Paradise has been found…..at least for this Waterfalls hiker. In an effort to treat my fiancé to a special weekend getaway, my searches led me to the Greystone Inn. The reviews alone were amazing. The price, well, it is certainly out of my range most times of the year. Thanks to modern, mobile coupon sites, I was able to come across a deal that was essentially buy one night, get the second night free. Even that hurts the wallet, but if you ever have wanted to experience a weekend like those considered “wealthy”, then this is the ticket. My advice…..watch Groupon & Living Social for the Greystone promotions. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, the weekend before Halloween. We were experiencing our first real cold snap of the year and lows that night were forecast to be in the low 20′s…brrrr. We had just enough time to unpack and attend what turned out to be one of my favorite activities of the weekend….the Champagne Cruise on Lake Toxaway. Ironically featured on the cover of “Our State” magazine for October, this event is special. A replica boat like the one used many years ago, heads out for a one hour trip around Lake Toxaway, the largest all-private lake in NC. I had seen this lake and river in previous hikes, but never like this. The boat is named the “Miss Lucy” …..and the trip is led by the general manager whose father is responsible for the restoration of the Greystone Inn back in the 1980′s. It suffered many years of inactivity. Lake Toxaway was even destroyed by historic floods from a hurricane. If you want more history, it is best to come here and take the cruise and experience it for yourself. The boat was a smooth ride. It was also fully closed in with plexiglass so the 45 degree temperature was not an issue. Fall colors were in peak this weekend and this was a beautiful ride. We were also blessed with seeing 2 white squirrels, a very special creature in the Brevard, NC area and surrounding communities. I also mentioned that it was a champagne cruise, and having a couple glasses of champagne was a wonderful touch. Here are some photos from the Greystone..
As you can tell, the lake was beautiful. The Halloween decorations were very nice, and there is a beautiful golf course there for your enjoyment. I left my clubs at home on purpose…lol All things considered, I really feel we picked probably the best time of the year to experience this. Another note worth mentioning is that breakfast and fine dinners are included in the package. The full 6 course dinners alone were something that I had never experienced. Plan to dress nice for these, men are required to wear dinner jackets. For me, this was text book “fish out of water”. I survived just fine though…lol
The 2 dinners we experienced were unforgettable, with excellent fine food, service, and a beautiful Lake Toxaway view.
This place is special, very special. There is something that really puts it up there for me though. The Greystone Inn is in the heart of NC waterfall country. It could not be more centrally located. I do not have an exact # but there has to be over 100 waterfalls with a half hour drive any direction from here, many within minutes. Unfortunately I did not have the time to visit all of these, as it wasn’t my
primary reason for this weekend. I did take my fiancé on a short hike Saturday morning. You see, this location is 5 minutes from the Waterfall/Hiking Paradise known as Panthertown Valley. I have a waterproof map for this place and have made it it 7 of the 20 or so waterfalls here. I still have much work to do. I was to choose one, and that would be Schoolhouse Falls. It is a moderate 2-3 mile round trip hike along trails and old logging roads to one of my favorite NC waterfalls along Greenland Creek. Just downstream a little ways Greenland Creek merges with Panthertown Creek to form the Tuckasegee River. Schoolhouse Falls is only about a 20 foot waterfall, but what is lacks in size, it more than makes up in character, with a large pool, beautiful views from the side or front. It can also be enjoyed from behind, but not on this day as it was slowly recovering from a 23 degree morning low. There was ice…. already in a few places at this waterfall, in October. Here are some shots of Schoolhouse Falls and the hike to get there…
Notice, just a little ice at at the edge of the pool and at the waterfall a few small icicles coming off the rock. It was a chilly morning, but still beautiful. I was curious when we ran into several campers near Schoolhouse Falls. How did they survive that night without freezing? It goes to show either how advanced today’s camping gear is….. orhow hardcore these crazy campers were, maybe some of both . Leaving Schoolhouse Falls, we encountered several Greystone Inn guests hiking towards the falls wearing pretty dress shoes and pretty slacks and sweaters. I also remember seeing this on my last visit to Schoolhouse Falls, prior to ever hearing about the Greystone Inn. I can remember thinking…..what were these people thinking, coming into the wilderness all dressed up like this?? Now I know….lol….because at the desk in the Greystone, they will print out the directions to Schoolhouse Falls for guests. They also printed up directions for me to follow the Toxaway River Trail upstream to Raven Rock Falls, still in my “Yet to see/Must see” list. These directions were long and strenuous. I know there is an easier way from Cold Mountain road way above, just haven’t gotten to it yet.
After lunch, I decided to treat my lady to an afternoon at the spa, with a facial and some kind of mud bath or something. The Greystone Inn has a very nice elegant spa with many options available. She loved it and it was probably one of her favorite times of our trip….ironically, without me….lol. What it did do for me is allow me some time to do some more hiking. I knew Gorges State Park was 10 minutes away, and that I had not been to Rainbow Falls in nearly 2 years. I had also always wanted to see it in peak leaf season. I did not hesitate. Once there, I was pleased by the changes I saw. The visitor center for one, was not open the last time I was there. It is very impressive . It is all about waterfalls, and educating visitors on them. They focus not only on waterfalls in their park, but also surrounding areas. I really liked this place. They tease however…..show many photos of the beautiful Lower Bearwallow Falls within the park boundaries, only to tell you that it is elusive, very hard to get to with no official trail. I have seen other photos….people are getting to it.
On to Rainbow Falls, the parking area for Rainbow Falls & Trailhead for the Rainbow Falls Trail are in Gorges State Park, while the water falls are not. Many, many thanks to Gorges Stare park for this, as the old way to get here is now private property. There are at least 5 named waterfalls on the Horsepasture River in a fairly concentrated area. I took the touristy route today to the main 3. Reaching these requires nearly a 5 mile round trip hike on some moderate to some cases strenuous conditions. I a very pleased to report that many new steps have been put in key places to make the hike more user friendly. It is still tiring though. There is also a new viewing deck at Rainbow Falls.
I love this waterfall..probably my favorite NC…at least the ones I have seen. I explored it from bottom to top. It was especially pretty on this day with the colors. I was about 5 hours late for the Rainbow, which is best seen in the morning when the sun hits the mist from the falls just right.
After the strenuous climb to the top of Rainbow, Turtleback Falls is just upstream. Only 10-15 feet, but a beautiful riverwide drop with a large water flow. This rivals Duponts Hooker Falls for best 10 foot waterfall. In warmer weather, you will see people sliding over the falls, not this day though. I have heard of some waterfall sliders here sliding right over the 150 foot Rainbow Falls. Think twice before doing this one….
After Turtleback Falls, there is one more waterfall of note upstream…Drift Falls. It is about 1/4 mile upstream and fairly easy to reach. If you get this far, you are nearly back to NC 281 and near the old much shorter trail people used to enjoy this. Thanks Mr Mcneeley. Drift Falls used to be known as Bust Yer Butt Falls for those crazy enough to slide down it. Now, the propery line is at the base of the pool and the waterfall can only legally be seen from there. At least we have that though.
Well, after reuniting with my wife to be, we had another special dinner and spent some of Sunday at the visitors center in Gorges State Park as well as some shops in Brevard celebrating the White Squirrel. It was a special weekend that I hated to see end. Here are a few additional shots: Shower Falls on Cold Mountain Road, and Toxaway Falls from the Restaurant overlooking the falls. We also stopped in Valdese on the way home and enjoyed McGalliard Falls, a 40 foot cascade with old mill remains and a city park built around it.
It’s early fall in western NC again!! While we wait here in the piedmont for the leaves to change, the beautiful color transformation is already well underway in the mountains of NC, especially above 5000 ft. As I write this, color is moving down the mountains a little each day. This report is about a day trip taken 10/12/13. Gorgeous photos are beginning to pop up all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Streamzoo, and Flickr! I sit at my lunch break enjoying these shots while flipping through my schedule and and trying to find some time for me to get out there. They are only bright and vibrant for a short time. If you are caught sleeping, you could wake to a sea of brown with bare trees everywhere.
A few weeks back, a friend of mine named Gray went along with me on a hike into the Mount Mitchell area. We saw several waterfalls from Roaring Fork, to Grassy Creek, to Linville Falls. We also did the short climbs to the Mount Mitchell summit and to the iconic Wisemans View overlook. He was exhausted, yet here he is back for more. I decided to start out right today in an all-you-can-eat place in Asheville. This way no one would be hiking hungry. The day was fairly loosely planned. My main goal was to get to Graveyard Fields. At over 5000 feet high, this location is usually one of the early peakers. The photos of this waterfall in peak season that I had seen already were gorgeous. Yes, we would head here, then go from there. First stop in Brevard, like most times is Looking Glass Falls. It was jam packed already on this Saturday morning, but we stopped anyway. This was actually Gray’s first time seeing this beauty. It would just be wrong to drive by this one and keep going.
After a good leg stretch and a few shots, it was time to tackle the US 276 climb to the parkway. I told him we didn’t have time for all of this today but on this road was the trailhead to Looking Glass Rock, the trailhead to Moore Cove Falls, Sliding Rock, the Pink Beds Trail and more. One could easily spend a day on US 276, but we were not….Once at the parkway, we headed south. This is feature packed section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and in the 10 to 12 miles or so it takes to get to NC 215, one could easily spend another day. On our way to Graveyard Fields, we stopped for some early fall color overlooking Looking Glass Rock.
There are a number of places to stop on the parkway for a look at Looking Glass Rock. If you are ever at the official Looking Glass Overlook and see it full of cars with no one there, that is because across the parkway is a trailhead that connects with the MST and leads to Skinny Dip Falls. No time for this today either, so southbound we were. In a few miles, the beautiful parkway view of Second Falls
appears. This is Graveyard Fields, and the frustration of parking here on a Saturday is elevated. Plan to park along side the parkway and walk to the attraction. Good news, a larger parking lot project is in the planning stage. Once here, it is a short hike down to Second Falls and man was it worth it.
Instead of hiking on to Upper Falls, I wanted away from the crowd so we headed south again, next stop was the Devils Courthouse. This climb was a tad tough on my friend but he made it just fine. Once up there, we must have spent 20 minutes enjoying the views.
As Gray enjoys his last moments on the Devils Courthouse, I was planning our next move. My fiancé had suggested taking him to Duponte. While I cringe at the idea of visiting Dupont on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Gray had never been, so that was the rough plan. We had to get there first which meant a ride down NC 215, then back to Brevard for lunch. NC 215, just like US 276 connects the Blue Ridge Parkway to US 64. While much less known, there is almost just as much to do. Some attractions we would pass by on this road are Dill Falls, Courthouse Falls, and a number of falls on NC 215 heading north. I decided to show Gray the falls at Living Waters. Here , the main attraction is the meeting of the North Fork French Broad River and Shoal Creek. They fall over the same ledge forming French Broad Falls and Mill Shoals Falls. It makes for a beautiful scene.
Gray enjoyed these falls and his waterfall list is beginning to grow. I knew of a few more falls downstream, so we hiked down the trail on the left side of the river. The next stop is an unnamed cascade, I like to call “Pancake Falls”. I chose this because the rock ledge this falls over looks like a perfect stack of 3 pancakes. Gray likes to call it Painful Falls, as he took an unplanned swim here walking down to the base. The rock was ice slick, and the next thing I knew, my friend was waist deep in the river. It was at a calm spot in the river so I helped him out, made sure he was ok, then tried hard not to chuckle a little. It was a good thing it was a warm day.
Just down stream was 1 more waterfall, a very unique one called Cathedral Falls. It was once known as Bird Rock Falls as the river crashes 25 feet into a cave like hole cut into a cliff nearly 100 feet high. I have seen fishermen here several times fishing the “cave”.
After this, it was back to Brevard, for some lunch, and to Walmart so Gray could have some dry clothes. Dupont awaited us…When we arrived, it was jam packed just as I had thought. I was pleased to see that the Hooker Falls parking area has now been doubled. There is also a bridge crossing the Little River that is now part of the Triple Falls Trail. These guys have been busy here. There were some other things in progress, so things are looking up for Dupont. Maybe some more movies??
We made the initial short walk to Hooker Falls, it was beautiful as ever. After that the trip to Triple Falls, and down the steps. I counted 79 people out on the middle rock. It was getting later in the afternoon, there had to easily twice that amount about mid day. We then went to High Falls. This is one of my favorites, and can only be truly enjoyed by seeing the view from above, then walking the trail to the base and getting up as close as safely possible. Then, there you can see, hear and feel the power of this 125 foot beauty. I wanted to keep on the Bridal Veil Falls, another favorite, but it was getting late and my buddy was about worn out. We had hiked about 7 miles this day and you got to know when to say when….lol It was a great day, the color was peaking at Graveyard Fields, but just some, sporadic color once we got down from the Parkway. Until next time…….. I leave you with shots from Dupont
Sometimes it seems, the places we discover that we will treasure most, are the the ones we had no intentions of seeing in the first place. On a cloudy, cool, clammy day in mid to late October, my fiancé and I were simply heading to Abingdon, Va for the day. The GPS chose a route from NC, that took us through Boone, then into Tennessee to Mountain City, then to Into Virginia through a small but very cool town named Damascus. We chose the route that ran along what is known as the Virginia Creeper Trail, a very cool 34 mile bike trail that runs from Abingdon, Va to Whitetop, Va. Damascus is right in the middle of it and is known as “The Heart of the Va Creeper”. It is somewhat of a “bike town” with all kinds of places to rent bikes and equipment, get shuttle rides, you name it. There are a number of cool novelty gift shops around, some nice looking restaurants and some old train carts on display that used to run along the Va Creeper back in a time when it served a much more important purpose… Oh yes, I almost forgot, the Appalachian trail comes into Damascus along side the beautiful Laurel Creek. This Damascus also has the nickname of “AT Trailtown” and famous for its annual “Trail Days”, a large festival for hikers each year. Oh my, what have I discovered??
I will have to put the 34 mile bike ride and Trail Days Festival on hold for now as we were simply driving through. We did have a little time to kill and at an intersection in Damascus, was a sign pointing left to something called “Backbone Rock”. The name alone caught our attention, and after a short google search on the trusty iphone, we read that it was just 5 miles down the road with a short trail and even a waterfall. Now we are talking my language!! A left turn we made. We had been in Virginia a few miles now, so I was surprised that this short route took us back into Tennessee. We were greeted at Backbone Rock by driving under the main attraction, a hole blasted through a 10 foot thick wall of rock. As it turns out, this area was once blasted, to build the railroad through, to get from Damascus to Shady Valley. There is a part at the top of the tunnel that was hand chiseled to allow passage of the tall smokestack. Now, it is simply a tourist attraction. There is a short 1/3 mile or so trail that walks to the top of the rock, then the trail crosses the highway, and comes down a little ways on the other side. The views today with the peak leaf colors were spectacular, even with the cloudy skies. This trail is pretty flat on top with some rocks here and there to maneuver around and through. There are views looking either direction, to the surrounding Holston Mountain, highway, parking lot, and the Beaver Dam Creek which comes in on one side of Back Bone Rock and bends around it to go the opposite way.
These were some shots from the ground level, then it was time for the climb…. It was short, maybe a tad steep for some, but short is the key word. The peak height from the highway maybe 100 feet or so.
As you can see, the colors, mainly golds with a few reds for some contrast were quite nice. I would have like some blue sky thrown in there, but…….two out three ain’t bad. Once back down, there was this waterfall thing. Did I have enough time to make a short 0.2 hike? Just barely, so off I went. The
trail starts straight up, but the key here is again…short. After a leveling off and crossing
across the top, the trail heads down to the base. This is a forty foot waterfall called Backbone Falls. I have now seen some very nice photos of it. Mine are NOT….lol. It was very dark in here with unfortunately, a very low water flow, almost a trickle. Oh well, this means I have to come back after a good rain!
After the falls, we made out our way out and on to Abingdon. I will with a few more shots including some from Boone, Damascus, and Backbone Rock.
I have recently completed my 2nd day trip to Elk Park, N.C. and Elk Mills, Tn. to hike and view the two magnificent waterfalls on the Elk River. The two waterfalls are only 4 miles apart by river, but there is no trail that connects these that I have been made aware of. I can only assume this is due to private property issues or maybe the gorge is too rugged. So if one wants to see these two waterfalls, driving between the two and short hikes is how it must be done. However, the drive for this is at least 30 miles, and covers 2 states on its way to Hampton along US 321, then back to NC along US 19-E.
While driving these miles, one will pass or be near several of Eastern Tennessee’s finest attractions. I have learned that while attempting these two waterfalls, one could squeeze in the 1.3 mile hike to the 55 ft Laurel Falls, hike to The Balds of Roan Mountain, or Roan High Bluff and the Rhododendron Gardens. There are also quite a few miles to drive along Lake Wataugua. One of my favorite locations in this part of the state has to be the Blue Hole Falls. Blue Hole Falls is actually a set of 4 small very scenic waterfalls. It is on the southern end of Holston Mountain, and is accessed via Panhandle Road off of Tn 91. This is about 10 miles north of Elizabethton, TN. Once on Panhandle Road, drive up for 1 mile, parking is fairly obvious, on the left though not clearly marked. My first trip here, I missed this and was halfway up Holston Mountain on a very narrow road wondering where this Blue Hole was.
Once there, a number of trails will lead you to different views. The main one goes down, then left. A very strange and somewhat difficult set of steps leads you closer to the small creek.
At the bottom ofthe steps, are the waterfalls. While all of these are beautiful, falls 2 and 3 are especially scenic. Waterfall #2 is “hidden” from the trail. Once at the bottom, you can walk up into the almost cavelike hole this creek and waterfall have created. Waterfall #3 is the one named “The Blue Hole”.
The Blue Hole itself is simply a beautiful greenish-blue pool with a steady small waterfall pouring into it. There are some good rocks to stand or sit on to enjoy or photograph. Be careful though, waterfall #4 drops just below the blue hole. It is the steepest one of the 4 and would probably hurt the most in case of a slippage. It can only be enjoyed by hiking back to parking lot and taking a short rim trail at the top. This view up top is my favorite as it showcases The Blue hole and Waterfall #4. All in all, this is truly a gem of a place, a must if you are in the area, and worth taking a day trip to!!
This past Saturday, I took time to revisit the river where my love for waterfalls began. This meant a trip to the North Carolina-Tennessee state line area, just south and west of Boone, NC. This was a visit to the Elk River. About 6 or 7 years ago, while visiting family in Newland, NC for Christmas, 2 of my younger cousins had a wonderful idea. It just happened to be a warm spell in Newland and the temperature on Christmas day was 50 degrees, a heat wave for Newland. I was asked if I wanted to ride to see a waterfall….my answer was…why not?? I was taken a few miles up US 19-E to a town called Elk Park and then down a crazy, twisting mountain road called Elk River Rd. The waterfall I saw was Elk River Falls and I have loved them ever since.
The first thing that strikes me about the Elk River is how common the word “Elk” is with it and the towns it flows from, through, and to. After forming near Grandfather Mountain, it runs though the mountain town of Banner Elk. It then runs along side NC 194 to the town of Elk Park. After It falls over Elk Falls, it flows though a steep gorge, over Twisting/Compression Falls and comes out in Tennessee at a town calls Elk Mills. It then joins Watauga Lake and becomes a part of the Wataugua River, another mountain river that forms near Grandfather Mountain. One thing I have never seen up here…is an Elk..lol
I have seen Elk Falls probably 20-25 times by now. There is another waterfall that is 4 miles downstream though. There is some debate over the name of it. I first learned it to be Twisting Falls, later to find out that it is actually called Compression Falls. Twisting Falls is supposedly just upstream. Getting to Compression Falls is quite the task so I will save the answer to this debate for another hike. I first went to Compression Falls in 2011, following some great advice and tips from the blog http://www.appalachiantreks.com and http://www.waterfall-picture-guide.com. Both sites warned that the hike was steep. I decided to go ahead with the hike and made the descent. Three things stand out from that day….1) How steep it was, straight down for a good .2 miles, 2) How stunningly beautiful the waterfall was, 3) How steep the climb out was and how thankful I was to see flat ground again. This hike created a memory that has yet to fade away.
I am not sure why I have not been back to this site, but this past weekend, with lots of rain approaching from the south, this area seemed to be the best bet to squeeze out a nice dry Saturday and get some good hiking and photo ops in. Compression Falls was first on my list on this day. Getting there from the piedmont of NC requires driving to Boone, then bearing off on US 321 towards Hampton, TN. About the time US 321 meets up with the Wataugua River, a small but nice waterfall is on the left called Trashcan Falls. A terrible name for such a nice waterfall. I did not stop on this day as I wanted to see Compression Falls before the weather moved in. Once in Tennessee and the small town of Elk Mills, I looked for Poga Rd and took a left. After a few miles up the mountain on a nice, paved road, I turned right onto Clawson Rd. After a short ways, there will be another right turn onto Dark Ridge Rd. This road starts out paved but turns to gravel. I followed it to a parking area near an old barn that had walls the last time I was there, but now is only a frame and roof.
Along the way up there, I ran into an interesting animal in a front yard, right next to the road…
I had an interesting encounter with a local while parking. Once I parked just off the road, an older gentleman came up the dirt road on his gator. He pulled up to me and just stared at me…I asked if it was ok to park here. There were 3 other cars there after all. He then let me know that they..the locals were tired of kids coming up there, partying, getting drunk and trashing their property. They had even closed off the field next to the barn where I parked last time. After I assured him that I was an older man only there to hike and view the falls, he kindly told me to have a nice day and be safe down there. I got his message loud and clear.. After this, my hike began.
It starts just off the other side of the road, opposite the old barn. It starts out pretty flat with just a slight descent. The defined trail comes out of the woods in just a short ways to an open clearing. There will be a tall powerline tower. The trail to Compression Falls takes a left turn here, straight down the mountain on a somewhat eroded dirt and loose rock trail. There are no switchbacks to make this task longer but easier. It is straight down. At this point, you can hear the waterfall way, way , way down below.
I am not sure if these photos gives you an idea of the steepness, but it was very steep. It is also long. The best advice here is to slow down, watch your footing, use the rocks, roots, trees, and tree limbs for leverage where needed. No special equipment is really needed here except common sense. It will seem like this hill never stops dropping, but it does. When it reaches the bottom, you will find yourself at the edge of the Elk River about .2 miles downstream from the falls. There will be some worn out rags tied to the trees here, look for them coming back so you know where to begin the long crazy climb back up.
Immediately, from the rivers edge, look upstream and there will already be a view of the falls. The first thought I had , was that this was going to be really good!! The path to the falls follows to river upstream, meandering on the river’s edge, onto the bank and then back to the edge. Some reasonable rocks will need to be maneuvered, climbed over or around. Once near the falls at the spray zone, the rocks are all wet, and a new hazard appears..wet slippery rocks. Once again, take your time and slow down. Near the end, the trail runs out of rock to maneuver and a dead tree is placed in the river to walk across. It seemed like this was the same tree 2 years ago, it has held up well.
While there, I was able to witness a few younger adults seek their thrills by jumping off of this 30 foot ledge. I wouldn’t do this or advise it…..but I also can’t stop it. So I got my camera , and enjoyed the show.
After about 45 minutes of rest on the long rock that sticks about 3/4 of the way into the river, I began my trek back. Knowing the climb I had ahead of me, I was not excited. With about 3 stops for rest, I finally made it back up. When climbing, the risk of slipping and falling is less than when going down the hill, but the huffing and puffing does become a factor. Once back to the powerline tower, the car is just minutes away. What a hike!!
After that, the drive to Elk River Falls begins. If you have enough time, as you pass though Hampton Tn, there are 2 trail heads for Laurel Falls. One directly on US 321 and one on Dennis Cove Rd in Hampton. This is a very nice waterfall and highly recommended. It is a 55 foot waterfall that requires hiking on the Appalachian Trail. On this day, I actually went on to the Blue Hole. I will write about that one separately.
In Hampton, I connected with US 19-E and headed east/south back into NC. Once in Elk Park, I took the familiar Elk River Rd 4 miles down to the river, which actually makes a dash back towards the Tennessee state line. Just before entering Tennessee, the road ends and there is Big Falls, aka Elk River Falls. The hike to this is short, coming out at the top. Be careful up here, people have fallen and jumped to their death.. There are now signs here saying “NO JUMPING”.
After taking in the view from the top, the trail goes down to the base, where just like Compression Falls, a long rock about 3/4 of the river long, provides a great place to sit, hang out, take pics, or to go swimming and sunbath. It’s a great spot with a very large amphitheater like pool.
After this, I headed back towards Boone via NC 194 and NC 184. This allowed me to follow the Elk River which runs roadside from Elk Park to Banner Elk where just beyond, it splits into little creeks. This is one fantastic mountain river with 2 wonderful waterfalls!
This spring has been a busy one….I have not been on a hike since late April. I had some free time this second Saturday in June. As I pondered a place to go, it dawned on me that I had not been to South Mountain State Park in over a year and a half. With all of the rains that just blew through from tropical storm Andrea, I had high hopes of some excellent waterfall views.
The South Mountains are their own small mountain range, cut off from the larger Blue Ridge, Black, and Smoky Mountains just to the north and west. Elevation in SMSP reach a peak of about 3000 feet at the Buzzards Roost Tower. The State Park is very large, rugged, and still largely undeveloped. There are though over 45 miles of trails for hikers, biking and equestrian. The most popular trail, by a long shot is the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail. This can be reached by driving past the very nice visitor center, all the way until the road ends, several miles or so. At the parking lot is some nice picnic areas, a ranger station, and numerous trail heads going all kinds of directions. The Jacob Fork River flows right through here as well and will be the main attraction of this hike. It is a beautiful, and clear river with many rapids, a few cascades and a very nice big waterfall. To begin, we start with the Hemlock Nature Trail.
The High Shoals Falls Loop Trail begins at the parking lot. There is a shorter 0.3 mile Hemlock nature trail that runs right along it, just closer to the Jacob Fork River. It is more scenic, with wooden docks and informative displays, so I took it until it runs back into the Loop Trail. High Shoals Falls is 1 mile from the parking area and the first half is totally flat and largely uneventful. When you arrive at the split…..take the trail that goes left. This is where all the goodies are.
Once the trail splits, the nature of the trail also changes. Instead of a gravel road, it is now a bumpy trail full of rocks and boulders. It begins to climb as well, just not too steeply…yet. There comes a spot where some strange and large rocks must be maneuvered. These are the remnants of a large rock slide caused by the heavy rains and floods of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Looking up to the right here is a steep sloping rock face that goes up several hundred feet. Do not attempt to climb this. Walking along, there are many places to stop and play in the water if you wish. There was quite a bit of this happening today, as the sun pushed the temps to about 80.
Then comes the bridge……this is a spot where the Jacob Fork River completes its dramatic series of drops, falls, and cascades. Here at the bottom, the river has widened considerably with lots of little cascades and “mini-falls” popping out everywhere. It is truly a beautiful scene here. I am torn as to whether I like this spot better or the bigger falls at the top. It is a tough one. Looking way up from the bridge, High Shoals Falls can just barely be seen. It is way up there in a steep gorge, and by the time the next 1/4 mile is hiked, your body and legs will know it. Once across the bridge the trail that was easy to moderate to this point becomes strenuous. Through a series of rock and steep wooden staircases, the remaining trail to the waterfalls are tough, short and very rewarding. The first one here that greets you is High Shoals Falls. It is listed at 80 feet, I have read several reports that is more like 50. Either way it is beautiful. There is a very well built and well placed wooden observation deck just to the left of the falls. With the water flowing like it was today, standing on the deck was enough for a soaking.
Most people head back after this, but it is a loop trail. If you have a little more gas in the tank, more goodies await. There are more steep steps to climb, but just past the top of High Shoals Falls are another set of falls. I have seen that this is considered part of High Shoals Falls by some, and Upper Falls by some. I like to call it Upper Falls as well. It is a beautiful, smaller set of falls that deserves to be recognized and distinguished.
At this point, the trail crosses the river again and climbs for a short distance, only to begin a longer, more gradual descent back to complete the loop. I have done it a number of times, and it is much less scenic. On this day, I turned around and went back the way I came, just for another shot at the falls. There are a number of other good trails here to hike, but this one is by far the most scenic and popular.
This report is about a day trip which consists of 3 very nice medium size waterfalls, Roaring Fork Falls, Setrock Creek Falls, and Toms Creek Falls. All 3 waterfalls are fairly close together, all have short, easy to moderate hikes , and make an excellent day trip when combined. There are a number of ways to access these, the right way depends on where you are coming from. For this story I will use the most general. On I-40 in Western NC, find your way east or west to exit 86. This is the big exit with the Love’s Truckstop, and several other stations & restaurants, also the exit for Marion, NC. Take NC 226 north until it meets with US 221. Follow this into town and take US 70 west for a short distance until you see a right turn for NC 80. Highway 80 will be the highway that will take you to Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls. The mileage on NC 80 is about 15-20 miles but it is the elevation gain and how it does it that makes this drive a fun and memorable one. Once the highway goes around Lake Tahoma, it then follows the main tributary up the mountain. It may be the curviest highway in NC. At the Blue Ridge Parkway, it begins to go back down. In a mile or so, you will arrive at the left turn for the South Toe River Rd. Turn here, cross the creek and immediately turn left again. This short road dead ends soon, park here at the trail head for Roaring Fork Falls.
Walk around the gate and head up the grassy forest road. This trail gently ascends for about 1/2 mile. Both times I have been here, I have noticed there is a very nice sweet smell to the air. That and the gentle hike help make this waterfall trip even more desirable. You will notice a few old concrete, abandoned sheds. From what I have read, these were once used to store explosives, but they lie vacant now. As you get closer, Roaring Fork will begin to make some noise. At the 1/2 mile mark, the road makes a sharp left turn, however a small footbridge keeps going straight. Stay straight, cross the small bridge and look up! There is Roaring Fork Falls, a gorgeous, free flowing 100 ft long, and 45 ft high cascade.
After the short stroll back, hop in your car and head back down to the South Toe River Road. Instead of getting back on NC 80, turn left and drive past the Mount Mitchell Golf Course. Stay on this road 2 1/2 miles or so, the road will turn to gravel. When you see the Black Mountain Camp Ground, you have arrived at stop #2. Park outside the campground and walk accross the South Toe River into the campground. Take an immediate left and follow the road up and out of the camping area. At 1/2 mile or so is the trailhead for Setrock Creek Falls. You will have just passed the trailhead for the 5.6 mile Mount Mitchell Trail which I hear is as tough as they come. Once at the trailhead for Setrock Creek Falls, the waterfall is maybe 1/4 at most up the trail. The main challenge here is crossing the creek for the best photo opportunities. The creek is not deep, but it has been chilly both times that I have been here and staying dry requires crossing on a large but decaying tree. I am a big guy with big feet so most people should have an easy time with this. Setrock Creek Falls is a beautiful 75 foot waterfall with 6 tiers.
After this, I returned to my vehicle, and headed down the twisty NC 80 and stopped in Marion for some lunch. Afterwards I headed up US 221 towards the Linville Falls area. About 5 miles north of Marion, I took a left on Huskins Branch Road. At the corner of Huskins Branch and US 221 will be the old Woodlawn Motel. The travel on this road is about a mile and a half, and the paved road will turn to gravel briefly then paved again. The pull-off/parking will be on the right, with a decent parking area and a large sign that currently has nothing on it. This is the trailhead for Toms Creek Falls. A beautiful, wide trail surrounded by lots of new green growth greeted me for this short hike. The hike along Toms Creek is about 1/2 mile, maybe less with a slight ascent, but really a nice walk. The only real hill to climb brings you to the beautiful 60 foot Toms Creek Falls.
These 3 falls are all different and very beautiful. The ease to hike to each one of them makes accessible for most people, no extreme hiking involved. If you are thinking about a day or weekend waterfall trip here to the Mount Mitchell area in NC, and these 3 just are not enough for you……well you are in luck. Close by is the very beautiful Crabtree Falls, Grassy Creek Falls , Linville Falls, Douglas Falls, Walker Falls, even Catawba and Upper Catawba Falls a short ways to the west. This doesn’t even mention the 10 or so named waterfalls in the nearby Wilson Creek wilderness area.