Kingsport resident will be first to complete 500 waterfall challenge

Holly Viers • Apr 14, 2019 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Justin Hopkins is about to accomplish something no one else has ever done.

On April 27, he will be the first to complete the Kevin Adams 500 North Carolina Waterfalls Challenge, which requires hikers to visit 500 waterfalls across the state.

The challenge was created by Adams, author of “North Carolina Waterfalls,” in 2016, though even the author himself hasn’t completed the challenge. While he admits some waterfalls were more impressive than others, Hopkins said the entire journey has been rewarding.

“It’s been such a great experience for me,” Hopkins said, “just getting out and seeing so many places that I know very few people have seen.”

How did you get into hiking?

Hopkins, a Blountville native who now lives in Kingsport, said his love of hiking started in January 2013 after his friend introduced him to it. Though he’s been focusing on North Carolina waterfall hikes as part of the challenge, he’s also hiked other trails in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

What inspired you to take on the challenge?

It all started when Hopkins’ wife ordered him a copy of “North Carolina Waterfalls” as a Father’s Day gift in 2016. He didn’t learn about the challenge until almost a year later, when he discovered it on the author’s website.

“It had a 100 waterfall challenge, a 100 disabled challenge, a 250 challenge and the 500,” Hopkins said. “The 500 is the culmination of all the other ones combined, plus an additional 150.”

Hopkins said he had already visited 100 of the waterfalls by the time he discovered the challenge. He was inspired to continue after his infant nephew, Owen, passed away after a battle with cancer.

“After he passed away, I took five months off from hiking, and it was hard for me to get back to doing it,” Hopkins said. “The day I did get back into it, I realized I was at 100, and I just happened to think, ‘This would be something really cool to do,’ because losing Owen at such a young age, it really made me realize just how short life is. I wanted to do something while I had the time.”

How has the challenge gone so far?

Hopkins had visited 402 waterfalls by Jan. 1 of this year and has added 76 since then, some by himself and some with his hiking friends. He’ll visit the final 22 waterfalls by April 27, his self-imposed deadline.

The hikes vary widely in difficulty, Hopkins said. While some are just off the roadside with paved trails, others required Hopkins to crawl, bushwhack and even climb cliffs.

Out of all the waterfalls he’s seen thus far, Hopkins said two stand out in his mind as favorites: Windy Falls in Transylvania County and Flat Creek Falls near the town of Cherokee.

“Windy Falls is just the adventure in itself,” Hopkins said. “It’s a beautiful waterfall, but the adventure of getting to the base is one of the wildest adventures that I’ve been on. … The other one, Flat Creek Falls, is a totally different waterfall. It’s just a sheer, straight drop that fans out over a massive rock wall, and it’s so powerful just to stand at the base.”

How will you feel about completing the challenge?

Hopkins will check off the last waterfall on his list — Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock State Park — with a group of more than 20 close friends and family members. He’ll receive a certificate from the author upon completing the challenge.

On that day, Hopkins expects to feel a mixture of emotions as the challenge comes to an end.

“I’ll be happy that it’s over in the sense that I’m finally going to get to spend more time with my family and to concentrate on that. … Having that connection with (my hiking friends) is going to be what I’m going to miss the most,” Hopkins said. “It’s going to be happy and sad, but it’ll be a relief, too.”

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