The town of Bryson City is located at the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a very popular destination for tourists and natives alike because the town is completely encircled by mountains and many of the National Park trails are easily accessible from town. There is one area near Bryson City called Deep Creek and it is one of my favorite places. There are multiple hiking trails, three waterfalls, natural swimming holes, and the main attraction – whitewater tubing on Deep Creek.
During my summer vacation I decided to hike the Deep Creek Loop – a fairly easy, mostly level, 4-mile long loop that starts out on Deep Creek Trail, parallel to Deep Creek. The loop takes you over Deep Creek and onto the Loop Trail, over another bridge and onto Indian Creek Trail, then back to your starting point. The bridges over the two creeks provide excellent views over the water. There are also two waterfalls on the trail – Indian Creek Falls and Tom Branch Falls.
The hiking here was different than most of the secluded hiking trails I’m used to. There was no shortage of people enjoying this beautiful place – families with children, couples, and groups of teenagers everywhere. Many people were taking a hike or biking on one of the multi-use trails. And there were just as many people in the water taking a trip down Deep Creek as there were on the trail!
The tubers seemed to be having lots of fun but the idea of getting propelled down a rapidly rushing body of cold water sent shivers down my spine. I started going up the trail but began having second thoughts about deciding not to try tubing. Everyone was carrying a tube and it made me feel like I was missing something. I was only about 5 minutes up the trail and could already hear people in the water laughing and screaming with excitement. I was still terrified about tubing but it was something I just had to try. I started asking people where they got their tubes and how much it would cost and then turned around and walked straight back to the car.
So an hour later I was driving 10 mph, holding onto a rental tube thrown on top of my car. I got back to the parking area, grabbed my tube and started hiking once again up Deep Creek Trail. It was a flat uphill climb with a canopy of trees above, a steep hill to the right and Deep Creek running alongside on the left. Wherever there was a break in the trees I could see the creek and the people on their tubes floating downstream quickly. I heard several screams on the hike up the trail and then came to a point where I could see what all the commotion was about. There was a spot on the creek that had what looked like a 3-foot drop where you could easily go down at the wrong angle and flip over into the water.
At this point I had butterflies in my stomach and considered going back and admitting defeat. But my curiosity and sense of adventure made me keep going up the trail. After about 20 minutes of walking uphill I came to the final drop-in point. It was either now or never. I took off my flip flops and tied them to the inner tube handle with a ripped plastic bag. I didn’t bring any water shoes so this was the only way to keep my flip flops with me while I traveled downstream. I got in the creek and even though it was summertime, the water was freezing. I stood there for a minute and watched young children all around me hopping on their tubes and taking off. I decided that if they could do it, then I could too.
Deep Creek above the tubing drop in point
I wriggled up on my tube, grabbed onto the handles, relinquished all control of what was about to happen, and let the creek take me. I had been tubing before but only in Florida and this was a completely different experience. The cold water was splashing up on me from every angle. I was traveling at what felt like 90 mph, and every upcoming rock looked like it could be the death of me. Before long I could see the horrifying 3-foot drop that had been taunting me for the past 15 minutes. I held my breath and hoped for the best. It felt like being on a roller coaster ride, but I survived unscathed. I floated on down the creek and just when I thought I was safe I noticed a very long branch jutting out over the creek hanging only about 18” above the water. I had to grab on to the branch and bend backwards to make it under.
After that I was ok for a few seconds, until I went over a big rock and got catapulted out of the tube. It was very hard trying to stand up in the rushing water, while reaching for my runaway tube. I kept getting knocked down and my legs got scratched on the rocks under the water. Finally, I reached my tube, hopped back on and drifted along on the now calmer water.
When I reached the exit point I grabbed the tube, got out of the water, and started the hike back up the trail for a second test at fate. I was scratched up and shivering from the cold water but the sheer adrenaline rush had me begging for more. I couldn’t believe how scared I was to do something that ended up being so much fun. I always look back on this day as being one of the most exhilarating days I’ve spent out on a trail. What could have been just another ordinary hike turned out to be so much more. I hiked up Deep Creek Trail by foot and got carried back down via whitewater tubing on the creek!