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.
I ran into an old friend the other day whom I had not seen in years. One of the things mentioned was that her and her family loved seeing my posts and pictures online. The simple things in life like this makes doing my hobby so much more rewarding. After a few minutes of talking, this person mentioned that her and her husband’s favorite trail was the Profile Trail on Grandfather Mountain. I recalled my last hike there, how good it was , and realized that it had been nearly 2 years almost to the date. Boom, there was a great idea for my next hike. I had some business in a nearby town close to Boone, NC to attend to, and hiking the Profile Trail afterwards became my plan.
Finding the Profile Trail is very easy. Leave Boone via NC 105 and head towards the ski slopes and Grandfather Mountain. Once the mighty Grandfather Mountain comes into full view, look for the brown sign on the left side of the road marked “Profile Trail”. The drive into the parking lot is down and rather steep. They ask that you back into the parking spaces. This trail also requires that you fill out a registration form and put into the box. I am guessing if a car is still there at closing, the park rangers will have a way to contact you. You are now at the base of Grandfather Mountain in the new Grandfather Mountain State Park which is still in transition but making progress. Your current elevation here is about 3800 feet, with more than 2100 feet to ascend to the final destination of 5964 feet atop Calloway Peak. This is one of three ways to reach Calloway Peak that I know, the others being the Daniel Boone Trail accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway side that I have not hiked, and the Grandfather Trail from the parking lot at the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which requires many cables and ladder climbings along with a $15 entrance fee. The Profile Trail is free, ’nuff said….lol
Getting started, let me just say that this is an intense 3.1 miles each way or so that you are about to begin. It will take longer than most hikes of similar distance. If you plan to hike to Calloway Peak, I suggest an early start time. Make sure you have plenty of water for this climb. There is a chance to refill at Shanty Spring about 2 1/2 miles up, if you have a filter. This hike is pretty much in 3 parts, a nice leisurely stroll along the Watauga River to begin, an intense, prolonged trail climb, then the last section which is even steeper with many large boulders to walk over, under, around, you name it.
This trail starts immediately by crossing the Watauga River, which is more of a creek here, since it starts on Grandfather Mountain. For the next half mile or so, the trail meanders up and down as you walk downstream. The turn to the right approaches soon and the climbing begins. At first it is not steep, just climbing, around a few bends, creeks and streams. The trail leads to a large stream with huge boulders to maneuver around. The crossing is safe and dry, rock hopping some huge rocks. After this the climb intensifies a bit as the trail heads up.
As you can see by the photos just above, the section leaving the Watauga River is very beautiful. It is early spring at this altitude , while the trees are still bare, the forest bottom is coming alive with greenery. A few early wild flowers were beginning to pop up here and there. The temperature was in the lower 60s with a faded sunshine. It was a beautiful time to be up here. Also, once you leave the river, you can see this huge rock way up in the distance. This is the Profile, although it is undetectable at this angle. The trail eventually leads you under it and to the right of it for just the right view. The trail in this section is mostly a hard packed dirt that is pretty wide and easy to walk on. This middle section pretty much comes to a close and the trail changes shortly after the Foscoe View.
The Foscoe view is along a straight section of the trail about 1 3/4 miles or so up. It is kind of the halfway point, and a good chance to sit down and enjoy this view. Looking back, NC 105 can be seen way down, and it is pretty clear that some serious elevation gain has already been achieved. Shortly up the trail after walking under the huge rock and a few switchbacks, you will find yourself at the Profile View. Here is a sign that talks about it and an awesome view of “The Old Man Of The Mountains”. Only at this location and angle does this rock resemble an old mans face. By the time you reach the Profile, the trail will have already transitioned from the easy walking hard dirt to more and more boulders. If anything is overwhelming about this trail at this point, this is a good place to turn around….it only gets harder.
After the Profile, the rocks get bigger, trail gets steeper and the most challenging part of the trail lies just ahead. Many small springs and streams are running under and over some of these rocks. Some places you can hear the water under you but see none. Shanty Spring is in the middle of this intense climb. It is marked by a sign and a pipe coming out of the rock. Hikers frequently fill up their water bottles here, after…..running the water through a filter.
The last part of the Profile trail is definitely the toughest. It ends at the Grandfather Trail, with the option of going right to Macrae Peak and the Mile High Swinging Bridge, or left to the Watauga View and Calloway Peak. If you plan to go to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, you better get an early morning start as the next 2 miles will be some of the most intense climbing and dropping imaginable . Calloway Peak is close by and my destination so I headed left. There is some rock climbing at the top, and a few ladders in place where the rocks become too unsafe to climb. Once at the top, NC 105 will be way, way down the mountain. Enjoy your view up here. If you got here via the Profile Trail, you will have worked hard and earned it.
If you plan ahead and take 2 vehicles, it would be great to park one at the mile high swinging bridge and one at the profile trail. The walk across Grandfather Mountain would be super memorable with some of the most exciting ladder climbing and cable maneuvering I have experienced. You could then arrive at the mile high swinging bridge, drive down the mountain and pick up your vehicle at the Profile Trailhead. With my one vehicle and just me, I had to hike back down the Profile Trail, which was very tiring and testy for the first mile. Those large boulders that the trail climbed were equally difficult getting down. Once at the bottom, I was happy to reach my vehicle for some rest. The Profile Trail was steep, challenging, tiring and extremely rewarding . It is definitely one of my favorite mountain climbs.
It’s been a long cold winter….maybe the winter wasn’t so bad, but January didn’t end until…April!!
Trails that I should have been out and about on weeks ago, are just now becoming free of their snowfall cover. I did see several spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Boone/Blowing Rock area that still had snow. I had 2 months of hikes all planned to do yesterday..but of course the out-of-shape body was only good for one location on this day. I guess I will have to work my way back into mid-season form. After hesitantly passing by Moses Cone Manor, Julian Price Park, and a number of hiking spots in the Grandfather Mountain area, I chose Linville Falls to get out and stretch my legs a little. It’s April 7, and I counted 33 cars in the parking lot today. Obviously, I was not alone in wanting to get out. The highs were expected to be in the low 60′s which is great hiking weather. With all of these people here, It bewilders me that the gift shop and restrooms remain closed until the end of April. I understand closing for the winter but I believe they close a month too early and open a month too late. That’s just me though….
I opted for something different today. I have long overlooked the Duggers Creek Falls Trail…..because this was Linville Falls! Right? We come here to see the mighty Linville River cut through the rocks and gush out the other side into the large pool. We don’t come to see a small waterfall on a little creek. Well today I changed that way of thinking. I took the trail for Duggers Creek Falls, expecting a 20 minute walk like the sign says, but I reached the falls in about 5 minutes. It’s really not far from the parking lot, and is a good leg stretcher for the more difficult Linville Falls Trails. On top of that, this 15-20 foot waterfall is very pretty and easy to photograph.
After this side route, I decided to hike the trails on the left or east side of the Linville River. This trail splits off after 0.3 miles, one trail heads down 0.2 miles to the Plunge Basin View, which to me is the best view of Linville Falls from above. The other trail heads up then steeply down 0.4 miles to the Linville River below the falls, and then a short scramble back upstream. Today, the water was up from recent rains and snow melt, so it got a little tricky in a few spots getting there. Usually it’s no problem at all. Once up there, I took a seat on a rock adjacent to another rock where 2 guys were fishing. They weren’t catching much, but just thrilled to be outside enjoying the nice weather. Here are some shots from the Plunge Basin View and from the base:
Notice in the picture above, I was able to photograph a guy fishing on the rock wall very close to the falls. The size of the waterfall really makes the fisherman look tiny. That spot was about where I made it to on my way down. After about 30 minutes down there, it was time for the fun part, the climb out of the gorge.
This trail is only 0.7 miles long. What is lacks in length, it more than makes up in ruggedness and steepness. It is not the hardest trail I have hiked by a long shot, but it demands your attention. Roots, rocks, and mud..lots of mud make this climb down and up a fun one. The trail, is very narrow while climbing and the steps are some of the steepest around. The trail levels out for a short ways at the bottom of the steep cliffs for a memorable walk. Then it’s back to mud, roots and rocks. Once the trail reaches to peak height, it levels off, becomes more of a wide forest road, and you are home free.
Once back to the parking lot, you can continue on down the parkway, or if you haven’t had enough of the Linville, there are more options. Cross the river on the bridge at the visitor center, and its on to 3 more views, 2 from way above, and one that goes down to the upper falls and allows you to see just how the Linville cut its way through the rock. Enjoy!
I hope everyone had a great Easter weekend this year. Hopefully you got a chance to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. My opportunity came on Saturday. It was just myself and my fiancé wanting me to take her some place special. I could think of no better place than The Cascades or Cascade Falls as they are known in Pembroke, Va. This is a place I first discovered this January. I have now made 2 additional trips. It really is a beautiful place. At just a little over 2 hours from the triad, it is a fairly short drive up into the Virginia hills. Mostly interstate travel on I-77 and I-81 will get you into the vicinity, then a stroll through a few of Virginia’s small towns such as Dublin, Pearisburg and New River Valley will land you near Pembroke, Virginia. This nice little town sits just south of the Virginia / West Virginia state line at the base of some beautiful mountains peaking about 4200 ft or so. This is also just west of Blacksburg, so this deep in Virginia Tech Hokie country.
Restrooms at the parking lot and trailhead.
Approaching Pembroke from the west, on US 460, you will be looking for Cascade Dr. This will be a left turn. This road winds about 4 miles through a small community of homes and churches and dead ends in a large parking lot in the Jefferson National Forest and the Cascades Trailhead. Driving up Cascade Drive, gives you the first look at Little Stony Creek, the water supply responsible for the beautiful waterfall further up in the hills. The sight of constant rapids and cascading gives you the sense that something special is ahead. Once here, you will need to stop at the pay station and pay $3 per vehicle. These trails are very clean and well maintained. With nice restrooms and picnic tables, I am happy to help the cause of keeping this place up. If you are thinking about not paying, the fee increases to $75. So……come with a little cash!
Once on the trail, one soon has a big decision to make. This wonderful stream and waterfall is equipped with not 1 but 2 trails for access. The first one is the upper trail. It stays on the left side of the stream for its entirety. Sometimes it will be way above the creek, other times it will be right at it. It is a fairly straight, wide trail that will get you to the waterfall quicker. If time is an issue, this is the one to take. It is 2 miles to the Cascades no matter which trail you decide take. The second mile is the steeper of the two. In 3 hikes to this wonderful place, I have used this upper trail to come back all 3 times and once to get there due to snow and ice.
The second option is the lower trail. This one is accessed by a very nice bridge just past the trailhead. The first half is on the opposite side of the creek and is all creek level. Here, the trail is more narrow, more up and down, and way more scenic! Before crossing bridge though, don’t forget to check out the “Stairs to Nowhere”. A well made set of man made steps that used to lead to the bridge that got washed away in the flood of ’96. It now gives you an up close and personal view of several beautiful rapids along Little Stony Creek.
This lower trail was once a well paved trail, there will be remnants like the photo above. This was all destroyed in the flood 1996. There are places where large trees lay in this creek that were pushed around like tooth picks. This is a large, powerful creek that roars the entire 2 mile hike. I can only imagine how it would rage with a good soaking of 5 inches of rain in a short amount of time.
About halfway up, the lower trail comes to another bridge. Cross this bridge, and you are officially half way. If you want to switch and take the upper trail, this is the spot to do it. Both trails will be on the left side of the creek the rest of the way. Once you arrive at the top, it opens up to a wide open pool and large 69 foot waterfall. These are the Cascades. Plan to spend a good half an hour or more here because it is an absolute beautiful place. I have seen ice in the falls all 3 times here but I imagine this will be quite a swimming hole in the summer. If you want solitude, come during the week…it is a very popular place. For those that still have some left in the tank, a great view known as Barney’s Wall is another 2 miles up as the trail continues on past the falls. You can see it from the trail, its pretty far up, might want to pack a lunch and get an early start for that one. The hike down from the falls along the Upper Trail is relaxing and soon you will be on your way. Chances are you will be thinking already of when you can make it back up here!
After yesterday’s outing, 3 more waterfalls were added to the List, including Lower Whitewater Falls, Wildcat Branch Falls, and Long Shoals. The list is now up to 84 waterfalls visited.
This early March trip was planned to be a trip to South Carolina to see Kings Creek Falls and Yellow Branch Falls. As it often happens, my original plan did not pan out, and a new story developed. The first thing on the list was to get to South Carolina. Here, it forecast to be close to 60 and lots of sunshine, a perfect day to hike. With fresh rains, I felt the water would be very nice in the two falls chosen. The route I chose, included lots of driving along Highway 11 or the “Foothills” Highway. As I went along, I found access to a number of State Parks, including Caesars Head and Table Rock. There is a lot to do and explore down here. I tried to stay focused and reach my destination , but I kept coming accross neat places that required stopping. I had seen Wildcat Branch Falls on the Internet, but knew nothing as to its location, and was not looking for it. It just happened to be on my route. I saw it, and had to turn around for a closer inspection.
This was a beautiful roadside 3 tiered waterfall with a place to park and a nice trail to match. It was amazing how much this reminded me of Waterfalls Park in Newland, NC, another 3 tiered waterfall, roadside, made into a nice park like place to visit. I looked, took some photos, then began hiking the trail. The only problem was I knew nothing about the trail, how long it was, where it went , or any details. No map, or cell phone connection meant that I would have to research this, and plan a return trip. Before I turned around, I did see some nice ruins of an old house.
After my short visit, off I went. It wasn’t long that I saw a pull off for a place called Long Shoals. I could hear lots of rushing water, oh what should I do?? Of course I had to investigate. It was a beautiful setting on Little Eastatoe Creek, with a long cascade, not a steep one though. The gorgeous large pools below the cascades, and tons of bedrock made it a beautiful place. There were some people fishing below me in the second pool, I tried not to disturb them.
After this, I took off again. After taking a right onto hwy 130, I was now heading due north. The great state of North Carolina and Whitewater Falls were only a few miles away. Whitewater Falls was not on the menu today, but coming from the South side, I knew Lower Whitwater Falls was close by. Lower Whitewater Falls is a 200 ft fall that is just 2 miles or so downstream from its bigger brother, the more famous Upper Whitewater Falls. I had been meaning to check this waterfall out for a couple of years now. After a twisting ride up and down in the Duke Power pump project facility, well, today became the day to hike to Lower Whitewater Falls. I don’t know why I thought this would be a quick stop, but it wasn’t. Unlike the .25 miles needed to get to Upper Falls, this one requires a 2.4 mile hike, or 4.8 round trip.
Notice, from the beginning, this says 1.7 miles to Lower Whitewater Falls. Do not be fooled, it is 2.4.
Notice the sign above. The parking was 0.7 one direction while Lower Whitewater Falls was 1.7 the other direction. This helps validate the 2.4 miles I earlier described. After a short climb, then a rather steep descent to the Whitewater River , you will have to cross it. There are 2 bridges and a short stroll in the island. The large trees piled up about 3 times my height, showed me the power of this river, when Mother Nature provides a good soaking up here. I would not want to be in this spot at that moment.
After crossing the river, the blue blazed trail joins the white blazed Foothills Trail. This was quite a treat, I had been wanting to hike on this for awhile, today became that day as well.
The trail through the forest here is beautiful. The dark blue skies, and mild temps were very nice. The trail is a mix of footpaths, old logging roads and even a short spurt on a dirt road for vehicles. Just before joining this road, the path leaves the foothills trail for its descent down to the viewing platform for Lower Whitewater Falls.
And there I was, at the viewing platform all to myself, with the great Whitewater River in front of me, plunging over 200 feet straight down. This is where the sunshine becomes a detriment. While I loved it for the hiking experience, it needed to go behind some clouds for my picture session. After all, I drug my tripod and nice camera down for this. Well, the sun wasn’t going anywhere, so I had to do the best I could. I will now have to revisit this place on a guaranteed cloudy day for the photography part.
After the tiring return hike, it was getting close to 5 pm as I left. I knew that Upper Whitewater Falls was maybe 2 minutes up the road, and with a short 0.25 mile hike to the deck, it would be a perfect end to my day.
The darkness created by the sun being over the mountain created quite a challenge for me. I did not get the best photos possible here but I was tired, it was late and the steps leaving Whitewater Falls burned on this day. I was glad to call it a day, but what a great day it was!