Distance: 4.4 miles (in-and-out)
Elevation gain: 284 ft.
Trailhead: Bandy Creek Swimming Pool
The showcase of the John Litton Farm Loop Trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is the old farmstead itself, which is located in a small valley and is still preserved by the National Park Service.
But Fall Branch Falls is not to be missed, and is a nice secondary feature along the loop trail that leads from Bandy Creek to the Litton-Slaven Farm and back again.
It is the waterfall, which is located alongside the trail as it winds its way along Fall Branch, that is the focus of the third of 20 hikes in the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. This hike will also give hikers an opportunity to hike with a ranger, as Big South Fork NRRA ranger Mary Grimm will lead a hike to the waterfall Saturday morning.
For the purpose of the hiking challenge, the entire 6.3 miles of the Litton Farm Loop will not be included. Instead, hikers will be challenged to hike to and from Fall Branch Falls, for a total distance of 4.4 miles, with the option of hiking the entire trail.
The hike to Fall Branch Falls will mark the second consecutive hike of the challenge to feature a waterfall. And while the falls along Fall Branch pale in comparison to Northrup Falls in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area, which was featured last week, this waterfall is still a nice destination for hikers.
The south side of the Litton Farm Loop, which hikers take to access Fall Branch Falls, is a scenic hike. From the swimming pool at Bandy Creek Campground, the trail parallels Duncan Hollow Road for a short distance before turning into a creek drainage that will evenutally grow into Fall Branch, the stream that serves as the watershed for the east side of the Bandy Creek area before eventually emptying into the Big South Fork River just above Angel Falls.
As the trail descends along Fall Branch, it passes through first a mixed oak hardwood forest, then dips beneath the bluff line and into the mixed pine and hemlock forests that typify the gorge areas of the Big South Fork NRRA. The trail passes through dense stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel, which will add a completely new beauty to the hike once they have begun to bloom in a few weeks, and crosses several small feeder streams as it continues to wander along the main creek.
The walk in is very easy — it’s mostly downhill, and features only 14 ft. of ascent. The harder part will come on the way back out, once hikers depart the waterfall and begin the return trip to Bandy Creek the same way they came in. While the walk in included just 14 ft. of ascent, the walk out will include 270 ft. of ascent. Spread over the course of 2.2 miles, that is not a great deal — and the hike to Fall Branch Falls is certainly not as difficult as many of the trails within the BSF. But it is a bit more of a hike than the walk to Angel Falls and the walk to Northrup Falls, the two hikes that marked the start of the Twenty Week Hiking Challenge. It is kid- and pet-friendly, and not overly difficult, but is enough of a work-out to send you home with the knowledge that, yes, you have been hiking!
To hike with a ranger, meet in the parking lot at the Bandy Creek Swimming Pool at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
Getting There: Take S.R. 297 west through the Big South Fork River gorge. Turn right onto Bandy Creek Road and continue into the Bandy Creek area. Turn right into the campground, then left just past the registration kiosk. The swimming pool is located on the left just before the pavement ends and Duncan Hollow Road turns to gravel. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot.
Be Careful For: There are a pair of short ladders early in the hike. Pets will find an easy way to scramble down the embankment beside the ladders, but use caution with small children. There are also numerous foot bridges along the trail, which can be slippery when wet.
Look For: About halfway through the hike, you’ll notice a “tree of secrets.” Someone has attached a note to the tree using a brightly-colored knitting. The note, which is inside a Ziploc bag, contains words of wisdom — trail secrets. The idea is for hikers to write their own secrets on the sheet of paper, then return it to the Ziploc bag for others to find. These violate the “leave no trace” ethic, but are popular among some backpackers.
Make It Better: We kept this hike short because we’re early in the challenge. But if you’re up for some extra mileage, continue along the trail beyond Fall Branch Falls and complete the entire Litton Farm Loop Trail. Ranger Grimm will complete the entire hike, as well. Completing the loop trail will add 1.9 miles to the walk, but not much additional elevation gain. And, as an added bonus, you’ll visit the Litton-Slaven Farm.
Remember To: Use the #20WeekHikingChallenge hashtag in your photos on social media, or email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the names of all members of your hiking party, in order to log your miles.
Don’t Forget: Obey the Leave No Trace ethic by “taking only memories, leaving only footprints.” If you packed it in, please pack it out!