Category Archives: Pisgah NF

Horsepasture River (upstream)

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.

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

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.

Turtleback Falls
Turtleback Falls

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.

Trail at Turtleback Falls
Trail at Turtleback Falls

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.

Drift Falls
Drift Falls

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.

Skinny Dip Falls

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.

Skinny Dip Falls
Skinny Dip Falls

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.

Skinny Dip Falls
Skinny Dip Falls

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.

MST at Skinny Dip Falls
MST at Skinny Dip Falls

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).

Laughing Falls

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.

Laughing Creek
Laughing Creek

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.

Douglas Falls

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.

Douglas Falls
Douglas Falls

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.

Eastatoe / Dill Falls

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.

eastatoe_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.

dill_falls

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.

balsam_lake

Toms Creek Falls

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.

Trail along Tom's Creek
Trail along Tom’s Creek

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.

Tom's Creek Falls
Tom’s Creek Falls

Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls is now a relatively accessible hike. The Foothills Conservancy has put in a nice new trailhead with ample parking and pit restrooms at the end of Catawba Falls Rd. near Old Fort.

Catawba Headwaters

The trail is gentle for most of the hike and follows the Catawba up towards the falls. There is a crossing of the main stream a short distance from the parking area. This can be rock-hopped at normal or low water levels.

Dam near Catawba Falls

There are several falls in this area. Lower Catawba Falls is actually almost impossible to see in the summer due to trees. We don’t have a very good picture of it so here is the river flowing through an old dam instead. There are a couple of old dams along this hike and several ruined power stations and out buildings. This area is a relatively new inclusion to Pisgah National Forest.
The upper falls is not officially accessible on this trail but there is a trail up from the lower falls. I’m told it is dangerous and difficult requiring aid from fixed ropes. Not something we would attempt with the baby carrier.

Luna Moth

From the parking area to the lower falls is about a mile and a quarter. Most of the altitude gain is at the very end, or beyond the very end if you’re continuing to upper falls.

High Falls – South Mills River

High Falls of the South Mills river. It’s a beautiful spot especially with rhododendrons in bloom. There’s quite a lot to say about this one.
First of all, the name is just terrible, this is one of the least ‘high falls’ in Pisgah forest.
It’s also pretty remote. On a hot day when the cars at Looking Glass and Sliding Rock were parked a mile down the road, there was no one at all here. Of course, that may be because there are no marked trails to get here.

High Falls of the South Mills River

The ‘unmaintained’ trails are pretty well marked though and while fairly strenuous hiking, there isn’t much altitude change. The easiest way to get here is to come down the South Mills trail from the Wolf Ford road on the east side of the Pink Beds. At the S. Mills River crossing, follow the unofficial trail up Billy Branch (you can see the confluence from the bridge). Shortly up that trail there is an easy crossing of Billy Branch and the trail returns to the S. Mills. There is also a harder crossing of Billy Branch immediately after leaving S. Mills trail if you’re impatient and like climbing mud banks. This trail crosses one saddle but otherwise stays along the mills eventually crossing it. The crossing is wet and slippery. The falls is not far past that. The river trail does continue to Wolf Ford where it branches with both options rejoining the South Mills trail in different places.

Kelty baby carrier

And now – a complete and utter digression about baby carriers. Those of you who could care less about baby carriers can just quit reading right now.
We normally take Alaric for hikes in an Ergo backpack carrier. It’s comfortable (for me), has a similar feel to a well packed backpack and there’s no real danger to him. On the negative side, he can’t see much beyond my shoulders.
On this hike we tried a Kelty carrier (see picture). It has a crazy high center of balance. Alaric is free to lean over one side and then the other so it’s like 20 pounds of randomly shifting gear. His head is as high as mine so low branches are an issue. All that twisting and crouching gets tiring, but he liked being able to see more. So basically, I’d consider using this carrier again but not on a narrow trail or a hike with any sort of bushwhacking / orienteering and difficult footing. On those I’m sticking with the Ergo.

Coontree Mountain

For this hike we parked at the Pisgah Forest stables. We did this apparently because we like to be bothered by horseflies while getting our stuff together. We followed the road to the Bennett Gap trail, followed it north through the junctions with the Coontree loop and continued on to a random highpoint past Coontree Mountain somewhere along Bennett Gap trail. From there we backtracked to Perry Cove and followed that trail back to Avery Creek. The views are probably better in the winter but they aren’t bad. John Rock and Looking Glass Rock are well-situated. This is the view to the northeast towards Clawhammer Mountain.

View from Coontree

This is a good hike to do if you hate your ankles and wish to punish them. Maybe your knees as well. The ascent up Bennett Mountain is actually long but relatively gentle. Once the trail merges with Coontree Loop there are a couple ascents that probably register on the rock climbing difficulty scales. There’s another of those ascents after the saddle that the Perry Cove trail comes out of. North of Perry Cove the trail is along a narrow rocky cliff edge where we stopped to rest and take in the semi-obstructed views.

Bennett Gap Trail

Perry Cove is a wicked descent. We did the hike in this order after looking at it on a topo map. I don’t think I’d really want to climb up Perry Cove. It’s an interesting trail though that covers hardwood cove, some open meadows, several wet stream crossings, old road beds and some great wildflower vales. This is a showy orchus. There is only one plant in this picture so that I don’t have to figure out what the plural of ‘orchus’ is.

Showy Orchus

The loop plus the viewpoint is probably around 4 – 4.5 miles with around 1100 feet of ascent.

Courthouse and Bird Rock Falls

Our first interesting hike since the arrival of our son (the prior hike was deemed ‘experimental’ in nature). Courthouse Falls is a favorite of ours. There are several trails to it, or if the road is good and you’re bringing along grandparents, you can just take FR 140B in Pisgah until you reach the trail head. From there it’s about a 10 minute hike. The falls is there in the background of this picture.

Courthouse Falls

From there we visited a new falls (to us). Bird Rock Falls is located near the grounds of the Living Waters Ministry on NC 215 south of Courthouse Falls. It may also be called Cathedral Falls, or possibly they are different things. We aren’t sure. Either way right at the ministry there is a trail down from the road (you’ll hear the falls). There are several cascades into what has to be a great swimming hole.

Cathedral Falls

A trail runs along the river passing several more great swimming holes, a small cave and then it turns away from the road and eventually comes out at this impressive cliff wall. Besides the nice falls in the foreground, there is water coming off the cliff in several places as well. This is a great place to wander around but the rocks are slippery as one might expect around waterfalls.

Bird Rock Falls

Fryingpan Tower

We’ve passed Fryingpan Mountain about 100 times without ever hiking up to the tower on top. It’s located just about a mile down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Pisgah Inn.

Fryingpan Tower

The hike is a little less than a mile up a forest road, not particularly interesting in itself. The tower was closed for renovations when we went up there but the view is still impressive, especially during the peak of Autumn colors. The view below is looking south towards Pilot Mountain.

View from Fryingpan

Besides being an easier hike the view is much better than from Mt. Pisgah which is completely covered in large towers.

Sam Branch and Wash Hollow

These two falls are only about a 10 minute hike in from NC 215 and are practically visible from one another. It’s a little difficult to find the unmarked trail to them though. There are better descriptions out there but if you look at any good hiking map of NC 215 north of the Blue Ridge Parkway there is a hairpin turn just west of where Sam Branch and Wash Hollow meet. You can park in this turn and just up the road from there is a very steep trail up the embankment. After the initial climb, it’s quite an easy trail to the falls on Sam Branch.

Falls on Sam Branch

The falls at Sam Branch is a long series of cascades down an irregular cliff. The trail approaches this waterfall pretty much right in the middle. The continuing trail is directly across the waterfall from where the trail ends. At high water this is probably an impossible crossing. This is where we say waterfalls are dangerous. This is a relatively advanced crossing and depending on the location one choses to do it, there can be pretty serious consequences for a slip or missed jump. People die on waterfalls in western NC every year. If you die on a waterfall we can guarantee the Asheville Citizen Times will jump all over the story and run it for three or four days while assorted people who never leave their couch will ridicule you in the commentary section. You don’t want that, so don’t attempt to reach Wash Hollow Falls if Sam Branch has a lot of water in it.

Falls on Wash Hollow

Having said all that, Wash Hollow is a very nice location. There’s a lovely pool at the bottom and plenty of rocks and logs for a picnic. This is also the end of the trail. You can reach the top of these falls but it’s steep, treacherous and the view is much better from the bottom anyway.

Cedar Rock Falls

Cedar Rock Falls

Cedar Rock Creek Falls is an easy waterfall to find and an easy hike as Pisgah waterfalls go. It’s located about 0.8 miles south of the Davidson River Fish Hatchery. Park there, cross the bridge and take the trail immediately to the right. Following Cat Gap trail it’s pretty much impossible not to notice the falls down in a cove on the left side of the trail.

Cedar Rock Creek Falls

This falls seems to make a lot more noise than you’d expect for the size of it. It has a nice pool at the bottom that we had no interest in attempting after a 40(F)-degree night in the forest. There is also a sheltered cave just before the falls.

Middle Prong Wilderness

The Middle Prong Wilderness is the less-visited half of the Balsams. Shining Rock – just across 215 gets far more hikers. We’ve climbed Mt. Hardy in the past but from the other direction (Blue Ridge Parkway). This time we approached from NC 215.

MST in Middle Prong

 The Mountains-to-Sea Trail winds up to the ridge north of Mt. Hardy.   This is actually a fairly confusing area as the long trail to Green Knob and Sunburst branches off as well as several short trails to lookouts and campgrounds.   There are no blazes due to the status as a Wilderness Area so it’s pretty easy to get turned around.    The ridges towards Green Knob have spectacular views of the Balsam Mountains just to the east.

Twin Falls – Pisgah NF

Twin Falls, located in Pisgah Ranger District a bit north of the Davidson River campground is actually much more impressive than we expected. There are several ways to get there. We did it by parking at the horse stables off of FS 477 and hiking up the road to the Avery Creek Trail. This follows Avery Creek to a junction with Buckner Gap Trail. A mile or two up this trail is the Twin Falls branch trail, although there seem to be quite a few ‘extra’ trails around as well.

Twin Falls

The trail ends in a canyon with cliffs on three sides. Hundred foot waterfalls pour into the canyon from opposite corners. It was really difficult to get pictures of the falls as both of them complete the drop in several distinct cascades. Definately a worthwhile hike though.

Silvermine Bald

From the Black Balsam parking lot, it’s about a 5 to 6 mile loop along the Little Sam trail to Chestnut Bald and then back around to the Balsams on the MST and the Art Loeb Trail.

Berry Field
Berry Field

In early August, we were able to collect a bit more than a pint of wild blueberries. We could have almost any number of blackberries if we’d wanted as well but we have plenty of those in the meadow at home.

View towards Looking Glass Rock
View towards Looking Glass Rock

This is the view south from the saddle between Chestnut Bald and Silvermine Bald, neither of which are particularly bald these days. There are good views further along the Art Loeb Trail and also good open meadow campsites.

Toms Springs Falls and Catheys Creek Falls

These two falls are located in the southwestern part of the Pisgah Ranger District. Toms Springs Falls, besides being hard to pronounce has about 4 other names depending on the map you use. It’s not particularly difficult to get to, there’s a trailhead a bit west of the fish hatchery and it’s a half mile hike along an old forest road to the falls. It’s fairly impressive but there’s not really a good spot to sit at the base of it or swim in a pool.

Toms Springs Falls
Toms Springs Falls

Catheys Creek Falls is located right along side Catheys Creek Road. There are a series of cascades visible if you walk along the precipitous edge of the road and peer over. Well below most of the drops there’s a tiny pull-off, big enough for one car and a goat path leading down to the river. This picture is just the bottom section of the falls, most of it is not visible here. We couldn’t find a decent vantage point of the whole thing. Trout was disappointed to discover that Catheys Creek isn’t a good spot for swimming either. There’s a small pool here but more rocky drops just below it.

Catheys Creek Falls
Catheys Creek Falls

Gage Bald

This entry could be called Round Butt Bald because that’s the mountain we circled but since we didn’t summit it that seemed wrong.

Wet Camp Gap
Wet Camp Gap

From Bearpen Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway we took the connector trail to the Mountains-to-Sea trail and followed that to Wet Camp Gap. Wet Camp is a high open meadow filled with blueberries, blackberries and assorted wildflowers. There’s also a small pond in the center but it was mostly empty on our visit except for a couple remnant pools that were packed with tadpoles.

Summit of Gage Bald
Summit of Gage Bald

There’s an unofficial but easy-to-find trail leading southwest out of Wet Camp Gap. This eventually becomes a steep manway to the summit of Gage Bald where there are excellent views of the surrounding mountains. We had a bit of a picnic up here. By the way, these little sling chairs are incredibly light but they’re a bit tricky to set up and it’s definately a learned skill to get out of them with any modicum of grace.

Swallowtail and flame azalea
Swallowtail and flame azalea

Usually we expect to be scratched up after any sort of bushwhacking. We were after this hike but it wasn’t from Gage Bald, it was actually from the MST heading around Round Butt Bald back to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Haywood Gap. This section is narrow and treacherous, especially overgrown with blackberries and nettles. At the high point on this trail we considered hiking up to the summit of Round Butt Bald. The east approach to the top was pretty much a wall of blackberries and after donating some blood to them we abandoned the attempt and decided to try some other time in a less-summery season (like say, winter).

Green Knob

Green Knob is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway a little north of Mt. Mitchell State Park.

Green Knob Firetower
Green Knob Firetower

It’s a half mile hike from the parkway or it can be reached from the Black Mountain campground which is much longer and more arduous. There’s not much of a view on the way up but the tower is situated to give a spectacular view of the Black Mountains.Inside Green Knob Fire Tower

Inside Green Knob Fire Tower
Inside Green Knob Fire Tower

 The tower is open to hikers and slightly more comfortable than the rocks below it.    The top of the trail is overgrown in the summer and requires a bit of pushing through rhododendrons.  The view is also partially occluded in June, so it’s probably a better trip in early Spring or late Autumn.

Roaring Fork Falls

Roaring Fork Falls is located in the valley east of the Black Mountains.  There is parking just outside the Busick Work Center and after about a half mile of forest road, the trail to the falls leaves across a footbridge.

Roaring Fork Falls
Roaring Fork Falls

 The falls is a long series of cascade dropping about 100 feet total.  There is a particularly nice pool at the bottom if you can get over the frigid water temperatures. 

Roaring Fork Falls
Roaring Fork Falls

On our visit it was a relatively sunny day but the waterfall is located in a deep narrow valley and not a lot of light makes it down there.   The log on the right side of this picture is actually bolted to the rock.  We’re not really sure why as the view isn’t any better.