Living Waters – One of The BRP’s Best Kept Secrets

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It is a sunny hot Sunday in the NC mountains.  My girlfriend and I have come today to see some waterfalls, relax  and maybe cool off a little. Dupont was out as i learned in the past not to go there on a summer weekend unless you love crowded trails and no place to park. I knew there were many waterfalls and places to go, taking US 276 from Brevard north towards the Parkway. First stop would be Looking Glass Falls, always a favorite. Not on this day as every piece of roadside within 1/4 mile was taken. The popularity and accessibility of this waterfall attracts tons of people, so while I was disappointed, I was hardly surprised. Next stop was Moore Cove Falls, again not a parking space to be found. I made it to the parkway and headed south. A spot I had mapped out was Skinny Dip Falls. This is one i have not seen or been to yet and was eager to make this short hike today. The trailhead leads into the forest across the road from Looking Glass Rock Overlook. On this day there was also no place to park, no place for anyone that wanted to see the Falls or the advertised attraction..the famous Looking Glass Rock. What was going on? A little further south, the famous Graveyard Fields, with a few nice waterfalls. This place was so packed, cars were parked all along every inch of concrete, as well as any grassy area near the parking lot. I was beginning to think this was not going to happen today. Luckily, I still had one Ace in my hand. At the NC 215 exit, I knew there were some falls south about 9 miles down the mountain. A location along the north fork of the French Broad River known as Living Waters. Living Waters is a christian retreat center that hosts retreats as well as several different children’s camps. They just happen to own a stretch of the North Fork of the French Broad River that is home to a number of beautiful waterfalls that are pretty close to one another. Wow, upon arrival, I couldn’t help but notice only 3 cars here. We were either blessed, or maybe we had just uncovered one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s best kept Waterfall secrets. We pulled over and prepared to enjoy but….. One thing everyone should notice here is…

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Yes, this is private property. However the folks at Living Waters allow visitors, but ask that they park along the road and not inside their retreat center. People should also be very respectful of the retreat center and river here and not abuse the generosity of the Living Waters. A small group of idiot kids were at the bottom waterfall all drinking Coronas. Certainly, they would not want to see beer bottles laying around while out on a morning walk with guests or during a camp session. The permission we have to visit this place could be revoked at any time with activity like that going on.

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As you make your way down the short walk from the road to the river, the first scene is breath taking. There is a very picturesque confluence of the North Fork French Broad River and Shoal Creek. They both pour over 20 foot ledges to form a very large pool and a gorgeous setting. There are some old, well maintained log buildings on top of Shoal Creek making this waterfall seem like something from a magazine or painting. The Waterfalls here are French Broad Falls, and Shoal Creek Falls. Both are beautiful. Getting them both in one photo is a challenge. I found a spot on the right side of the river that gives a nice side view. I also found a spot in the middle of the river for a head on view. You will have to get wet on this one but it sure felt good yesterday.

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The shots above are French Broad Falls, below are a few of Shoal Creek Falls

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After taking in all of this, one must take a walk down the 1/4 trail built and maintained by Living Waters. It leads down the river, to a waterfall named Cathedral Falls, formerly Bird Rock Falls. You will pass 2 other very nice unnamed waterfalls along this route. There is a staircase that leads to the top of Cathedral Falls and one to the bottom. This is a powerful 25 foot waterfall where all the water rushes over a narrow rock down into a gorge with a 150 foot high cliff above it. There is a big swimming/fishing hole as the water pools under the wall in an almost cave like fashion. This is a very beautiful place but a difficult waterfall to photograph I am learning.

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After this it is time to head back up trail, take one last dip at the two falls pool, then head on. This is a beautiful place, I am thankful to the kind people of Living Waters to allow us to enjoy it.

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Toms Creek Falls

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This is Toms Creek Falls, a beautiful 60 foot waterfall that I have driven right past numerous times. About 10 miles north of exit 86 off of I-40, along US 221 and NC 226 is where this is located. Going north , look on the left for Huskins Branch Road, just before the Woodlawn Inn. Take this left for about a mile and a half. The paved road switches briefly to gravel then back to paved. On the right just before a bridge is an obvious parking area with a fence and an info booth. The trail to Toms Creek Falls begins here. The trail itself is fairly wide and in good shape, with a slight ascent most of the way but nothing difficult. In about .4 miles you will arrive. It seems to jump out of nowhere.

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This is along a route that many use to get to a number of places, from Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls, Roan Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain to name a few. I was really surprised to see a waterfall here, as it just did not seem to be the right terrain for it. What a cool surprise and a new place to visit in this already attractions heavy area.

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The Linville Rages!!

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I was here only 3 days ago. I normally do not go to the same place back to back. As it happens, I found myself driving through the Linville Falls on the Parkway on my way to another destination. I got a quick glance of the Linville River, and noticed it was quite high. I was thinking, wow they must of got a ton of rain last night, much more than the sprinkles we received in the triad.

I have always wanted to see Linville Falls when the water was high, so today became my day. I pulled in, took the same Plunge Basin Trail I hiked over the weekend to see just the Plunge Basin View. Wow, it was awesome……

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After this, I went back to the visitor center, and hiked the west side for a few views from the Upper Falls View, Chimney View, and Erwin’s View. This river was absolutely raging today and I was in awe most of my time there. I ended up with a nice 3 mile hike and some super views!!!

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Linville Falls – Plunge Basin View and Linville Gorge View



Linville Falls and Gorge is one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s top attractions.   Linville Falls has the distinction of having the highest volume water flow of any NC waterfall, although it is certainly not the biggest or highest.  With a nice gift center, restrooms, large parking lot, and numerous trails on both sides of the river leading to different and magnificent views, it is no wonder that this place attracts tens of thousands each year.  Here I am on a Saturday morning, one of the busiest days up here, preparing a hike.  What was I thinking?  I had just stayed the night at the nearby Linville Lodge after attending the 1st annual Spruce Pine Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival the night before, so I was here and it was very convenient.  The weather early on this morning was also perfect, so I could not resist.  This day I chose to hike along the East side of the river or left side.  This trail takes you to the Plunge Basin View and down to the bottom of Linville Gorge.  The mileage is 0.5 to the Plunge Basin View, and 0.7 to the Linville Gorge.  Do not let these relatively small mileage amounts fool you.  It is some steep, rugged climbing down to the bottom, and then you have to climb back out.

The trail starts off relatively mild, taking you uphill.  After 0.3 miles, you will reach a fork in the path where going straight takes you 0.2 to the Plunge Basin View, and going left takes you 0.4 miles to the the Linville Gorge.  I begin by going straight here, you will want to see both views…trust me.  Going straight, the path will level off and begin to drop, somewhat steeply, but nothing extreme.  If stops at one of the finest views of Linville Falls, a side view known as the Plunge Basin View.  You will be way above the falls here but a closer and more personal view of the falls and pool than the views on the west side of the river.  The trails on the west side do however give a great view of the Upper Falls just above Linville Falls and an interesting view at how the river has cut its way through the rock to pop out on the other side like it does.  All trails on both sides are must-hikes.

Here is the view of the entire falls and pool!


AAfter taking in this beautiful view for a few moments, it is time to keep moving.  You will have to backtrack for 0.2 miles and head back to the fork in the path.  It will now be 0.4 miles to the bottom of the beauty that you just viewed.  For a trail that you know has to go way down, this fork trail surprisingly goes up for the first 0.1 mile.  Then.. the trail turns down, way down.  Steps, roots, rocks will have to be carefully navigated. The rocks will mostly be wet with mud puddles to avoid as well.  Going down is always more dangerous than going up.  There are no spots that require any kind of rope or anything, but please navigate this descent with care.  Take your time.  Here below is a view of the staircase that lets

After a few minutes you will find yourself at the river level and will need to rock hop upstream to get the best view possible.  Once again, be careful down here.  The views that will await you are phenomenal and will be well worth the short but strenuous hike.

Blue Ridge Parkway Rattlesnake

This is not what I was expecting to see as I made the curve into the Crabtree Falls area near milepost 339 of the BRP. In all of my 42 years in NC and the last 5 years hiking, never have I stumbled on something like this! I was always told they were up there. There is definitely something exciting and scary at the same time seeing one of these close-up in the wild. Rattlesnakes are right up there with bears, and mountain lions as the top creatures you do not want to run into or stumble upon. This poor guy was injured already, he had a spot by his tail. He was still very dangerous and did not like several of us taking his picture. If anything, this is a reminder that rattlesnakes do exist in the NC mountains and we should be aware of them. I am so glad I saw him first!!!

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Grassy Creek Falls

Grassy Creek Falls by waterfallshiker
Grassy Creek Falls, a photo by waterfallshiker on Flickr.

After a sensational hike into the Linville Gorge this morning, I had lunch on my mind, a little shopping in Little Switzerland, followed by hiking an afternoon loop along the Crabtree Falls Trail. Everything was going according to plan except while eating lunch at the Mountain View restaurant, the afternoon thunderstorm machine cranked up. And wow, did it crank up! As it turns out, we passed through 7 storms from this one at 1pm until reaching the triad at 6:30 pm. In and out, in and out, sunshine then blinding rain, sunshine again. My car’s thermometer would show 70 then 88, then 68, then 90.

Anyway, while in Little Switzerland, I got word that a waterfall named Grassy Creek Falls was just around the corner. Having already hiked Crabtree at least 5 times now, I opted to try Grassy Creek Falls. I am always excited to see a new one, or should i say “one that is new to me!!

The one note everyone should take on Grassy Creek Falls is that it is on private property. There are signs along the road, though welcoming people to view the falls, to keep their cars off the private road. This means that the 1/2 mile trail, now includes 1/2 mile dirt road and 1/2 mile trail. This dirt road, which is Grassy Creek Falls Road turns off of Chestnut Grove Rd. in Little Switerland, Chestnut Grove Rd, connects NC 226A to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is where you get off the parkway, take a right, go under the parkway, then just on the other side is Grassy Creek Falls Rd. Park at the top, take the dirt road for 1/2 mile or so. This road is all down hill. There will be a sign that says Falls, turn right here and head down what is now a nice path, but was once the main road between Little Swizerland and Spruce Pine. After 1/2 mile, a creek crossing, and a downed tree or two, this down hill route will bring you to the top of Grassy Creek Falls. There is a rather steep scramble path to the base down the bank. Use caution, take your time, and watch your footing. Enoy, you are now in front of Grassy Creek Falls. The wet rocks are very slippery!

I mentioned that this road and trail were all downhill, this means that the return trip will be all uphill. After the huffing and puffing, I made it back to my car just in time before mother nature had another car wash rain storm waiting.

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Pearson’s Falls

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Pearson's Falls by waterfallshiker
Pearson’s Falls, a photo by waterfallshiker on Flickr.

Today was a first!! The first time I have paid to see a waterfall! Pearson’s Falls,which has made the covers of waterfall books, has been privately owned and maintained by Tryon Garden Club since 1931. The waterfall itself, is 90 feet and absolutely gorgeous. The trail getting there is about 1/4 mile long, and could be called moderate by some. It is well maintained though, with wood fencing along the side, rock stairways, and old rock bridges accenting its beauty. This area has history as well, there are still some remnants of an old dam built on the creek from the 1800’s. There are also a few picnic places and even a love seat placed just to the side of the falls for that special someone!

Getting there by car can be an adventure if you let it. With all of the gps technology out now, just look for Saluda, NC, exit 59 off of I-26, and Pearson’s Falls Rd on your unit or smart phone. You will access Pearson’s Falls Rd from US176, the catch is it is a loop. It starts on top of the mountain as a dirt road, and ends way down below on US 176 as a paved double yellow lined road. The bottom, paved way is the way you want to go, trust me. Learn from my mistakes. The top way, you must drive down the mountain on a tight winding dirt road that is big enough for 1 car. Top that off a tunnel a football field size tunnel that the dirt road goes under, and you have the makings for a nightmare. It is only big enough for 1 car at a time. In short, Use 176 to go down the mountain, turn on the paved Pearson’s Falls Rd for a mile and you are there.
Admission here is $5 for adults and $1 for kids, under 6 free. Summer hours are Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm. Also close by this area are Big and Little Bradley Falls, which mother nature’s electrical light show prevented me from seeing. Pearson’s Falls was the first waterfall I have paid to see, but the way they have maintained it, I would say it was worth it.

Here are some additional shots from the trail.

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Brevard – BRP Loop 7/10/12

Beautiful Side View of French Broad Falls and Shoal Creek Falls coming together

It is Tuesday 7/10, a rare week day off for me and I am itching badly to get out and hike to some waterfalls.  It is the first day in nearly 2 weeks that the temperatures are not forecast to be near 100, but this comes with a price….50% chance of storms.  Me, being a gambling man says go for it, I am not afraid of a little shower.  I have a perfect hike planned in the Wilson Creek Wilderness that includes 3 waterfalls that I have never laid eyes on.  I am excited.   Then, after driving 80 miles to Morganton NC, the bottom drops out, not a small shower but intense thunderstorm with blinding rains.  This is a problem, so I stop, have breakfast and review the trusty iPhone weather maps and forecast.  A very large, expansive line of storms was over my destination that did not break until middle Tennessee.  This means this area was in for a lot of rain for a considerable amount of time.  Me, not ready to accept defeat, did notice that the area of NC southwest of Asheville was all dry.  Heck, I was this far, I will just change destination and have a great hike somewhere else.

Brevard is the town where my new destination was.  This is a town surrounded by crazy waterfalls and mountainous attractions.  What became a 50 mile loop on this day started at the intersection in Brevard of HWYs US 64, US 276, and NC 280.  Once here, guess what followed me?  New developing thunderstorms.  What was once dry was now dark, loud, and very wet.  At this point I decided that I drove this far, so I am going to see at least 1 waterfall.  Luckily, taking US 276 north for about 7 miles brings you to one of the finest waterfalls in NC, a roadside beauty called Looking Glass Falls.  The storm broke briefly and I was able to walk down to the base only to find nearly 100 kids waiting to swim.  The water was very high, the thunder was very loud, and there were a lot of stupid kids swimming in this dangerously swollen creek in these conditions.  For me though, it made for a good picture :).

Notice the idiot under the falls….this water was high and getting higher!!

After this, I was not sure what was next, but there were so many cars trying to park, I could not turn around, so I kept going up US 276, up a steep mountain.  There are many things to do on this stretch of highway.  I only stopped for Looking Glass Falls, but there are numerous hiking trails to other waterfalls including Moore Cove Falls (nice waterfall, fairly short hike), Twin Falls, Cove Creek Falls, Jackson Falls, and Catheys Creek Falls.  I have only hiked to Moore Cove Falls, but not on this day.  There is also the favorite of many…Sliding Rock, here as well, where folks slide on their tushis down a 60 foot rock, not on this day though.  The trails to Looking Glass Rock, Pink Beds Trail and the Cradle of Forestry are all here on this stretch of US 276 between Brevard and the BRP.  It is quite a 20 mile stretch, that includes a very curvy mountain drive and lots of views of the beautiful Davidson River.

Now to the parkway, by now I was slowly outrunning the developing storms but every time I stopped, I could see them coming towards me with a BRP layer of fog moving in ahead of it.  Anyone familiar with the famous BRP fog knows what this is and how thick it can be.  It did however make for some of the best shots of Looking Glass Rock I have to date.

Looking Glass Rock Just Before The Fog

Another Shot of this Giant Beauty

Here Comes The Pea Soup!!!

As the storm was catching up with me, it was time to move on.  I was heading South along the Blue Ridge Parkway at this point.  I wouldn’t be on it very long, but the stretch I did drive is filled with attractions and things to do.  At the intersection with US 276, is an overlook of Cold Mountain, which makes beautiful sunsets.  Numerous overlooks of Looking Glass Rock are available here.  It is quite an attraction.  It is a very popular Rock Climbing destination.  It gets its name from the way it look when it gets wet and reflects sunshine.  It rises from the valley floor to an elevation of 3969 feet.  The trail to hike it has an elevation gain of over 1700 feet which should give an idea of the size of this pluton monolith.  From the Looking Glass Rock overlook, there is a trail to Skinny Dip Falls, maybe next time…  Shortly down the parkway next, is the hugely famous Graveyard Fields.  I have already done a few blogs on this place, it is one of my favorites, with Second Falls, Upper Falls, and Yellowstone Falls.  Even with storms all around, the parking lot was jammed packed.  People love this place!  Next comes the Devils Courthouse, another Giant Rock on a mountain top.  It has a 20 minute trail to the top for an outstanding view, but the fog and storm were right on my tail, so not today!

Had time for a few shots of the Devils Courthouse, then I was in the Fog and Thunder again!

I soon came upon an intersection with NC 215. I had never previously traveled this road so I looked on the trusty GPS to see where it went.  I noticed it reconnected with 64 just west of Brevard.  I was getting pretty tired of trying to stay out of the storms, so I decided it was time to take it and turn back toward home.  I wasn’t expecting any more attractions, how naive of me.  This trip goes down the mountain as US 276 takes you up it (depending on which way you go).  Once I got home, I learned that I passed the road to get to Courthouse Falls, a waterfall I have been wanting to see, now a return trip will happen.  I did see a waterfall from the highway out of the corner of my eye and stopped to turn around.  It was this large religious retreat center called “Living Waters”  I pulled in and asked someone if I could walk down to the waterfall and they were very kind and said of course.  I had no idea of the beautiful scenery that was about to present itself to me.  I had found myself on the North Fork of the French Broad River, at a confluence with Shoal Creek.  Both of these bodies of water fall over the same 20 foot rock shelf to form a truly beautiful setting that you have to see it to truly appreciate it.

French Broad Falls to the Left, Shoal Creek Falls to the Right

Here, a young family stands out in the middle island in river appreciating French Broad Falls

Shoal Creek Falls

Getting a view of both falls here is challenging.  Here I was standing in the middle of the river in water about 1 foot deep.

This setting was gorgeous, however there is more.  The folks at Living Waters had a trail with some steps and bridges that goes down stream to more cascades and falls.  There were 3 cascades that would have names on some creeks but I could find none for these so I will leave them out.  At the bottom of the trail is Cathedral Falls.  It is a nice 20-25 foot waterfall, but what makes this special is the 150 foot cliff that this waterfall falls into, creating a big pool that rests against the cliff itself.  I found some folds fishing down here and even found a good size catfish swimming in a pool in a hole in the rock.  It was a difficult waterfall to get a photograph that showed all of the elements here, so I will have to go back and try again…shucks!

Watch out, these rocks are slippery!

Cathedral Falls….close up!

Cathedral Falls, looking down from the top at the pool below at the cliff with a few people fishing in it!

After this, it was time to head on home.  When I got to US 64, there I was right at Toxaway Falls, which means Gorges State Park, Panthertown Valley, and Whitewater Falls were not far away.  This is a place one could easily spend a week,  it made a great afternoon drive avoiding storms!!

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