We’ve heard a lot of people in the area say that Deep Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a great place to visit, but had never been there ourselves. We decided to take a family hike on Deep Creek loop trail, and really enjoyed it!
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Bryson City
Roundtrip Distance: 4.6 miles
Features: Creeks, small waterfalls, bridges, forest
Directions: From the intersection of highway 441 and 19 in Cherokee, take 19 south to Bryson City, NC. Turn left onto Everett Street, right onto Depot Street (at The Great Smoky Mountain Railway), and then left onto Deep Creek Rd. Follow the road right into the Park, an follow the signs to the trail. You’ll know you’re there when you see a loop and a parking lot on the left. Park in the parking lot, the trail starts at the paved loop/drop off point.
Recommended Gear: Good hiking boots or shoes, Daypack, Dayhiker First Aid Kit, some snacks, plenty of water and of course your favorite digital camera.
Deep Creek Loop Trail
One of the things you’ll immediately note as you walk towards the trail is lots of people, especially kids, carrying “tubes”. Deep Creek is a very popular tubing area and is the main attraction. You can walk a 1/2 mile or so up the trail, and then tube down Deep Creek. Many people stay at Deep Creek Campground, and tube to there, walk back, and tube again.
The Deep Creek area, also has an number of trails, and we decided to take the “loop trail”, which takes you along Deep Creek itself, then along Indian Creek and up to Sunkota Ridge, then back down to Deep Creek. You can also take the Juney Whank Falls trail, which we highly recommend and did as well.
The trailhead begins at the trailhead parking lot. You’ll know you’re there, when you see a loop turnaround ahead of you. The parking lot will be on the left before the turn around/drop off area. The trailhead is right off the loop turnaround, and follows along side Deep Creek.
We’ll divide the trail up into sections, and give you walk through with a few photos.
Trailhead to Tom Branch Falls
One of the great things about this trail is that it offers some immediate rewards. From the opening of the trail, you get to walk along side the rushing Deep Creek, and watch kids, adults and families tubing down Deep Creek, and having a blast. Just 3/10s of a mile up the trail, you’ll come to Tom Branch Falls, an 80 foot waterfall. Toms Branch Falls cascades down into Deep Creek on the opposite bank from the trail. See our Tom Branch Falls Guide for more information.
Heading on up the trail past Tom Branch Falls the trail will continue on the left side of the creek for a while, then cross over on a bridge. This is a great spot to watch people tubing and get some great photos. I took a few, but my camera was on the wrong setting and they over exposed :-(.
After crossing the first bridge you’ll begin a gradual uphill climb to the right of Deep Creek until you reach another bridge, and a trail junction just in front. Deepcreek continues straight, and Indian Creek Trail goes to the right. To take the loop trail, and to see Indian Creek Falls, go right and follow Indian Creek Trail.
Indian Creek Trail to Loop Trail
Turning off onto Indian Creek Trail gets you out of the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Shortly after turning onto Indian Creek Trail (1/10th of a mile), you’ll see a sign to the left and a small trail heading down to the base of Indian Creek Falls, my personal favorite on the hike.
Indian Creek Falls is a 45-foot falls, that’s just gorgeous. See our Indian Creek Falls Guide for more information.
Heading back up on the trial, Indian Creek Trail will continue, into a really pretty forest area, with a nice, flat and wide trail. You’ll cross a bridge over Indian Creek just after the falls and continue to head through the forest. You’ll soon come to a trail junction. Thomas Divide Trail goes to the right, you should continue straight on Indian Creek Trail.
Another 3rd of a mile, you’ll come to the junction of Indian Creek and Loop Trail. You’ll go left here, and follow loop trail. The trail does get a bit steep here as you begin the climb up the mountain.
We’ve seen bears in our neighborhood and while walking up at Clingmans Dome, but we had never seen a bear while hiking out in the park. We knew it was just a matter of time. We were climbing along, and our 11 year old says “Uh Dad, there’s a bear.” I look up, and sure enough about 20 foot up the trail, was a fairly young bear, perhaps a yearling or a little older. He was standing up on his hind legs sniffing in our direction. As soon as he saw us, we started calling out “Hi Bear, Go on Bear” and clapping our hands. He took off up the hill, and we didn’t see him anymore.
I had always told my kids to bunch together if we ever saw a bear, to make us look bigger. Well, I never have to worry about that happening, they bunched up to us pretty quick 😉
Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture. I was more concerned about protecting our kids. A really good example though of how non-aggresive most of the blakc bears in the park are. We respected his space, made lots of noise so he could see and hear us, and we both went about our business. Beautiful animals though, and we felt privileged to see him. Our kids are still talking about it.
As I said, the climb through this portion of the trail is pretty steep, so take lots of breaks and drink water. Fortunately, once you’re at the top, it’s all down hill from there. At the top, you’ll come to the junction of Loop Trail and Sunkota Ridge Trail. Just keep going straight (and down) to stay on the loop trail.
One thing you’ll notice, and if you don’t you’ll want to notice, is that most of these trails allow horses. So watch your step, there is a lot of manure. We ran into a couple that was riding, and our daughter loved seeing their horses and petting them.
The trail now goes down and is fairly steep, so watch your step, especially with the roots. At the bottom, you’ll encounter Deep Creek again, and Deep Creek trail. You’ll turn left here and follow along side Deep Creek. The trail along here is very flat and wide and makes for a nice relaxing walk with the wonderful sounds of Deep Creek.
Juney Whank Falls
Photo by Pam Huffman
Heading on down Deep Creek Trail, you’ll run into a spur that takes you to Juney Whank Falls. You’ll see signs. The trail does get a bit confusing, and you can either go right or left. You’ll want to go left. You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction by the steep include. This is a pretty steep climb for a bit, and then the rest is downhill. The spur trail to the falls is about 1.2 miles, but it’s really worth it and from the falls, you are very close to the parking lot.
Just follow the signs to the falls, it’s clearly marked. Check out our Juney Whank Falls Guide for more information.
The fastest route back to the parking lot is to go back up the trail down to Juney Whank, and follow the trail that directs you to the parking lot.
This was one of the longer hikes we’ve been on, but a really nice one. We highly recommend it. If you’re looking for something shorter, you don’t have to take the same trail we did, there are lots of options in this area for shorter hikes.
I think we’re going to head back to this area next weekend and do some tubing. Of course, we’ll take some photos and share our experience with you.