I felt like I had been driving along the two-lane forest service road for hours, but it had only been fifteen minutes. Some friendly locals in Tellico Plains told me I couldn’t miss the waterfall even through the lush vegetation surrounding it. So I just kept driving slowly around each curve in the road until, finally, I crossed over a short bridge and there it was: the Bald River Falls. The locals were right; I couldn’t have missed it if I tried.
The Bald River Falls is perhaps one of the most frequently photographed subjects along the Cherohala Skyway, while also being one of the Skyway’s best kept secrets. The Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile national scenic byway between Robbinsville, North Carolina and Tellico Plains, Tennessee. It is similar in design to the Blue Ridge Parkway: two-lane winding road across a beautiful mountain range with lots of scenic overlooks.
But there are no signs on the Skyway marking the turn toward Bald River Falls. It’s marked on every map and the folks at the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains will point it out, but it’s not officially part of the Skyway. Without a map or previous knowledge it is entirely possible to pass right by this waterfall without ever knowing it was there.
I was fortunate enough to be a pesky travel writer who asks lots of questions. Before starting my journey on the Skyway I stopped at the Tellico Beach Drive-In for lunch. The food was fantastic and I enjoyed the view from a picnic table at the edge of the river. I overheard a couple talking about how they had just finished their fifth trip on the Skyway on their motorcycle and decided they would probably be a pretty good source for info (they were an amazing source).
The Bald River Falls are located just six miles from the Cherohala Skyway. A wide bridge crosses near the base of the falls and also provides a straight-on viewing location. Several parking spaces on the other side of the bridge are just a few minutes’ walk away.
The first time I visited was a hot and humid July afternoon. Recent rains left the waterfall churning; it put out a fine mist that was a welcome coolness from the heat and humidity, but made it difficult to capture any long exposure photos because the water would bead up on my lens. The roar was intense and drowned out almost any other noise including the sound of approaching vehicles so be sure to keep an eye out for traffic.
The first time I visited I made a critical mistake I would learn about a month later. I spent about half an hour enjoying the roaring sound and cooling mists of the waterfall before heading back to my car and returning the way I had come. But literally just around the next corner is another, smaller waterfall that is one of the most popular destinations on warm summer days, and I had just missed it.
Baby Falls is part of a day use recreation area in the national forest. The small waterfall tumbles over a rocky ledge into a shallow pool of water that is a very popular spot for swimming on warm days. Kayakers love taking a dive over this waterfall before continuing their trek along the river that eventually leads back to Tellico Plains. Several parking spaces, a privy, and a few picnic tables make this the place to visit almost year-round.
I finally visited this place myself in the fall about two years later. It was late in the afternoon, nearing sunset, and I was the only person there. Having the entire place to myself made me feel a bit giddy, especially when I saw how beautiful the waterfall looked with all the fallen autumn leaves. I captured a few photos from a perch a little above the falls and then sat on the ground to enjoy the moment.
Baby Falls is a good name compared to the roaring Bald River Falls. It was quieter and allowed the other sounds of nature to filter through the air. I enjoyed the peace and quiet until well past sunset just as my eyes could no longer adjust for the dimming light. Although Bald River Falls made for a better photography subject I think Baby Falls is the one that left a place in my heart that I will need to visit from time to time.