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Upper Sill Branch Falls

Posted by on March 1, 2011

50' Upper Sill Branch Falls

After a failed attempt last month, I returned to the Clarks Creek area of Unicoi County, and I finally found the remotely located Upper Sill Branch Falls.

This hike is not for the faint of heart, or beginning hiker.  It’s a tough bushwack in very rough terrain.  The “trail” is extremely overgrown, unmarked, and in many areas it has been devasted by the Pine Bark Beetle.  I had to work my way through numerous areas of very thick underbrush, climbing over and under blown down trees, and at some points walking directly up the stream bed to get around impassable obstructions.  I even took a pair of hand-loppers and a small saw to help clear a path.  I took my GPS  as well, hoping to get a track of the hike for others to use as a reference, but I had trouble keeping reception in this deep ravine.  If you decide to go on this adventure, see my detailed “Trails” descripion in the Hike Planner below, and use it in conjunction with the provided map.

When I did arrive at the falls , it exceeded my expectations and made all the scrapes and bruises worthwhile.  This is a beautiful waterfall, in a very scenic setting.  Of course I wanted to get the best photographs possible after all the hard work to get there, but as my luck would have it, the sky opened up with a deluge about the time that I arrived at the falls… making the photography very difficult.  Everything on me, including the lens was wet.  Hopefully my one decent photo will give an a small indication of the beauty of this awesome waterfall.

Map - Click to Enlarge

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Overall
Recommendation:

Advanced hikers only with some navigational skills.  Winter or early spring hike to avoid excess underbrush growth.  Wait on the good rain before going.

Outstanding
Features:

Remote waterfall.

Difficulty:
Very difficult.

Driving:
From Johnson City:  Take I-26 to the Erwin/Jonesborough exit (#37). At the end of the ramp turn right and take State Rt. 81/107 for 6.5 miles.  Stay on Rt. 107 by turning left and continue for 5 more miles. Turn left onto Clark’s Creek Road and drive 3.1 miles into the Cherokee National Forest to a parking area on the left. A sign will indicate the trailhead for Sill Branch Falls.

Trails:
Once parked, begin at the “Sill Branch Trails” sign.  In approximately 0.4 miles you will come to a trail junction where you need to take a right on CNF Trail #116 (Sill Branch South).  In another ~0.2 mile you will make a moderate ford across the stream.  After this first ford, go another ~0.2 mile to a wide spot in the trail, and you will see an old forest road off to your left.  Take this forest road, which sends you in the opposite direction (heading back in the downstream direction) and begin ascending up the mountain.  This is the end of the maintained trails.  Continue on this old, overgrown forest road.  You will eventually reach a high point on the ridge (with nice views of Sampson Mountain and awesome rock formations on the adjacent ridge above Sill Branch).  My GPS measured this overlook at 1.0 miles into the hike.  From here the “trail” will turn toward your right and begin descending down into the Sill Branch North ravine.  After approximately ~0.2 more miles and some more difficult bushwacking you will come to a small tributary feeding Sill Branch.  At this point, you are on the right side of the stream, heading upstream.  Ford this 1st tributary and continue walking upstream.  In another ~0.15 mile you will come to a second small tributary (again on the right side of the stream) which you will also ford.  From here the trail is very overgrown, but just keep heading upstream.  In another ~0.1 mile you will come to a third small tributary (again coming down from your right).  At this 3rd tributary, you will see a small ridge in between (seperating) this 3rd tributary and Sill Branch.  Walk up this little ridge for 20 or 30 yards, and you will again see the forest road.  Keep going upstream on this old road and in another ~0.1 mile you will see the waterfall.

Needed
Gear & Tips:

Trekking poles are a must.  Take a pair of hand-loppers to clear brush and briars.  A GPS unit may be needed.  And taking a hiking companion with you is a very good idea in this rugged terrain.  It is also very slow trekking so get an early start, and allow extra time.  Only go after a good rain so the waterfall will have decent flow.

Distance:
Approximately 3.4 miles round-trip, but feels like double that.

Time
Allotment:

4-5 hours

Type:
Out & Back.

Vista
Rating (1-5):

3.0 – Nice views of rock formations on the adjacent ridge, and good views of Sampson Mountain

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

Upper Sill Branch Falls: H(5) + F(4) + V(3) + W(2) + G(3+5+7) = 29

Water
Crossings:

Four… 2 (easy), 1 (moderate) and 1(difficult)

Scrambling/Climbing:
No rock climbing, but you will have some moderate climbing over and under fallen trees.

Hazards:
Extreme slippery slopes and steep areas. Difficult bushwacking requiring some climbing and crawling.

Maps/GPS
info:

Download Upper Sill Branch Falls Waypoint Here

More
Information:

9 Responses to Upper Sill Branch Falls

  1. Russell Edwards

    Hiked to these falls in July 2011 with my 5 year old son. You are correct, that was a long day. We made a wrong turn and went a mile out of the way. There is another road above the correct one that leads nowhere. It was a quest that day. Very low flow on the water made them a little disappointing. But we made it!

    • Bill Fuller

      Glad to hear that you made it, Russell. Yes, I made the same mistake as you the first time I tried to find it… I took the upper “trail” that leads to nowhere except a dead end at the top of the ridge.

  2. jeremiah

    I tried hiking to these falls today and took the “upper trail to nowhere” as well. It was an old logging road and I took it to the left until it seemed to end. I could have also taken it to the right, but didn’t have time. Does anyone know where this leads (left of right)? I saw the road that leads to upper sill brank on my way back, but didn’t have any more time or energy.

  3. Neal

    Hiked to the Upper Sill Falls using this route today with a friend. The were flowing great after the recent rains. We also went above the falls on the old logging road, just uphill and to the right of the falls until we reached the Willards hump road/trail. Took a right on Willards and followed until we reached the junction with S. Sill Branch Trail. Made for a very nice loop hike on a beautiful day.

    • Bill Fuller

      I’ve been up to that logging road from South Sill Branch trail, but never made a loop of it. I’ll have to try that! Thanks!

      • Neal

        Bill. The Willards rode/trail is growing back in places. I did all I could as far as breaking small limbs back with my hands. Still very passable overall. There were some spur logging roads that cut up the mountain. I will need to explore further on my next trip in that area. The log road just above the upper sill falls is marked with white/red polka dot flagging. Some nice cascades higher above the falls before you get to Willards. Seems like it will be a great area for wildflowers in spring.

        • Bill Fuller

          Sounds awesome! Thank you for the update. I will explore up there as soon as this weather breaks.

  4. Sabrina

    Ok so where do i begin…..Attempted to locate these falls this weekend and it did not work out to well. Tried to follow the directions and never found the falls. Left out at 11am and come 4:30 when did not find them turned around and attempted to hike back out the mountain, and some how ended up lossing the trail and ended up lost in the woods. after hiking for 9 hrs total finally couldnt go any more and stopped at a small creek and it was a miracle we had cell phone signal in this one little spot we decided to stop at and ended up a search and rescue to get us back out helicopter and the whole nine yards. we started out at clarks creek and When the sheriff office finally found us and had us hike another 2 hrs out of the wood up a steep ridge, half dehydrated and weak, we find out we hiked all the way to temple hill/flag pond area. I warn any one that attempts to find these falls have a gps because most the trails are not marked and are very much over grown. So very difficult to tell some of the trails are even trails. This is a very difficult hike. And im just glad we had survival knowledge, We will not be attempting this hike again.

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