During breakfast at Mercier Orchards — where, by the way, we discovered a yummy new (to us) apple, “September wonder” — we scrapped the “no phones at the table” rule and began searching for a manageable adventure. We settled on a short waterfall hike in the nearby Chattahoochee National Forest.
We made a couple of stops for provisions, went back and stocked the cabin then struck out for Fall Branch Falls shortly after lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We let the nice “waze” lady guide us on a short picturesque drive alongside the Toccoa River to Stanley Creek Road. After a couple of miles on the gravel Stanley Creek Road we came to the trailhead and were surprised to find a number of parked cars, Benton MacKaye Trail Association volunteers, and a couple of kiosks.
Volunteers were graciously offering cold water, donuts and grilled hot dogs to any takers. We found out we had stumbled upon the Benton MacKaye Trail Association’s “Grand Opening of the Fall Branch Falls Reroute.” We accepted a couple of bottles of water and headed up the trail to the falls.
And it was up, but it wasn’t too steep and Benton MacKaye trail volunteers had added steps where needed and the newly rerouted trail was in great shape. It was also a short hike — just over two-tenths of a mile — to the falls. One could catch glimpses of Fall Branch on the hike up.
The trail split at the falls with one section going to the base of the falls where there was a small overlook and the other tracking alongside the falls to the top. The falls was a series of cascades sliding over grey rock framed by rhododendrons. There is one major drop of about 30 feet into a small pool at the base. The amount of water tumbling depends, of course, on local rainfall. One of the BM volunteers at the overlook told us it had been quite dry the last couple of weeks; still there was a pretty good flow. Fall Branch flows into Stanley Creek just beyond the falls, which is quickly swallowed by the Toccoa River.
We kicked around the falls a little bit then went back down to the trailhead and stopped at one of the kiosks. Joy Forehand, Benton MacKaye Trail Association secretary, told us about the reroute. According to Forehand, the process took about five years from start to finish. She said the old trail, which followed an old jeep road, had become eroded and unmanageable. Benton MacKaye volunteers worked with Forest Service personnel to map out the reroute and then BM volunteers did the yeomen’s work of establishing the new trail.
Most hikers around Western North Carolina are familiar with the Benton MacKaye Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but may not realize the trail starts on Springer Mountain in Georgia at the same point as the Appalachian Trail. The AT tracks east from Springer Mountain while BM takes a more westerly course. They both then turn north and meet up again around Fontana Lake in the GSMNP. They parallel each other from the southwestern end of the park to the northeastern corner, with BM taking a more southerly route. They meet up again at Big Creek Campground, which is the terminus of BM and where the AT exits the park.
The Benton MacKaye trail is nearly 300 miles long and meanders through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. It was established by volunteers between 1980 and 2005 as a more primitive alternative to the heavily used AT.
To learn about the Benton MacKaye Trail — including how to become a BM volunteer — go to www.bmta.org.