It is a 3.8-mile there-and-back hike to Pete’s Branch Falls from Horse Creek Recreation Area — unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle. You will delve deep into the Bald Mountain Scenic Area of the Cherokee National Forest. Pass an unlikely homesite in Pete’s Branch valley before reaching the 45-foot cataract.
The only downside to this waterfall hike is the lack of volume in Petes Branch. More often than not, the stream is trickling, resulting in a less than show-stopping cataract. Spring, when flows are higher, is the best time to visit Pete’s Branch Falls. Leave the developed Horse Creek Recreation Area, with its fine campground and picnic locale, and head up the Horse Creek four-wheel drive road. It is regularly walked and is part of the greater Bald Mountains trail system, so don’t feel sheepish about road walking.
You’ll head up the Horse Creek Valley, rock hopping the stream a few times before joining the Poplar Cove Trail. It heads up the valley of Sarvis Cove then crosses the stream of Sarvis Cove. Here, pick up the Pete’s Branch Trail, heading up a narrow valley, crisscrossing Pete’s Branch. The defile widens and you wander through an isolated homesite.
It isn’t long before the path dead ends at a menacing cliff, hardened stone that forces Pete’s Branch to push over it into a rock jumble. At higher flows, there are two distinct ribbons flowing down the rock face. Petes Branch Falls is yet another jewel in the crown of East Tennessee.
Here are the specifics to keep you on the correct path to the falls from the trailhead: Trace the gravel road upstream along Horse Creek. Pass a handicap fishing pier and several pools of Horse Creek. At 0.1 mile, pass a wooden bridge over Horse Creek. Keep straight up the Horse Creek Road. At 0.2 mile, come to your first crossing of Horse Creek.
At 0.6 mile, cross back over to the right hand bank of Horse Creek. The track becomes much rougher. At 0.9 mile, reach a camping area. Cross Horse Creek again. Ignore an old roadbed heading uphill and right. Cross Horse Creek twice more in rapid succession. At 1.1 miles, reach a traffic circle and trail intersection. Here, Horse Creek Road turns sharply left. You stay right, joining the Poplar Cove Trail, still on a four-wheel drive track.
At 1.3 miles, reach a long abandoned parking area just before crossing the stream coming out of Sarvis Cove. Turn left on the Pete’s Branch Trail after crossing the Sarvis Cove stream. Cross it again. Turn up Pete’s Branch. At 1.5 miles, pass through an old homesite. At 1.9 miles, arrive at Pete’s Branch Falls.
To get there from exit 37 on I-26 near Erwin, take TN 81 north 6.2 miles to TN 107. Turn left and take TN 107 west for 13.4 miles to Horse Creek Park Road (marked with a Cherokee National Forest sign). Turn left on Horse Creek Park Road and follow it 2.7 miles (At 0.8 miles Horse Creek Park Road makes a sharp right) and enter the Cherokee National Forest. Keep straight, passing the campground entrance road on your left. Just ahead, reach a parking area where the pavement ends, with a left turn toward a picnic area and Horse Creek Road dead ahead. Park here.