The Horsepasture River is (at the time of this post) the shortest river in the Wild and Scenic Rivers category of the National Park Service at 4.2 miles long. It is also chock full of major waterfalls lying as it does directly across the Blue Ridge Escarpment. We visited these falls long ago when you had to park along a busy road and work your way in. It’s a longer hike now but it’s worth it. The access to the upper Horsepasture is from Gorges State Park which has a beautiful new visitor center. The trail head is for Rainbow Falls despite the fact that Rainbow Falls is not in the park. It’s around 1.5 miles to the falls, and halfway there you’ll leave the state park and enter Pisgah National Forest.
There are a hundred photogenic spots along the Horsepasture river on this hike. Even at high water levels there will be several dry slabs of granite stuck out into the river where you can get a better view. This is Rainbow Falls at a pretty high water level. It’s a very moist experience as the main viewing area is also the main spray zone. If the water is this high, you’ve already had to ford two creeks to get here though.
A quarter mile past Rainbow is Turtleback Falls which is swimmable at some water levels. We’ve seen people in the water every time we’ve been here, even when it’s dreadfully cold. Please keep in mind this a quarter mile of fast moving river above Rainbow Falls. We say this on all our waterfall pages but waterfalls are still dangerous. People have died here. There are wiser places to swim in this river.
Speaking of dangerous, the trail is a bit exciting as well at Turtleback. After the full frontal view of the falls, the trail snakes around a cove and comes directly at it from the side before climbing further up the hill.
The furthest waterfall upstream is Drift Falls. People swim this as well. There are private property signs all around warning you not to do this. However, there are good views of the falls from within the forest boundary. Total distance to Drift Falls from the trail head in Gorges State Park is in the 2 to 2.5 mile range.
Raven Cliff Falls tumbles over the Blue Ridge escarpment just on the South Carolina side of the NC/SC border. It’s located in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and there are dozens of trails interconnected through this area including the long distance Palmetto and Foothills trails.
There is a suspension bridge over the falls (too far away to see here) but that is a strenuous 7 mile loop hike with a lot of altitude change. On this hike we came in from the parking area on US 276 which is about a mile south of the NC border. There are several trails out of that parking area. The one across the road (west) is the Raven Cliff Falls trail. There are a couple major junctions along the way but they are well signed. It’s 2.2 miles (3.7km) each way.
That leads to a nice wooden overlook which includes a covered pavilion with benches. We did this hike in December so visibility was great, I’m not sure how much can be seen in mid-Summer.
Elk River Falls is just inside the North Carolina state line west of Blowing Rock, near the town of (shockingly enough) Elk River. There are some moderately elaborate signs in the town which will send you out along the Elk River. The road ends at a parking lot and from there the top of the falls are just about visible downstream. It’s a steep hike down to the bottom but it’s worth it as it’s the only real view and it’s a good one. This appears to be a fantastic swimming hole (or several swimming holes) in warmer weather. In October it was rather chilly.
If you’re up for a second waterfall it’s about a two mile hike each way to Jones Falls. There are numerous blogs that list the instructions but I’ll repeat them here anyway. Follow the forest road around the gate. It meanders up and down a few hills and in 3/4 of a mile you’ll reach a ford at the Elk River. Do not cross. Instead follow the river downstream across a meadow and along a very small goat path. It will look about like this once the path opens up again. From here the Elk River makes a hard right turn. Continue to follow the left bank which means crossing a tributary (this is Jones Creek) and following a steep connector trail to the A.T. Once you reach the A.T. (should be obvious, white blazes, etc..) turn left (north bound) and hike about 0.6 miles to the side trail to Jones Falls.
There was good signage to Jones Falls when we visited, but it is also the first blue blazed side trail (to the left) that you come to. The trail ends at Jones Falls which is a high tiered drop. It’s difficult to see the entire falls from any one location and the bottom portions of it disappear into rhododendron thickets. This would probably be very impressive at high water levels.
These waterfalls are in the vicinity of the Sugarlands Visitor Center of the Smoky Mountains NP on the Tennessee side. We almost never go there. Partly because we already live on the NC side, partly because going anywhere in the Gatlinburg-Cades Cove corridor is just asking to spend the afternoon sitting in traffic. Yet, here we are on a Sunday afternoon in the summer.
I don’t know how many Laurel Falls we have been to. This one is just a little south of the Sugarlands visitor center. You’ll know you are there by the 200 cars parked all over both sides of the road near the trailhead. Obviously with that many cars at the trailhead, there are going to be that many people at the falls. There is not a spacious viewing / playing area here.
The hike is an easy 1.3 miles (~ 2km) each way, about 350 ft (100 m) of elevation gain, primarily in the first half of the hike. Ironically, one way to know you are on an easy trail in the Smokies is the parade of people you overhear complaining about how hard the hike is. The trail is paved although not well, it is not handicapped accessible and don’t even consider a stroller.
From the Sugarlands center if you walk past the restrooms there are several flat easy trails. Cataract Falls is about a half mile away. It’s a very easy, nicely forested walk with one set of stairs. The falls is not particularly impressive but this is a surprisingly quiet area. If you continue past Cataract Falls you could make the long connection up Cove Mountain to Laurel Falls. Since the Gatlinburg Trolley stops at both the Laurel Falls trailhead and the Sugarlands visitor center you could even do it one way with a trolley shuttle. We did not do this, perhaps some future trip though which will not be in mid-summer.
Hurricane is a fairly remote campground on the north side of Mt. Rogers NRA in southern Virginia. There are a couple different ways in, including a paved road off of VA 16 between Sugar Grove (gas station / general store) and Troutdale (absolutely nothing). We arrived via the rougher gravel road from Adwolfe (one diner). There is another gravel road heading west but we never went that route. It’s unlikely there were more supplies immediately available that way though so come prepared.
We personally thought this campground was awesome. 24 sites, many of them right alongside Comers Creek (that’s it behind the tentpad here). There are a couple of sites on the left side of the road before the second bathroom we would not take but all of the rest were great. This is site #4, slightly exciting because there was a large warning on it that the tent pad holds water in heavy rain. Luckily, it never rained on us here. Hurricane has a hot shower, drinkable water pumps and no hookups (yay!) so it’s perfect for tent camping. It was extremely quiet during our stay which included a weekend in May.
Without having to drive anywhere at all there is a river trail that goes downstream along Comers Creek, a 1 mile loop hike up to a knob behind the campground (this follows Hurricane Creek as well) and a half mile connector trail to the Appalachian Trail. If you go to the AT and head north bound you’ll reach this water fall in about a mile and a half total. We think this is Comers Creek Falls, it’s a bit confusing. If it isn’t, it looks a lot like this and is slightly further upstream. Another mile northbound on the AT brings you to Dickey Gap. It appeared you could make a larger loop by continuing up the AT and following a horse trail back to the campground. We just walked back on the forest road from Dickey Gap.
This is a fun little triangle hike if you’re at Clingman’s Dome and don’t want to spend the entire time on the wide paved path with however many other people are currently visiting Clingman’s Dome. At the base of the paved path across from the gift store, stairs go down to the Dome Bypass Trail. Take these, turn right in 0.1 miles at the trail junction and head towards the A.T.
It’s about a half mile on a relatively gentle incline. The trail is rocky and has difficult footing but there are some good views down on the NC side of the park.
Once you reach the Appalachian Trail, you can head to the right (northbound) towards Clingman’s Dome. We took a short detour the other direction here to reach the summit of Mount Buckley. Mount Buckley isn’t much to write home about (or a blog entry) but it is a peak, there’s a small grove of stunted spruce trees at the summit and depending on the season, there may be good views into Tennessee. On our visit, the entire AT was in the clouds, mist and intermittent rain so it mostly looked like this.
We ended our hike with a trip up the architecturally bizarre lookout tower. If it isn’t strange enough normally, in the clouds it really looks like some alien space craft. There was absolutely nothing to see up here except the tower itself. Total distance for the triangle is right about 2.0 miles.
Once upon a time Skinny Dip falls was a secret of sorts. It was a popular swimming hole among those who knew its location. Now it’s a popular swimming hole for everyone passing by on the Blue Ridge Parkway because there are a hundred web sites that mention it, many of them referring to it as a local secret. It’s not.
We actually don’t go here anymore simply because there is rarely parking at the BRP pullout closest to it and it is generally crowded. There are dozens of other perfectly good swimming holes that aren’t. Having said that it’s still a very nice waterfall, a very scenic bit of river and it does lie directly on the MST just below Graveyard Fields.
As you can see from these pictures, it really does have nice swimming holes. It’s about a half mile hike from the parkway with a relatively small altitude drop so it’s an easy place to get to and not a particularly dangerous place for kids. The three drops that make up the falls are all relatively small.
Anyway, we have checked it out once again. It’s still there, albeit now with a lot of nice new wooden boardwalks and benches overlooking the falls. It’s moderately crowded even in March when the water is far too cold to swim in (at least by our standards).
Success at last! (If you’ve been reading the last few entries..) There is an actual waterfall picture with this waterfall.
Crabtree Falls is located on a 2 mile loop accessible from Crabtree Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway (near Spruce Pine). There was once a campground here but it has mysteriously disappeared from all Parkway literature and in fact you’ll cross through the overgrown remains of it (ghost campground!) on the hike.
First though, there’s an awesome bit of open pasture between the parking area and the campground which is full of milkweed (and thus butterflies) in midsummer.
After that you have several choices. The trail makes a loop with a couple access points to the campground loops. Going counter-clockwise to the falls is steep and rocky with a lot of steps and switchbacks, however, it’s also shorter. The clockwise route is more gentle and more scenic following several tributaries and then Crabtree Creek down to the falls.
These falls are easily visible from a bridge as well as access trails on both sides.
Welcome to our second consecutive waterfall fail (sort of). We were on our way from Maggie to Cherokee so we thought we’d get in a small hike somewhere new. We tried Balsam Mountain / Heintooga Ridge Rd off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a less used access point to the Smoky Mountains. In particular, we were headed down the Flat Creek Trail which makes a loop (IF you count the road as part of the loop) from the Balsam Campground area.
Notice we are leading with a picture of a garter snake rather than the waterfall. This is a clue that there will be no waterfall picture. Here are the details if you’re on your way to Flat Creek Falls:
First, don’t bother in the summer. There is so much foliage you have no chance of a clear view of the falls. If you insist on trying to find the falls, follow the Flat Creek trail from the parking area along the road. This is actually a lovely trail and crosses a small creek on a log bridge before arriving at a wet crossing (rock-hop) of Bunches Creek. After this you’ll ascend the shoulder of a hill and then descend on the other side. 0.7 miles into the hike you’ll find a sign telling you that you’re 0.7 miles into this hike. This is actually a sign that you should turn towards the river (off trail) and head for the falls. You should be able to hear it from here and there is a faint overgrown trail with all sorts of logs across it. This will reach the river and then run along it to the top of the falls. Usual disclaimers apply, this leads to wet slippery rocks at the top of a large waterfall. The top of the waterfall is (as usual) dangerous and not all that scenic. You can go down a VERY steep trail along the waterfall to the bottom (actually sort of the middle). This trail is little more than an otter slide really and you still won’t have a great view. If you are serious about reaching the bottom of these falls, I’d consider bringing ropes.
Having said all that, Flat Creek Trail is a very nice trail, lots of wildflowers in July. Animal tracks everywhere (we only saw snakes) and a creek to keep you company.
Laughing Falls. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? We hadn’t really and as you may know from scrolling through this blog, we’ve been to a lot of waterfalls in Pisgah. We were camping at Davidson River and I noticed it on the topo maps. Close by as the crow flies but not accessible by trail. Then, Melanie saw a sign at the campground, “Easy to Find Waterfalls” it promised. They were the usual lot we’d expect – Looking Glass, Slick Rock, Triple, Toxaway. There on the list was Laughing Falls. Well, that sealed it, we had to go check this one out.
Just in case you aren’t planning to read any further … don’t go check this one out. It is for the experienced bushwhacker only. It is not an easy hike and on top of that, there’s very little to actually see once you get there.
This is not it. We don’t have a picture that does it justice because there is no clear view of the falls. If you really must go, take Old 280 just a little east of the Pisgah Forest entrance near Davidson River. Turn left on FR 1360 and follow that uphill until it ends at twin gates. You want the lower (right) road which immediately crosses Laughing Creek at the pleasant little confluence shown in this picture. This is the absolute highlight of this hike. If you choose to go on, after this wet crossing turn left IMMEDIATELY. You’ll probably have second thoughts at this point because there really is not much of a left turn to consider taking. There is a second gate in the woods here indicating what must be one of the least used forest roads in Pisgah. This is little more than a wildlife track at this point. Sections are collapsed or completely buried in rhododendron and mountain laurel. A half mile or so of pushing through this will bring you to the falls. There clearly is an impressive waterfall in here and you’ll get glimpses of it but we were unable to find a reasonable place to get a view of it. Perhaps in winter it’s possible.
So Harpers Ferry isn’t really a day trip from Asheville but we were on our way back and it was a short detour off of I-81. We’ve been associated with the Appalachian Trail and the ATC for years but we’ve never visited Harpers Ferry (home of the ATC) until now. It’s a pretty impressive setting at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers. The population is under 300 and most of the town is part of the National Historic Site.
Assuming you can park (the train station is the only real parking in town) it’s an easy walk through town to the AT bridge over the Potomac. Once across the trail merges with the 120-mile long C&O Towpath trail which is a nice flat bikeable route from DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The AT runs north bound along the river for a couple miles before it climbs to Weverton Cliffs. There are dozens of other trails out of Harpers Ferry, most of them involve a bit of a climb since it’s up in all directions.
The Sandburg Home is a National Historic Site, not necessarily where one would normally think to go hiking but now that we have a two year old along, we’re looking for shorter scenic hikes that involve farm animals. Well, not necessarily but it’s a nice bonus.
Mrs. Sandburg kept a prize-winning herd of dairy goats and their descendants still live at the home in Flat Rock, NC. Most of this site is free by the way. The goat barn and pens as well as several miles of trail that loop around the property or go up to the top of a nearby hill. The only cost is for touring the home itself.
We did not tour the home as it did not have nearly as much intrinsic attraction value as say, a goat. At least for a two year old. We did take several trails around the property though and overall it’s a pretty nice location for a short hike. It is particularly popular with dog walkers.
Douglas Falls is located in a rarely visited portion of Pisgah National Forest known as the Coleman Boundary. It lies directly below the Craggy Gardens area but is difficult to get to. One way involves hiking down from the MST near Craggy which is an elevation drop of over 2000 ft. The other approach is FS 74 from the vicinity of Barnardsville. This is a very long forest road that passes several other falls visible from the road. Eventually the road ends in a parking lot.
It’s only a little more than a half mile to the falls which is a 70 ft drop. It’s relatively easy to walk around behind the falls from where this picture was taken.
This is a little confusing since the last post involved a South Carolina waterfall called Eastatoe Falls (among other things) and now this one contains a North Carolina waterfall about 10 miles up the road with the same name.
This Eastatoe Falls is located on private property just off Highway 178. The landowners have graciously allowed people to park in their yard (follow signs) and visit the falls.
Dill Falls is located up NC 215 from Rosman almost all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a bit confusing but basically follow Forest Road 4663 to 4663B and follow that one until it ends, park there and hike down the continuation of the road to the river. Incidentally if you’re considering exploring the rest of the 4663 forest road complex, we can tell you that as of late 2013 there are miles and miles of this road with no connection to anything else.
Our old map shows those roads connecting to the Balsam Lake area. They probably still do but it cannot be traversed with a car (4wd or otherwise). Balsam Lake is a nice little lake on the eastern edge of Nantahala National Forest. The building visible here is the Balsam Lake Lodge which can be rented. There are a couple easy short trails along the edge of the lake.
Oconee Station is a state historic site in northwest South Carolina. There’s an old outpost there and not really a whole lot else. The Palmetto Trail Connector comes through the park and about a mile north is a branch trail to Station Cove Falls.
There are some good rocks for picnicking here and a couple good spots to play around in the water. We came across this salamander there as well.
Eastatoe Falls isn’t really related, it’s about 15 miles east on the Foothills Parkway but we visited them on the same day. This waterfall has a bunch of names, Twin Falls on some maps, Shady Cove Falls on others. It’s not even clear to us who owns this land and maintains the trail there. Either way it’s a short walk from the parking area off of water falls road in Eastatoe Community. At the end is a viewing platform and a pretty spectacular vista.
There’s a straight drop on the left and a series of cascades on the right. There are many warnings about the dangerous rocks here but the river a bit downstream of the falls looked to have some nice swimming holes accessible from the trail.
Yes, OK this is a weird title for a post. SC 107 is a relatively short stretch of north-south road in the extreme northwest part of the state. It provides access to Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area, White Rock Scenic Area and several Chattooga River access points. We spent the weekend camping at Cherry Hill which is directly off of 107. It’s a small (20-some sites), quiet, relatively unused campground with hot showers and several creekside sites.
Just north of Cherry Hill is Burrell’s Ford Road which runs down to the Chattooga River. North of this is Ellicott Rock Wilderness, south is the walk in sites of Burrell’s Ford campground and a bit in from the Chattooga is King’s Creek Falls.
To the south from Cherry Hill is Oconee State Park and the Yellow Branch picnic area. This is Yellow Branch Falls which is about a 2 mile hike from the picnic area. There’s a small loop trail through Yellow Branch and the falls trail branches south off of it. There are several wet crossings on the loop trail.
Yellow Branch Falls has a nice sandy beach area on the far side from the trail and a couple nice pools.
Both of these locations are on the Big Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains NP. Big Creek is located on the eastern edge of the park on the North Carolina side, near I-40. There’s a ranger station, a horse camp, a group camp and some walk-in tent sites located at Big Creek. Big Creek Trail is one of several that lead out of here and as a horse accessible trail it’s relatively wide and an easy grade.
Midnight Hole is a fantastic swimming spot about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) up the trail. This a deep clear pool, good rocks for sunning and jumping off of (at your own risk of course) and a spectacular setting in the forest. In late May, this water is also rather on the chilly side.
Another half mile (0.8 km) up Big Creek Trail is Mouse Creek Falls. You can just barely tell that the noise of Big Creek has gotten slightly louder but there’s a horse hitching rail just before the viewpoint of the falls. Mouse Creek is a tributary that flows in from the south and falls most of the last 100 feet or so into Big Creek. The trail continues from here another three miles to Walnut Bottom Campgrounds and a junction with several other trails, we however did not.
Mount Noble seems to be a practically unknown hike despite its prime location. It sits just on the southern edge of the Smokies but it is not within the park and no park trails connect to it. The main hiking trail leaves from the very top end of the ‘Unto These Hills’ parking lot in Cherokee. Just keep driving up until you see the private road sign. There’s a red sign pointing towards the trail to Mount Noble.
We saw these turkey tracks in several places near the top of the hike. The lower 80% or so of the hike is an unrelenting climb. Never particularly steep but it also never lets up. It’s a climb of about 1800 feet (550 m) from the parking lot to the summit in just 2.4 miles (3.8 km). There are a couple of nice creek crossings but really no good picnic or stopping spots until you are fairly close to the summit.
The namesake lookout tower is at the top. We decided not to climb it since about half the supports were broken or missing and clearly people had been using it as target practice for some time. There are also several large cell towers up here and an assortment of broken glass, barbed wire, mangled fencing and so on. It’s a very nice view of the Smokies, the Nantahala mountains and the Plott Balsams, but the summit itself could use some work. Unfortunately that seems to be true of almost every peak around here that can be accessed by a road / four-wheelers.
We’re back! After a lot of bad weather this winter we are finally out hiking again. This is a short hike we did on our way to Charlotte. Tom’s Creek Falls is just off of 221 about five miles north of Marion, North Carolina.
This is only about a half mile hike along an easy path from the trail head to the falls. There are several nice access points to the creek along the way and a lot of mica scattered all over the place. There is an old mica mine just downstream from the falls (on the opposite of the river from the trail). The falls is quite impressive, especially in March with no foliage.
Since we were already at Oconee State Park for an orienteering meet, we decided to visit a couple of waterfalls nearby.
Issaqueena barely qualifies as a hike. The top of the falls is practically visible from the parking area. There wasn’t a lot of water flow at this one when we visited but there was some good fall color and you have a view looking out to the south towards the town of Walhalla.
Spoonauger Falls is located just inside Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. The hike in is 0.4 miles along the Chattooga River Trail from Burrels Ford Road, then 0.1 miles switchbacking up to the falls. There’s not really a swimming hole at this one but you do have to hike along the Chattooga to get there. We went in November so swimming wasn’t an option. Instead we spent our time there trying to get Alaric to look at the camera for the picture.