By Mike Steely
When my wife and I heard the bridge at Bald River Falls would be replaced later this year we decided to take the drive to Tellico Plains and visit the roadside cascade. We’ve been there a couple of other times and know the area pretty well.
We set out on a Saturday and skipped the I-75 traffic by driving to Maryville and taking a right onto Highway 411. We passed through Vonore and took a left in Madisonville onto Highway 68 to Tellico Plains. There we turned left onto Highway 165, better known as the Cherohala Parkway. It’s a beautiful drive along the Tellico River even in weekend traffic.
Before we reached the parkway’s upward climb we took a right on River Road and followed the stream all the way to Bald River Falls.
The majestic waterfall is about 100 feet tall and is immediately on the right side of the road. That weekend there were dozens of people there on the bridge taking photos and visiting with each other. We found we couldn’t park in the small parking area across the bridge but knew there was another area just up around the curve. We managed to park there, eat our picnic lunch at a table and take advantage of the two restrooms there.
Then we walked back toward the falls to what we’ve called “Baby Falls” before the creek joins the waterfalls pool.
Bald River Falls is about six miles from the main highway turn off and River Road is just wide enough for two cars to pass each other. Just off the main road toward the falls is the Ranger Station, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Beyond the falls is Green Cove, a fishing camp and, and the road continues to a fish hatchery.
Kayakers descend the river above Baby Falls and shoot out with the falls into the deep pool below. Often visitors watch from the bluff above the stream beside the road.
A trailhead for Bald River Falls Trail is located in the parking lot just past the falls and follows the Bald River through the forest above. The trail is 5.6 miles long and ends up on a service road.
The area is within the Cherokee National Forest. The bridge replacement project is expected to take more than six months and alternate routes are still being planned.
While you’re in the area consider going to the Visitor Center in Tellico Plains and the museum next door. Or take a drive through the old downtown section of the tiny city.
You can return through Sweetwater to the interstate or skip most of the traffic and return to Knoxville through Maryville.
You can also make a day away trip by returning by way of the Cherohala Skyway, across the mountain to Robbinsville, North Carolina, and visit the grave of Chief Junaluska, a noted Native American leader. From there you can head north on Highway 40 back toward home.
You can find lots of information about Bald River Falls and the Cherokee National Forest online or you may call (423)253-8400 for information. Plan now, you won’t easily drive to the falls this winter.