Hen Wallow Falls

Jimmie and I have been somewhat boring lately, so recently we’ve tried to have more “fun.” Meaning, we’re doing actual THINGS and not just going to Costco. Yay, adulting. Since neither of us care about college football – and doing anything in Knoxville on game day is an absolute nightmare – we’ve been hiking a little more. It’s been a while since we hiked, and neither of us are in particularly stellar shape (even though I’ve sorta been running).

For our first “back-in-the-saddle” hiking adventure, we decided to head to Cosby and hike Hen Wallow Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sorta in our backyard. It’s a roughly 5-mile round-trip hike to a waterfall. (The trail sign says 4.4 miles, but my Fitbit clocked it at 5.) The waterfall is 90 feet tall. It’s listed as a moderate difficulty, and a “pleasant walk through hemlock and rhododendron forest.” The trail is in an active bear habitat, and as with all GSMNP trails, pets aren’t allowed. The trailhead is accessed from the Cosby picnic area. We hiked it in 2.5 hours.

On hike day we grudgingly got up and hit the road before noon. Ok, like 11:50. Whatever. We stopped off a WhichWich for lunch – if you’ve never had WhichWich, you’re absolutely missing out. The bread is the perfect combination of toasty and chewy, the ingredients are fresh, and the meats aren’t salty. Plus you can choose from about 9000 options.

After only one wrong turn, we made it to the picnic area. Just a hint – don’t use Hen Wallow Falls as your Google Maps destination. Put in the Cosby picnic area, or even the Cosby campground (which you get to from the picnic area). Otherwise, you’ll end up down a sketchy gravel road.

We loaded up with our hydration packs, took the requisite trailhead selfie, and off we went.

We were fortunate in that we passed only a handful of other hikers on the trail. It’s a very quiet place, and the trees provide a good amount of shade. It was actually kind of eerie in places. We did see some rather fresh bear droppings about half a mile in, though if the bear was around, we never caught a glimpse. I was ok with that.

Don’t be fooled, friends – this trail is more on the difficult side of moderate. It’s a steady uphill climb, and though it isn’t steep, the majority of the trail is covered with jutting roots and loose rocks. Our legs and ankles were killing us by the time we finished. We didn’t have hiking poles – if you do, I’d definitely recommend taking them. We managed to find some sticks to use on the way back from the falls, and they were a huge help.

Despite the difficulty, the hike itself is quite pleasant. You pass huge trees, several interesting rock formations, and cross over a couple of streams. Those crossings are a smidge nerve-wracking, as they’re on log footbridges, but just hold the railing and you’ll be fine. Again, poles. Since we hiked in fall we didn’t see too many flowers, but I imagine it’s gorgeous in the spring. We did see lots of mushrooms, though, like this one in the middle of the trail.

The last tenth of a mile or so, the trail dips steeply downhill to the falls. We both kept wondering when we’d hear them, since typically waterfalls make noise, right? The answer became clear the moment we turned the bend.

That’s right. We were lucky enough to do this hike at a time when East Tennessee is nearly 4 inches behind in rain. So instead of a waterfall, we got a dribble. Our reactions?

I imagine it’s quite pretty after it’s rained, or in the winter when it’s frozen. We just have impeccable timing. Honestly, we were more interested in the most appropriate sign we’ve ever seen. This sign should be everywhere, not just on hiking trails with dangerous waterfalls and slippery rocks.

We took a few SnapChat videos, turned around, and headed up the now super-steep one-tenth of a mile. And I promptly got stung by something. On my bum. I manage to go 32 years without ever getting stung, and when I do, I don’t even know by what, it’s on my ass, and I’m 2.5 miles from anything. Thankfully, Jimmie had Benadryl, so I popped half a pill, we set off, and I didn’t die. It hurt like hell for most of the hike out.

We rounded out the day with a take-out order from Buffalo Wild Wings, which was a madhouse, pumpkin beer, and binge watching season one of The Americans on Amazon.

While we both felt pretty underwhelmed by Hen Wallow Falls, we agreed the area was nice. Cosby is a much quieter, less frequented side of the park. We actually thought the drive was a lot better too, since you mostly take the Interstate instead of dealing with Gatlinburg and all that mess. There are several hikes in the area, so I’m sure we’ll be back to check them out!