They’ve done it again. Backpacker Magazine pout together a list of the Ten Most Dangerous Trails in America…and the Abrams Falls Trail made the list.
The last time Backpacker Magazine did this was in 2008 we believe. Abrams Falls, for those who don’t know, is perhaps the most famous (or infamous) falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s also quite likely the most visited of the major falls in the park.
We don’t agree with this designation. Compared with the other trails on this list which ARE inherently dangerous, such as the Mist Trail and Kalalau Trail, there is very little dangerous about the trail itself.
Not that there isn’t a kernel of truth here. Though the phrase ‘dangerous’ is entirely unjustified in describing the trail, it is certainly not unjustified when applied to Abrams Fall, proper.
Sylvia and Brian hiked this trail some years ago, around 2013. We can happily report that there is very little danger in hiking the trail itself. In fact, unless one engages in a serious amount of very incautious behavior, there is little danger to hiking this trail at all, it’s a quite easy hike of about 5 miles round trip at a very modest grade.
The danger of Abrams Fall has nothing to do with the trail, but rather the falls itself, and in particular the swimming hole beneath it. Over the years many people have drowned either from getting caught in the strong currents at the foot of the falls or falling off the rocks beside it.
Abrams falls at first glance looks like a pretty tame affair, and perhaps this is what makes it so dangerous. It’s only twenty feet tall; but an enormous among of water goes rushing over it, making swimming near its base an extremely hazardous undertaking. Plus, it doesn’t take more than a few feet of wet slippery rock to cause a serious injury.
Plus, Abrams falls is very easily reached, making it a popular place for swimming and horseplay — often by those who not be especially fit or prepared for its challenges. Ironically, it is the very ease of the trail that makes it so dangerous…many can come here and many do, and no small number engage in feats of Le Stupid. Abrams Falls is sort of the Mt. Washington of waterfalls — small, accessible, deceptive, and under the wrong conditions quite deadly.
But for those who wish to visit and view it from a safe distance, be assured that the trail to Abrams Falls is quite tame and suitable for hikers of any ability. In fact, we’re of the opinion that neither the trail nor the falls itself is particularly great; there are far better all throughout the Southern Appalachians.
For example, the nearby, but much less accessible Ramsey Cascades is far more spectacular, and the trail to reach it much more interesting. It’s also a LOT more challenging and more dangerous.
Our own favorite Waterfall in the region? Probably Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park. But almost any waterfall can look great when conditions are right, and far less impressive when they are not.
Any waterfall can also be dangerous. We strongly discourage anyone from wandering out on the rocks near, and especially above, waterfalls…or from wading or swimming in the plunge pools. (I mean, it’s not called a plunge pool for no reason folks.) Sylvia and I have both taken nasty spills on the rocks near waterfalls even though we were some distance away…the mist that surrounds falls can turn rocks into slick, mossy deathtraps even hundreds of feet away. Don’t get hurt, — turn around and don’t drown. Play it safe around any waterfalls no matter how big or small, is our advice.