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The Allure of Waterfalls

Here in the southern Blue Ridge it’s been a warm, late autumn. If you haven’t visited to tour the fall colors, you still have time. There may have been some in the upper elevations early on, but lower down the trees are just beginning to turn. There are still days and weeks ahead to see it. Some theorize that in addition to the higher than average temperatures, the very wet summer we had is playing a part in delaying the fall show.

All that moisture has another, very positive effect: the waterfalls, often dry in the fall,are at their best this year. On a recent walk out Deep Creek Trail at the Bryson City entrance to Great Smokies National Park, Tom’s Branch Falls, within a tenth of a mile of the trailhead, was mobbed with visitors of all ages, playing in the water, sitting at the base of the cascade, and just resting on the benches on the opposite side of the creek. Though some were snapping photos and shooting videos, the crowd included people who didn’t appear to be paying any attention to the waterfall itself–deep in conversation with each other, completely engaged with their phone screens, or corralling playful children. Nevertheless, they congregated near it, drawn to the environment a waterfall creates. There’s definitely something alluring–even mystical–about waterfalls.

Outdoor writer Glenn Oeland once wrote this about waterfalls for South Carolina Wildlife: 

A waterfall is as much an event as a place–the motion and the sound of falling water, the thunderous roar and drenching spray, the smell of fresh water on laurel-scented air–these delights must be experienced firsthand. For untold ages, these places of wild splendor have beckoned from the ancient heights.

And what’s behind that allure? In a post from the year 2000, shed this light on the science of the attraction:

Sun, lightning, seashore waves, and waterfalls all create electrically charged particles called ions. Scientists credit negatively charged atmospheric ions, a by-product of misting water, with the fresh feel of clean air. They’ve also been found to calm moods by altering the brain’s seratonin levels in much the same way that Prozac does. Waterfalls produce negative ions in abundance; the concentration near a pounding cascade is 5,000 times that of an office or on a city street, and hundreds of times higher than sea or lake shores.

Waterfalls often draw crowds. So if you’re looking for solitude, how do you find one that’s more secluded? It’s not that difficult, though you may need to walk farther than the tenth of a mile necessary to see Tom’s Branch Falls at Deep Creek to get one all to yourself. When you’re considering fall walks to look at autumn foliage (remember, there’s still time), think about walks to waterfalls. Two Milestone Press guidebooks can guide you to falls of all kinds, depending on size, type, location, and the distance you want to walk. Waterfall Hikes of Upstate South Carolina by Thomas E. King covers a region known for waterfalls with 125 waterfall hikes. Waterfall Hikes of North Georgia by Jim Parham includes 60 hikes to over 200 waterfalls in north Georgia. With cascades flowing freely, this is a great year to combine leaf-looking with waterfall walks and hikes.

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