in early 2006, there was a well kept trail that extended from the trail that goes to the bottom of Elk River Falls from the parking lot, all the way to where the FS road fords the river (see Bill’s directions above) and picks up the trail that runs through the grassy meadow. This offered a lot better hiking experience than taking the boring FS road, as it more closely follows the river and is more intimate with the woods than the wide open FS road. I succeeded (barely) in following this trail again this hike, but it is wasn’t nearly the same quality hike as when I did it 5 years ago. Once leaving the base of Elk River Falls, it starts out going steeply uphill through dense laurel groves, forks off to the right without warning (there are several other forks that lead absolutely nowhere before and after that point), and upon taking the correct fork, travels through laurel so dense you basically have to crawl through it. Needless to say that spider webs to the brow are frequent. It then takes a turn towards the river, and the trail all but disappears in the tall grass. After some bushwhacking, I was able to able to pick up the trail again, and it eventually widened once reentering the forest, but not so wide you still can’t help but to lose it at various points. The overgrowth is very dense. You wouldn’t want to be wearing shorts in there. It eventually comes out at the FS road right where it crosses the river. You turn left on the FS road (away from the river) and pick up the trail that goes through the grassy meadow about 20 feet later on the right. It should also be noted that this grassy meadow section of the trail is also very overgrown and resembles nothing more than a rabbit run where the grass has been mashed down by hikers. Again, once it enters the woods, the trail widens and is far easier to follow. It is a crying shame that these trails have deteriorated to this state! With a good bit of trail maintenance, it would be so much more enticing to link Elk River Falls, the AT, and Jones Falls together. More people that visit ERF would venture to Jones Falls and realize there’s an equally great waterfall not far away. It would be a better opportunity for AT hikers to explore Elk River Falls and to access the town of Elk Park as well. I spoke to a through-hiker at Jones Falls, and he was in no way interested in visiting ERF after I described the complexities of getting to it. Otherwise, he would have been if it were an easier path. I’m up for some trail maintenance if anyone else is interested! There is a glorious trail hiding in all that overgrowth.

  3. Bill Fuller

    Thanks for the detailed post, Matt. I too have taken the the old, overgrown trial that follows the river, but for someone visiting that area for the first time, I wouldn’t really recommend it. It has definitely become much more overgrown in recent years, and would be a little easy to get turned around. The forest road is much more boring, but it’s a fairly direct route. I’m not sure why the Forest Service disregards some trails completely, while seeming to put vast amounts of work in others. This would seem like one of those trails (from Elk to Jones Falls) that would get plenty of use if it were well-maintained and a little more well-known. Instead very few people know the route. I think you’re offer to work in trail maintenance in that area is very commendable. I would help, but my trail maintenance time is full with my section of the A.T. I would bet if you contact Pisgah Forest Service (or the Carolina Mtn Club) that they might give you permission to open that trail back up with blazes and underbrush cutting. Many of my maps show is as an official Pisgah trail, but it has obviously not been touched in years.

  4. Chris Berrier

    Very nice blog Bill, thanks for providing info for this hike. I did it pretty much 1 year to the date after you posted this. The directions were super easy to follow, the hike was great. Now if only they could find a way to extend this trail down to Twisting Falls, that would be the ultimate Elk River Hike.

  5. David M.

    We visited both falls today (Sunday, jjuly 29, 2012). Elk falls was packed with folks – almost no place to park or sit! Followed the directions to Jones falls without any problems. We followed the forrest service road to the river and the trail was clear (if not a bit overgrown) along the bank of the river. Very short distance to AT and a nice leisurely walk to the falls. Fantastic! And we had complete solitude. Much more relaxing than elk falls. Thanks for the directions – I plan to return with tripod and 4×5 camera.

    • Bill Fuller

      That’s awesome, David. I’m glad you enjoyed the hike. Take care,
      Bill

  6. Sharon Blackstock

    Sitting here reading this is almost unbearable. I’m planning a trip to the area in May and it’s just making me more and more antsy to get out there!! Thank you so much for the directions.

  7. Sandy Jones

    We will be in the area in June so of course The Jones Family will have to visit Jones Falls. :) Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I am certain we can’t make the 3.6 mile round trip hike, even though I’d very much like to do it. Is it possible to drive between Elk River Falls and Jones Falls?

    • Bill Fuller

      No, Sandy… there’s a forest road there, but it’s gated. However, it’s a realtively easy hike as that road basically just follows the river until you get on the AT, where the only climbing is the last .5 mile. Another option to go to Jones Falls would be heading north on the AT at Buck Mountain Road. That way is shorter, but probably steeper than the Elk Falls access.

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