DATE:
12-11-2020

OUT & BACK
~ 2.5 miles

ELEVATION GAIN
~ 469ft

LOCATION
Hampton, TN

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I have so many fond memories of this waterfall. Laurel Falls was one of the first hikes that I ever went on. (Fun fact- my first hike wasn’t until I was in high school.) I have been to Laurel falls around 5-6 times, but always took the same trail from the US-321 S trail head in Hampton, TN. I often heard people mention going to Laurel Falls “the back way” but never knew exactly what that meant. I am so glad we decided to check this route out because I love it so much more than the way I used to go! On apps like “All Trails” my previous route is referred to as, “Laurel Falls Trail” and the route we tried this weekend is called, “Laurel Falls via the Appalachian Trail.”

Trail head to “Laurel Falls via the Appalachian Trail” pictured above

The route we used to take, “Laurel Falls Trail,” is ~4.6 miles long and has a few challenging ridges over water that require one on one parent/toddler assist. (I think our 9 and 7 year old would be independent maneuvering it now). At that time, we had one boy in a hiking backpack and my husband and I could help the other boys who were 5 and 3 years old.

Laurel Falls circa 2017 with tiny Greer boys. My husband is wearing a Kelty hiking backpack which we were gifted back in 2010. It worked great for us when the boys were small. In my search, I had a hard time finding a similar Kelty pack to link here.

Side note on baby hiking packs…(skip to the next image if this isn’t info you need). A baby hiking backpack is not absolutely necessary if you aren’t going to hike very often with your baby. A regular baby carrier would be fine for a short trek in the woods. You might just need something else to put other stuff in that you are carrying on the trail, or another adult could carry a separate pack if you are going together. The main benefit of a hiking backpack over a regular baby carrier, (once baby is big enough/has adequate head control), is that they often provide more support for a trail setting and have more pockets to store items for the trail. It also provides some ventilation between you and your little one because baby wearing on a hiking trail can make for a super sweaty momma/baby situation if they are directly laying on you. This is helpful if you are doing a longer hike or are going to be hiking frequently with a baby. I am a Physical Therapist by trade and we hike often, so the back support was really important to me.

If I had a baby now, I would want to try out a Deuter baby backpack. It is definitely on the pricier side, but gets great reviews. The boys’ hiking packs are Deuter and have held up through A LOT of rough activity over the last four years. We feel like that saved us money in the long run. Almost nothing lasts that long with our rough and tumble boys, so that really sold us on this brand. Osprey also has this baby backpack which gets really good reviews and is a brand that is known to hold up.

The new route we took this weekend, “Laurel Falls via the Appalachian Trail,” has a trail head off of Dennis Cove Road and is ~2.5 miles long. I fell in love with this trail right from the start. It follows along the creek, Laurel Fork, the whole way which means you have the peaceful sound of flowing water for your whole hike. Pretty early on, there is a clearing that would be perfect to stop and play in the water in the spring or stop to eat.

There are two small bridges toward the beginning of the trail.

Then you begin approaching beautiful large rock formations in multiple areas along the hike. This was a huge hit with the boys. We have found that any trail that has large contrasts in the landscape or areas for the boys to climb will quickly become a huge hit. It diverts their attention away from the, “how much further??” questions that often arise.

There is a long bridge that only has guard rails on 1 side. The boys are at an age that I can trust them crossing this bridge without having a complete heart attack and worrying that they are going to pitch themself or one of their brothers over the side. I probably wouldn’t have felt that way in their toddler years when they were early in learning their physical limits and newer to hiking.

The trail is flat other than one short climb until you get to the spot where you turn to go down to the falls. At this spot, there is a wood sign on a tree that says, “Laurel Falls,” and could be easily missed as it blends in with the tree a little bit.

Another way you will know if you went the wrong way and too far is that the trail blazes turn to blue instead of the A.T. white blazes. Make sure you stick with the white blazes all the way to the falls. At this point, you will descend a rock “stair case” the rest of the way to the falls. Watch your footing going down as there are roots mixed with rocks. Going down definitely wasn’t the tough part though! Coming back up will give you a work out but was definitely doable with a few rest breaks for our 5, 7, and 9 year old.

We went on an uncharacteristically warm (60 degree) December Friday, so we had the falls to ourselves most of the time we were down there! The temperature dropped being that close to the water, but was it was still breathtakingly beautiful.

Laurel Falls is typically a high traffic area and I have never been with so few people around. The rock area under the falls is pretty big though, so even with a little bit of a crowd there is usually room to space out.

This trail is definitely one of my top favorites in the area. There are so many interesting things to observe along the way. Other than the very end, the trail is mostly flat which is hard to find in the mountains of East Tennessee! The boys really loved this trail and we will definitely be back soon!

 

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Nature finds to look for:

DISCLAIMER: We use the “Picture This” app to help identify plants we find along the trail combined with our own nature books and study. We are by no means experts and might get it wrong sometimes! Please do not take any of our suggestions as text book or ingest anything based on what we share. Our nature finds are also based on the season in which we did our hike. If you hike the same trail in a different season, you might find totally different plants. If you notice any mistakes in our identification, please feel free to contact us and let us know so we can update it ASAP! Thank you and happy exploring!

We also saw various places where critters stashed food for winter!