Hen Wallow Falls, GSMNP, TN
The First Waterfall on the list for Waterfalls week is a relatively good sized one named Hen Wallow Falls, located on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Hen Wallow Falls is 90 feet tall…but like most eastern waterfalls that drop is not accomplished a single straight plunge. It’s more of a series of nearly vertical cascades.
It is still very impressive, especially in Spring. We suggest visiting during or just after a period of rain. In dry season, the flow probably slows to a trickle.
Hen Wallow Falls is one of the tallest in GSMNP, but not THE tallest. That honor belongs to the Ramsey Cascades at 100 feet. But even that is eclipsed by Mingo Falls, at 120 feet one of the highest in the South Appalachians. It sits outside the park on Indian Reservation land and is the tallest in the Smoky Mountain Range.
It should be noted that what often makes a waterfall impressive is not necessarily how far the water plunges but how much. Hence, while there are many waterfalls in the US higher than Niagra Falls, it deservedly ranks first among American Cataracts for the shear volume of water that goes over it. Niagra is, in fact, the largest ‘true’ waterfall in the world today in terms of volume (there are some river rapids that are referred to as falls that exceed even Niagra.)
By that definition, the most impressive falls in the park (and probably the most popular) is Abrams Falls. If you visit Abrams, located in Cades Cove, you will likely be forced to deal with crowds. Hen Wallow on the other hand is by comparison lightly visited…we had the place entirely to ourselves when we visited.
Whatever its stance in the community of waterfalls, Hen Wallow Falls deserves to be visited and enjoyed.
Hen Wallow Falls can be reached from the Picnic Area of one of our favorite campground in the Smoky’s…Cosby. (Our other favorite, Deep Creek on the NC side, also boasts several hikes to fine waterfalls.) From the parking area, it’s just 2.1 miles to the falls.
I searched around but was unable to find any details as to why this falls might be named Hen Wallow. I mean, a hen could certainly wallow here. But then so could a bear. Was it popular once with local chicken farmers? Does it figure somehow in the origin myth of Foghorn Leghorn? I am unable to pinpoint the origin. Perhaps someone out there will inform me.
At any rate, the hike along the Gabes Mountain Trail does require some effort…if you are looking for an easy jaunt to a pleasant waterfall, this is not it. You will have to break a sweat here, and while it’s never steep (except at the very end) there are some decent uphill pushes and a few rocky and rooty sections. It is nowhere unusually steep or rough and will present no great challenge to an experienced hiker.
The hike is through dense forest. As one nears the height of the land close to the falls, there are some partial views through the trees, or at least there were when we did it in Spring.
After the views the Gabes Mountain trail reaches a spur to the falls. Turn right here for the falls.
This short spur trail (about 150 yards) is in fact the only steep and rough section of this hike. After a quick descent the trail deposits you right at the base of the falls.
They are impressive if the water is turned on high. Hen Wallow Falls is known as a ‘horsetail’ falls because the flow starts off narrow (two feet) but spreads out to as much as 20 feet wide near the base.
You have to walk a little way downstream from the falls to get the best viewing angle. Exercise extreme caution on the boulders…we are careful hikers, but I have taken several…er, falls around falls. And seen others have worse ones. Expect that any rock surface around a waterfall is slick as ice and you generally won’t go wrong.
Under no circumstances climb on the falls, you are inviting disaster. There have been numerous deaths and injuries at nearly all waterfalls in this park.
The flow was actually pretty good when we were there. In most pictures I have seen, it’s much less robust. Here’s a few examples…
Cosby Campground is a long way to go just for one admittedly nice waterfall. I would recommend combining this with an overnight stay at the campground and a hike to MUCH more spectacular (and much tougher to get to) Mt. Cammerer, accessible from just up the road. Or combine with it with a trip to the Ramsey Cascades, less than 30 minutes drive east in the Greenbier area. The Ramsey Cascades hike is also much tougher, requiring nearly a full day, but the falls themselves are even better than Hen Wallow.
We would recommend Hen Wallow Falls as one of the best in Eastern Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. Of course, we haven’t traveled into middle Tennessee very much. I’ve heard tell there some other’n worthy of mention there.
We’ll circle back to cover some of the other great falls in GSMNP later…such as Ramsay Cascades, Abrams and Laurel Falls. But before we do that…let’s return to NC for some of the highlights there.
Next Up…Moore’s Not Less: Moore Cove Falls