Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mingo Falls, Cherokee, North Carolina

Mingo Falls is approximately 120 feet tall and one of the tallest waterfalls in southern Appalachia. The waterfall cascades down nearly 200 feet of rock face and boulders. You’ll be taking the Pigeon Creek Trail to reach the waterfall, and the first leg is an invigorating climb up some 160 stairs. Once you’ve ascended those, though, the grade slackens and it’s a quick walk to the wooden bridge at the base of Mingo Falls.

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Many locals recommend going in the morning to avoid the crowds and for the best chance to see Mingo Falls in the morning fog. The steps can be slippery if it has recently rained so take your time, and don’t rush the hike. Of course, if it has recently rained you can expect the falls to be even larger and more exciting than usual. Seniors, children, and people with disabilities should be very careful when climbing the stairs and should be accompanied by friends or family.

The trailhead for Mingo Falls lies but a stone’s throw from Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the park’s main south entrance, but cannot be accessed from the park or the Blue Ridge Parkway. The falls are reached via Big Cove Road: from the park, travel south on US 441 South into the town of Cherokee, turn left on 441, then left again on Big Cove Road.

“Mingo” means “big bear” in the Cherokee language, and in fact you’ll also sometimes hear this cataract referred to as Big Bear Falls. Mingo Creek’s horsetail plunge down the long rocky slide is glorious to behold. The bridge across Mingo Creek gives you front-row seats. Mingo Creek drains northwest off the ridge that culminates in Barnett Knob. Mingo Falls lies just a little ways above the creek’s mouth in the Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee River.

I was told that the falls have lots of water coming down this time. Years past there was barely a trickle. I saw some pictures someone posted showing people standing right next to the falls, something I would not have done with all the water coming down now.

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