Riverside / Bradley Creek

Anything involving Bradley Creek is a favorite summer hike for us as it involves multiple fords of Bradley Creek. Sometimes so many fords that it seems it might be easier to just walk down the river (it isn’t but it’s fun).

This hike starts at Turkeypen trailhead near Mills River. We took the South Mills Trail downhill to the suspension bridge which we did NOT cross this time but we do have a photo there anyway.

We continued along the Bradley Creek Trail (orange blazes) which soon involves fording the South Mills. This is still the stem of a ‘lollipop’ hike so we did this section at the end as well.

There’s a short but steep climb to Pea Gap, then a wet crossing of Pea Branch followed by the only really dry section of the hike as you descend to Bradley Creek. From here we branched off on Riverside trail. Riverside actually intersects with Bradley Creek at both endpoints making a loop.

Riverside trail crosses Bradley Creek multiple times and then crosses the South Mills multiple times. Some of these are challenging and were close to waist deep on me (I’m just over 6 feet tall).

Riverside Trail crossing Bradley Creek

This loop hike is about 7.5 miles in total. You could easily do it in reverse (counter-clockwise) which would be worth doing if you wanted to get most of the fording out of the way in the first two-thirds of the hike. The only real altitude comes going up to Pea Gap and then back to the trailhead at the very end.

Steel’s Creek Falls

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.

View of Steel's Creek from MST
View of Steel’s Creek from MST

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
Steel’s Creek Falls

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.

Rocks in Steel's Creek
Rocks in Steel’s Creek

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.

Hunt-Fish and Gragg Prong Falls

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.

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.

Lower Gragg Prong Falls

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.

Middle Gragg Prong

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

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.

Long Branch Falls
Long Branch Falls

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.

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.


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.


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.