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Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 50 of the best hikes in the Smokies. Includes detailed descriptions, maps and other essential trail data.

Abrams Falls

Trail Features: Waterfalls abrams-falls
Trail Location: Cades Cove
Roundtrip Length: 5.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 340 Feet
Avg. Elev Gain / Mile: 136 Feet
Highest Elevation: 1710 Feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: 5.68 (moderate)
Parking Lot Latitude 35.59077
Parking Lot Longitude - 83.85293

Directions to Trailhead:

The hike to Abrams Falls begins from a field at stop number ten on the Cades Cove Loop Road. To reach the Abrams Falls Trailhead, drive five miles on the Cades Cove Loop. After crossing Abrams Creek, turn right onto a gravel road which runs through a grassy field. Park at the back of the field where you'll find signs and a wooden bridge that mark the trailhead.

Trail Description:

The October 2008 issue of Backpacker Magazine listed their top 10 most dangerous hikes in America. The list was developed using casualty statistics as a result of lightning, altitude, extreme weather and drowning, among several other measures.

abrams-fallsMany of the trails you would naturally suspect to be on the list were all there, such as the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and the Mist Trail up to Half Dome in Yosemite. However, one trail that caught me by surprise was none other than Abrams Falls. The magazine ranked this pathway as the ninth most dangerous trail in the country, mainly as a result of high exposure to drowning and hypothermia hazards. The article cited 29 deaths on this trail since 1971 as a result of water related accidents.

"All sorts of unknown hazards lie at the bottom of our streams and waterfalls," warned former park spokesman, Bob Miller. Strong currents beneath the falls have swept capable swimmers into unseen traps, and slick rocks have tripped many unsuspecting hikers into the chilly depths.

Needless to say, proper precautions should always be heeded while on the trail, especially near the falls.

The path from the Cades Cove valley floor to the waterfall weaves around the ridges that predominate in this area, all the while roughly following Abrams Creek. The route traverses through pine-oak forest along the ridge tops, and hemlock and rhododendron forests closer to the creek.

As you proceed along the trail you'll likely notice a lot of downed trees. In April of 2011 a massive tornado, categorized as an EF-4 with maximum wind speeds ranging between 165 and 170 miles per hour, and an estimated maximum path width of one mile, ripped through the western end of Cades Cove and downed more than 4500 trees in the area. As a result, the Abrams Falls Trail was closed for a month as crews worked to clear trees blocking the path. In all, more than 33 miles of trails were severely impacted by the tornado.

abrams-fallsThe 5-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls is relatively short, and is considered to be moderate in difficulty, thus helping to attract nearly 1000 visitors per day during peak season, and making it one of the more popular trails in the park.

Although Abrams Falls is only 20 feet high, the large volume of water rushing over the cliff more than makes up for its lack of height. In fact, Abrams Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in the park. Although the long, deep pool at its base is very picturesque and inviting, swimming here is extremely dangerous due to strong currents and an undertow.

Both the waterfall and the creek are named after a Cherokee chief by the name of Oskuah, who later adopted the name Abram (or Abraham). His village once stood several miles downstream from the waterfall.

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