Steel’s Creek flows off the east side of the Blue Ridge in the vicinity of Table Rock. The MST parallels the creek for several miles. The southern access point is from FS 228 off of NC 181 north of Glen Alpine. Follow this road until it ends which includes a wet crossing of a smaller stream (may be dangerous in high water) and a whole slew of campsites along Steel’s Creek.
From the end of the road it’s a short walk along a trail to a swimming hole and small waterfall in the river. From here you have to figure out the best way across which is likely to be above the falls rock hopping. Across the river, you can pick up the MST and head north (MST-east) towards a whole bunch of waterfalls.
Steel’s Creek Falls was very obvious to us in October foliage. It’s a huge cumulative drop through several steep gorge sections. It’s also rather dangerous to get near. This is the view from the MST. There are other view points but they generally involve some risk.
Elsewhere along the hike there are some excellent swimming holes in the river and a lot of huge boulders to climb on in safer places than where the falls are. This is a pretty classic canyoneering river for the adventurous as well.
Chasteen Creek is an easy hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park. The easiest approach is from the Smokemont campground. Drive all the way through the campground to the very back where there is parking for about 10-12 cars in front of a gated road. This is the Bradley Fork Trail which follows Bradley Fork upstream. Chasteen Creek Trail is the first right, about 1.2 miles (2 km) in. Just after the turn is backcountry campsite 50 which has good creek access. A half mile or so (~ 1km) up this trail are the cascades.
It’s a relatively small set of falls but there is a nice viewing area which would make a good picnic spot on a longer hike (like the Smokemont Loop).
Campsite 50 is also one of the easiest backcountry sites to reach in the park. Just over a mile each way and relatively flat. There are three fire pits set up there.
These falls are both located along a four mile section of the Mountains to Sea Trail in the Grandfather Mountain District of Pisgah Forest. That puts them somewhere north of Marion and southeast of Linville, and realistically you’re going to want a map. We left from the Hunt Fish Falls trail head from where it’s 0.7 miles (1.1 km) all downhill to the top of Hunt-Fish Falls.
There is a lovely swimming hole below the first two drops of the falls and above a final chute. This is quite kid friendly as it’s effectively a zero-entry beach into the pool.
If you continue along the MST, it follows the main stream to a wide campground area, crosses it and then goes up along a tributary called the Gragg Prong. There are three sets of falls between here and the next road crossing (Roseborough Rd.) This is not an easy trail in mid-summer. It is somewhat overgrown, there are stream crossings and rooty washed-out hill climbs. It’s between 2 and 2.5 miles from the Hunt Fish trailhead to Lower Gragg Prong Falls which looks like this.
This is a beautiful remote canyon section with great rocks for sunning. It is not as kid-friendly as Hunt Fish and it’s a scramble down the falls to the rocks which would probably be quite treacherous in higher water.
Further upstream there is another good section of rocks and cascades which we will call Middle Gragg Prong Falls for lack of a better name. There is an Upper falls but we were doing an out and back and had spent so long playing in the river that we didn’t have time for that on this particular hike.
Long Branch Falls is an easily accessible waterfall in Pisgah Forest. At some point in the past few years it seems to have appeared on CMC’s Waterfall Challenge list. I was about 3 years late in noticing this but better late than never. Since we had already done a short hike to Saddle Gap and a visit to the Fish Hatchery, we thought we’d stop by to see this one.
Hark! The first trillium of the year (for us). Long Branch Falls is located on Long Branch (surprise!) just before it empties into the Davidson river. It can be reached by parking at Forest Road 5095 and following the road about 1 mile to the obvious crossing of Long Branch. 5095 is several miles west of the fish hatchery but before you reach Gloucester Gap. When you reach the crossing, you should be able to hear the falls in the forest to your right. We could actually catch a glimpse of it since there was not full foliage yet.
It’s a short but very steep scramble up the near side of the creek to reach an obvious level area between the upper and lower falls. The upper bit seems to be the highlight and that’s what we have pictured here.
These two falls are located a short distance apart just upstream of the confluence with the Chattooga. To reach them, take Village Creek Rd. off of SC-107, then Nicholson Ford road until it ends at the Foothills Trail parking area. It’s about a half mile west(north) along the Foothills Trail to reach the Chattooga Trail.
Pigpen Falls (on Pigpen Creek) is located right where the two trails meet. This is a nice little falls with a good safe swimming hole at the base. It was also rather full of very small trout when we visited.
Apart from the trout we also saw this crayfish in the very clear waters of the creek. Pretty impressive amount of mica as well. Licklog falls is located just downstream from Pigpen falls (south on the Chattooga Trail). It is more impressive than Pigpen but more difficult to get a view of. There is a goat path trail down to the confluence with the Chattooga, it is past Licklog falls right at the point where the trail makes a hard left turn.
If you continue just a little further down the Chattooga Trail, there is river access via a series of five or six campsite with good views and good access to the water.
Brasstown Falls is located on Brasstown Creek south of US 76. Oconee County has good signage to the waterfalls from the Long Creek vicinity. From the parking area it barely qualifies as a hike at all. There are yellow blazes on the official trail and about 100 unofficial trails leading to all sorts of campsites and unofficial vantage points.
If you stay on the actual trail, it will bring you to the middle of the three falls that makes up this cascade. It’s a pretty series of drops with a lot of access points.
Near the bottom of the middle falls, we saw a lot of people out on the ledges, there were also swimmers at the pool at the base of the middle falls. Since the roughly 40 foot drop of the lower falls is almost immediately downstream, it made us a bit nervous about swimming there (especially with a small child).
We went back upstream, waded across the side creeks and went to the pool at the upper falls, which is the nicest swimming hole (in our opinion) anyway. There are about a dozen campsites in the area as well, they do seem to be sanctioned by the forest service and they were in use when we visited.
Riley Moore Falls is located west of Westminster, SC. There are signs off of US 76 as well as some other roads but once you get back onto the forest (dirt) roads, there are no further signs. If you do not have a high clearance vehicle, don’t try to get all the way to the trail head, the road isn’t that rough but it has some substantial humps. From the trail head it’s about 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) to the river. You can roughly double that if you’re parking at the beginning of the road to the falls.
The trail is easy and it deposits you at an amazing swimming hole with a sandy beach! Not only that, it’s shaded (the beach portion) in the afternoon. The pool was a few inches deep on our visit around the edges but there are some much deeper sections.
The base of the waterfall is slippery as you’d expect but a fun place to play around within reason. We saw quite a few people climbing on the falls as well which we don’t recommend because we never recommend climbing on waterfalls (unless maybe there’s a top rope). We do recommend playing in the pool at this one though.
Table Rock State Park is one of the many South Carolina State Parks crammed into the northwest corner of the state along SC Route 11. Table Rock itself is a huge exposed cliff visible from outside the park and a couple of overlooks near the top of the road loop inside the park. The Carrick Creek Nature Loop is a roughly 2 mile loop that leaves from the trail head across from the beach parking. The loop follows a creek in either direction with a short, steep saddle crossing in the middle to jump between the two drainages.
There are literally dozens of waterfalls here along with otter slide type features and deeper pools. You’re almost never out of sight of one of the creeks on this hike. There are several trails in Table Rock and they tend to run together closer to the road so pay attention to the blaze colors at the trail head.
This pretty falls is perhaps 0.1 miles from the road, it’s the first landmark you come to regardless of which trails you are heading out on and there’s a nice little viewing area.
We did this hike as an out and back from Beauty Spot to Deep Gap and back. That’s roughly 2 miles each way. First and foremost this hike was about flowers. Tons of them. It was like a living guide to Appalachian wildflowers. There is only one other place we have ever seen as many trillium as we did here and that was not all that far away, just north of the Smokies along the A.T.
Heading northbound from Beauty Spot quickly brings you down to Beauty Spot Gap, which is basically a fence and a near-road junction. There is no real parking here, the parking area is up at Beauty Spot. The hike follows the state line more or less and eventually reaches another open meadow area and another near road junction. That would be this meadow here with a nice view of Unaka Mountain in the distance.
Beauty Spot incidentally is just a bald mountain with stellar views of the surrounding ranges, including Unaka, Roan, the Blacks in North Carolina, the Balds along the border and the valleys down to Erwin, Tennessee. Here Alaric is facing into a stiff headwind. It seems like it may always be this windy up here. Beauty Spot is reachable by a moderately graded gravel road.
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.