When hiking Laurel Falls their are two trail options to choose from. The Dennis Cove Rd. trailhead, which starts above the falls and is much shorter or the trailhead just off of Hwy 321 below the falls. While longer, this second option is less steep and a much easier drive. Coming from Boone the second option was the easy choice as Hwy 321 is basically a straight shot from Boone to Hampton. Plus, having driven on many rough, unpaved, and sometimes scary back roads on my quests for waterfalls, I will happily take a nice paved highway the entire way.
Once parked the blue blazed trail begins along the Laurel Fork Creek as you make your way upstream. Small cascades and large rocks line the creek, creating a very scenic and pleasant hike. Bridges constructed at each creek crossing only added to this pleasantness, as last year this time I was trekking barefoot through another icy creek. I shiver now just thinking about that day, so these bridges were a welcomed sight. Continuing around the creek the trail remains pretty easy and level eventually merging together with the Appalachian Trail at the bottom of the ridge.
Now hiking on the Appalachian Trail we began heading up the ridge. The trail becomes very narrow and rocky as you climb higher. Staring straight ahead you see the beautiful mountain covered horizon along with the rushing creek winding through the gorge below. You know, it's one of those nature's beauty or it doesn't get any better than this views. But seriously, it is a pretty nice picture. Just make sure you watch where you are walking, as a fall from here would be very bad news. This is definitely my favorite part of the hike, beautiful views and I guess that thrill of knowing one wrong step could plummet me to my death. Here is a few shots of the trail up on the ridge:
Continuing up the ridge a little ways will bring you to the fork. Straight ahead the trail continues on to Dennis Cove Rd. and to the right is the trail to the falls (with a sign and arrow). Heading off to the right the trail steepens as it begins its descent into the gorge. Just before reaching the water the trail turns completely to rocks as you climb your way down to the creek. At the creek is a very nice and large rock wall that you have to make your way around. Up the trail a little further you begin to hear the roar of Laurel Creek Falls and then spot the powerful falling water through the trees.
Anytime you can walk along a rushing and cascading lively creek followed by hiking a ridge high above a vast scenic gorge, I believe it's a good day. That's what makes this hike so enjoyable. Two and a half miles of great scenery and of course the large beautiful waterfall rewarding your efforts at the end.
Pics from the trail: