ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) — Water lovers, this hike is for you! Featuring four creek crossings, multiple swimming spots and a beautiful waterfall at the end, the hike to Rock Creek Falls is perfect for anyone who’s not afraid to get wet.
Sitting between Erwin and Unicoi in the Rock Creek Recreation Area, this 4-mile hike can be rated more on the moderate side as it features a long uphill climb, multiple water crossings and an uneven, rocky trail. While you start your hike to the waterfall in the recreation area, your end destination will be in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness area, which Leslie Morgan, a district ranger with the Cherokee National Forest says, provides a much more unique experience.
“A wilderness area is congressionally designated, and that means that there’s a segment of acreage, in this case it’s about 600 acres. So it’s just much more primitive, and the experience is supposed to be much… a lot more solitude. You shouldn’t hear motorcycles or any vehicles in the wilderness area. So, it’s just to give people an opportunity for some really quiet places to go to.”
And because wilderness areas are much more remote, it’s important for you to be prepared before you begin your hike, and that includes bringing a map.
“In a wilderness area, you should be prepared to take care of yourself,” Leslie said. “Trails may or may not be marked, but chances are, if you’re in a wilderness area, there’s not going to be a lot of markings there and not a lot of trail markers. “
Also, be aware that Wilderness Areas also have a strict group size limit visitors must follow, but it doesn’t just include humans. Instead, all living creatures are counted in the group size.
“When you go into a wilderness area there is a restricted to 12 heartbeats per group, so if you have a horse or a dog, those count as heartbeats,” explains Morgan.
While hiking the trail, be aware of those four creek crossings. When crossing a creek, it’s important to take it slow and analyze your routes before jumping on the closest rock. Make sure to keep an eye out for more heavily trafficked paths, avoid any dark rocks as they are likely wet and covered in a thin layer of slick algae, and bring extra socks, just in case those first two tips prove unsuccessful.
If you do fall in though, no worries! Leslie says this creek makes for a prime swimming spot in the summer. “This is a very clean pristine creek, Rock Creek, because it is coming out of the wilderness area, so you don’t have the agriculture runoff and the development runoff, which, you know, you would if you were in town or something like that.”
When you finally arrive at the waterfall, you’ll be tempted to take a trip down, but be careful if you do.
“You can see on your way up here there will be some user-created trails to the bottom of the waterfall,” Leslie said. “Those are very dangerous. We’ve had fatalities around waterfalls, we’ve had several head injuries and various broken bones just because people want to get close to the waterfalls and take pictures, and so that’s always very dangerous.”