South Mountains State Park is about halfway between Asheville and Charlotte, located off a confusing network of roads south of Morganton. Despite the relative difficulty in getting there, it was pretty crowded on the day we went.
The park has a dense network of trails in the eastern half. By far the biggest draw is High Shoals Falls which is about a mile or so from the parking area. Several different sources bill this hike as easy. While it’s short it actually involves a lot of climbing on uneven, slippery stairs.
Technically, there’s no swimming at the falls although we saw about 20 people directly in front of the no swimming sign. There are a multitude of decent swimming holes along the trail though which generally follows the bank of the river.
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.
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.
After the short hike to Roaring Fork Falls we drove over to the Black Mountain campground. The setrock trail branches off of a campground road and once the trail starts it’s only about a quarter mile to the falls.
There’s a shallow rocky pool at the bottom of setrock falls so it’s not as good for swimming as roaring fork is. From here, we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway
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.
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.
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.
Rufus Morgan falls is located on an isolated loop trail on the east side of Siler Bald. The forest road access to the trail is off of Wayah Rd and it’s about the only maintained trail in that area.
The trail is a loop of about a half mile on either side with a decent elevation gain up to the falls. The main falls can be seen in the background where the trail crosses the creek.
Up close, it’s impossible to see the entire cascade at once but the main drop is impressive and it’s about 5-10 degrees cooler in this little cove than the surrounding forest. There isn’t much of a pool at the bottom of this one.
Probably everyone who has ever been here has a picture involving this prominent rock. Now we do too. Trout usually wanders out of the frame before a picture is taken but for some reason he wandered into this one and sat down nicely in the center.
Big Laurel Falls is located deep into the Standing Indian area of the Nantahala National Forest. If you drive in past the campground, across the creek and a few miles further on – the trailhead is along the right side of the road.
Melanie isn’t tired yet in this picture – the crossing of Betty Creek is only a few hundred yards into the hike but I couldn’t get her standing up and the stream under the bridge at the same time.
It’s a short (0.6 mile) and pleasant hike along a couple different streams to Big Laurel falls. The falls themselves form a nice pool which one might consider swimming in if one is somehow immune to hypothermia. Maybe it’s better later in the summer but even Trout wasn’t willing to stand in this one for too long.
It’s a fairly easy rock scramble to get to the mid level of these falls but we’re probably supposed to mention that waterfalls are dangerous and you shouldn’t mess around with them. Don’t try this at home if you happen to have a 25 foot cascade at home.
Just a half mile or so further down the forest road from the Laurel Falls trailhead is a pull-off for Mooney Falls. You should be able to see the falls off the south side of the road as you approach. It’s just a couple switchbacks down to the river but the canyon is narrow and overgrown through here so it’s difficult to get a view of the entire cascade. This picture is probably less than half of the total drop.
On Memorial Day, we bravely hazarded the stretch of US 276 through Pisgah Forest between Looking Glass Falls (approximate number of cars parked here = 40) and Sliding Rock. This is the location of the Moore Cove trail which is a 0.7 mile spur up to the falls.
This was after a day and half of rain so presumably the falls is often just a trickle. The trail mostly follows the creek upstream crossing on wooden bridges several times. There are other smaller falls in the vicinity as well.
The ‘cove’ portion of the falls is quite impressive on its own. There is substantial space inside the overhang.
The location of the falls is well-shaded and the water was frigid but it was worth standing in nonetheless. Trout, of course, only stood in the falls long enough to get damp before finding some mud to lie in. We had intended to change into more serious hiking footwear after this trail and visit something a little more obscure but the rain moved back in shortly after we got back to the car and hasn’t really stopped since.
We took the scenic route back from Danville along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our intent had been to hike in the Linville area but it just kept raining and raining. Finally we gave up and decided we were just going to get a little wet. How bad can the half-mile hike to Linville Falls be anyway?
The falls are quite impressive, especially after several hours of rain. There is an upper view point (just below those very top cascades in this picture) but by then we were soaked in a persistent downpour so we figured we might as well keep going.
Here are Melanie and Trout at the overlook. Trout didn’t seem to consider this a proper sort of hike. He would’ve been more than happy to jump in a river and swim around but he’s not thrilled to be rained on.
How much did it rain? A lot. Notice that you can’t see my toes in this picture and I’m standing on the trail. There were pools of water six inches deep – but, we did get at least one small hike in.
This was actually sort of a composite day in the Pisgah Ranger District. We started out hiking along the MST from Big Ridge Overlook. It looks pretty impressive and much like most of the overlooks around here.
After this hike we went down to Slick Rock Falls which is an easily accessible waterfall. It’s visible from a dirt road in the Looking Glass area. In fact the trail (which we also hiked) goes up to several of the rock climbing routes on the west side of Looking Glass rock.
Little River Canyon has two components. The falls here are sort of in the middle. The northern section has no road access so we didn’t explore it on this trip. The southern section has a road running along the west side of the canyon. Also – we don’t have kids, but if we did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t let them stand on the edge of these falls – although they’d be allowed to kayak it if they had a good roll 🙂
Elsewhere in the canyon are numerous cascades and small waterfalls. Grace’s High Falls (shown here) are the highest in the canyon.
Little River Canyon has only been part of the National Park system for 8 or 9 years. Signage is not particularly good. There are a few overlooks along the canyon and some very select spots where hiking trails descend to the canyon floor. There’s also about two dozen unmarked pull-outs used by kayakers and climbers. The only place to get an actual map of the park is at the Canyon Mouth Park which is at the south end. The road up the rim from Canyon Mouth park is covered in warning signs, but other than being steep and full of switchbacks (as you’d expect), it’s not that bad.
From the canyon mouth you can hike up the river. There’s an assortment of good swimming holes and it was pretty crowded on a Sunday. About a mile or so upstream we stopped passing other people and eventually spent some time in the river. Trout in particular was happy to get in the water.
This hike follows the less popular trail from the Margarette Falls trail head near Bethany, Tennessee in Cherokee NF.
The half mile gravel road that leads in from the parking lot to the trailheads has a high salt content in places and attracts butterflies. These are pipevine swallowtails.
The Phillips Hollow trail is dark blue blazed and leads across dry creek and up along the north bank. Ultimately, this trail leads all the way up to the A.T. at the top of the ridge which is a very strenuous hike. In the lower portions, to say that there are a few waterfalls might be an understatement.
At the first major stream crossing, a light blue blazed trail leads south across the stream and then winds up the valley with Dry Creek. This would be the same Dry Creek (still poorly named) that Margarette Falls in on, although a different branch. This trail is not listed on our map of Cherokee National Forest and the Cherokee NF website is more or less useless when it comes to trail identification. Instead your best bet are some rocks at the trail junction which have been painted with names and arrows. The trail up Dry Creek is identified on the rocks as Shoot Creek for reasons we can’t possibly explain. Either way the further you go up this trail, the more impressive the waterfalls get and the more difficult the path becomes. About 0.3 miles in, the trail crosses Dry Creek between ledge falls.
There are plenty of good swimming holes along the way. In fact, in several places it’s a lot easier to walk up the stream than it is to follow the trail over and around rhododendrons. Somewhere along the way is Spruce Thicket Falls, which seems to be the only named falls. We’re not sure which one it is but there is a 35 foot series of cascades about .6 miles in. Above this, it becomes really difficult to travel further upstream.
Melanie became fascinated with the wide range of mushrooms along the way and might eventually put up a gallery of images on the site. In the meantime, we’re mostly certain (after some time with the mushroom field guide) that this is a Yellow Patches. If it isn’t, some mycologist out there can correct us.
The trailhead for this hike is in the vicinity of Greystone, TN. It’s not the easiest place to find but there is a big parking lot once you arrive. A gravel road leads about a half mile through a private land easement into Cherokee National Forest where trails split off in all directions. Several of these trails go up to the AT near Camp Creek Bald. For Margarette Falls, basically follow the main stream of water, although the trail itself is blue-blazed and mostly easy to follow. There are at least 4 stream fordings along the way and numerous small waterfalls. There are also a couple decent pools for swimming if you’re so inclined. About .6 miles up from the trail junctions the canyon will narrow and there is an enormous rock spire on the south bank called Cathedral Rock.
Just upstream from Cathedral Rock is Margarette Falls which is about a 50 foot drop, most of it in a single cascade.
There’s a very nice deep hole at the base of the falls. On our hike this water was far too cold for swimming, unless maybe you’re a dog.
The trail ends at Margarette Falls but our hike did not. To continue upstream of Margarette the easiest path is to scramble up the hillside on the north bank of the creek, cross the rock outcropping, and come back down the hill to the creek upstream of the falls. (Usual Warning: The top of the falls is slick and very dangerous, you should give it a wide berth if you are hiking further upstream.) Once above the falls, it’s easiest to ford back across to the south bank and bushwhack your way along the banks. Why would you do this? About a tenth of a mile upstream the two branches of Dry Creek come together. Here you’ll find the 8 foot Glen Falls which is pretty but not spectacular.
Glen Falls is nice but not really a reason by itself to deal with circumventing Margarette Falls. The reason for that is another 0.1 miles up the stream. If you’re standing at Glen Falls, that would be the branch on the left (i.e. the one that isn’t a waterfall). There is no way up but by canyoneering – walking, climbing, and swimming directly up the stream. On our trip there were several pools that were 4 to 6 feet deep. The rock walls of the canyon lend themselves nicely to traversing if you have even the most basic rock climbing or bouldering skills (or want to start). In warmer weather, it wouldn’t be an issue to just swim the pools. Not far upstream by distance (but a decent amount of effort) is the 45 foot high Bailey Falls which has at least three drops before pouring into the narrow canyon shown here. Note that this would be a very bad place to be if a flash flood were possible.
If you happen to do this hike with a dog make sure he can swim. I ended up lifting Trout up over several of the steeper ledges anyway.