Trail Notes: Laurel Falls from U.S. Hwy 321

Trail Team 11

The Place: Hampton, Tenn.

The Hike: A.T. to Laurel Falls from U.S. 321

This hike has everything you could want: views, challenges and a waterfall before you head back to your car.

According to AllTrails, this nearly 6-mile out-and-back hike from the parking lot off U.S. 321 in Hampton only has 793 feet of elevation gain. Don’t let it full you. It is up and down the entire hike.

The trail can start off slightly tricky with a split between the old trail and new. It appears some wash-out occurred and a slight rerouting was necessary.

The first mile is actually a spur trail, which eventually dead-ends into the Appalachian Trail. Before you get to the trail, however, you’ll pass several spots along the Laurel Fork where campsites have been set up. As my hiking buddy “S’mores” soon figured out, I would have been fine setting up my hammock and wading in the creek.

At the A.T., S’mores and I stopped for a water break and chatted with some thru-hikers. The amount of gear they don’t carry astounds me. Ultra-light hiking (which is what it sounds like, super light equipment) will likely never be something I try, but kudos to those hikers.

The Laurel Fork was roaring on the Sunday S’mores and I hiked out. Fortunately, you’re not having to wade unless you want to. I can’t say enough about the trail crews that meticulously keep the A.T. in a condition safe for outdoors enthusiasts.

Over the Fork are bridges, built high so the waters can’t damage them too badly. When I hiked this, it was Easter Sunday 2019. After all the rainfall we had seen in the days and weeks before, the Fork and Falls were gushing.

The most entertaining part of the hike by my count was scooting along a rock face right up against the water. If the water had been much higher, I’m not sure we could have gone that way. I was literally clinging to jutted out rocks and any plants hanging down at points. (I also have a bad habit of slipping and falling on slick spots, so I was trying to not dump into the river and be soaked on a cool day.)

Once past the rock face, the most difficult bit is done. From there, it’s a cakewalk to Laurel Falls. On that Sunday hike, S’mores and I sat pretty far back from the water but between the bit of wind and the amount of water being pushed over the falls, we got a little misty.

This is probably one of the most iconic hikes in the area. It should be required hiking. If/when I hike it again, I will bring a trekking pole for some extra help up and down some of the more steep areas.

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