Without wilderness, we will eventually lose the capacity to understand America. Our drive, our ruggedness, our unquenchable optimism and zeal and élan go back to the challenges of the untrammeled wilderness. If we lose wilderness, we lose forever the knowledge of what the world was and what it might, with understanding and loving husbandry, yet become. These are islands in time — with nothing to date them on the calendar of mankind. In these areas it is as though a person were looking backward into the ages and forward untold years. Here are bits of eternity, which have a preciousness beyond all accounting.” So wrote Harvey Broome, co-founder of The Wilderness Society. I share his opinion, if not his eloquence.
Mingo Falls is at least a 100’ foot cascade that dances over several levels of rocks in the wilderness of the Cherokee Reservation next to the boundary for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The small amount of water that drops so dramatically through a window in the trees could easily be lost if a housing development were ever built above the falls. Fortunately, this land is protected and we weary travelers are invited to sojourn here long enough to make a spiritual connection to this “bit of eternity.”
The trail is short and steep – at least 150 steps with no benches along the way. There are several varieties of wildflowers growing along the trail, and a smaller waterfall. After the bridge at the base of the falls, a small and slippery path leads up to the top of the falls. The upper trail may be too dangerous for small children.
Some photographers like to take long exposure shots of waters like this one to get a mystical picture. There is a railing at the right height to set your camera or mini-pod on if you don’t want to haul the big tripod up the steps. You will need a darkening filter to get a long enough exposure for the fog effect. Here’s a quick tip for SLR camera users – if you have a filter protecting your lens, you can breathe on it and take a picture before the haze clears off. You will need focus first and switch your camera to manual focus.
One note I feel I must add here: you can’t include the fallen logs in the foreground of your picture unless you are going to clean it up in Photoshop before you print it. Some people have disrespected this place and its visitors by carving their initials into every available surface. The Cherokee and their predecessors hunted and fished around these falls for thousands of years without having to vandalize the very rocks they sat on. These falls are on tribal lands, and it is only with the permission of The Cherokee Nation that we are allowed to visit and photograph these sacred waters. Please be respectful of the land and its owners.
Directions: 441 north to first Cherokee exit; right onAcquoni Rd to Big Cove Rd to Mingo Falls parking area on right