After completing 2 memorable hikes the previous day to Hunt-Fish Falls and North Harper Creek Falls in the Wilson Creek Area, my fiancé had a surprise for me. She was on her way from the triad with our 2 dogs and camping gear looking for a night of camping out in the hills and then to do some more hiking in Wilson Creek the next day. What more could a man ask for?
So, after a short trip back to Morganton to meet her, off to the hills we went. Being new to this camping out thing, we were not ready for the primitive sites found along the trails just yet and opted for a tent site at Steele Creek Campground on NC 181. While we had a great time, I took note of what a nice and large stream Steel Creek was, only to later research and learn that a nice 70 foot waterfall with large potholes lies upstream….see you soon Steel Creek!
After picking up camp, our destination was to be Harper Creek Falls. This is a 1.8 mile hike that begins from Brown Mountain Beach Road alongside Wilson Creek. This meant roughly an 8 mile drive alongside Wilson Creek on a gravel road. Wilson Creek is a very scenic, wide stream with lots of rapids, especially in the 2.2 mile section through the gorge. At 7 miles or so, is the Wilson Creek Visitor Center. Anyone planning a hiking or camping trip here should plan to stop at the visitor center, check out the large maps, and get general info. It’s also a good idea to have a waterproof map of the area, sold for about $10. These trails lead to great things but can be confusing, are poorly marked in places, and sometimes hard to follow. Cell service is hard to find as well.
Once at the parking lot on the left, we began at the trailhead for trail 260 – Harper Creek Trail. Once on the trail, it wastes no time going straight up. It goes up for probably 1/4 mile at a fairly steep grade. I did notice that there have been some improvements made to this section since my last hike here. There seems to have been some trail redirection with new logs put in. However, it is still a steep climb to the ridge line. Once at the top there are 2 nice benches and a campfire spot. It is a great place to stop and rest for a second.
We brought our 2 small dogs on this hike which I began to regret as the day went on. They are both small, cute dogs made for the house, not for the trails. We had to pick them up at every tiny stream crossing or mud hole, and they did not want to keep up.
Once the first hill is mastered , the rest of the way is fairly easy. A few ups and downs, a few eroded spots, trail intersections with the 277 Raider Camp Trail and the 440 Mountains To Sea Trail, and several large camping areas offer a few moments of indecision. The rule of thumb here is to stay right, do not cross the creek, or get too far away from it. Once the trail meets up with the Mountains To Sea Trail, the familiar white circle appears, and trail conditions improve.
This rope is very, very thick. I believe I would worry more about the tree than I would about the rope. It is though, straight down along wet rock for a quite a ways. As I attempted to ease down, my feet slipped on the wet rock. Luckily, never letting go of the rope, I only skinned my knee just a tad along the rock. I was trying to get down too fast I believe, not getting firm footing before taking the next step. Once down, there was a great feeling of relief …and view of the second falls in front of me. An older gentleman was down here and we traded photo responsibilities. Looking around, I could not see the top falls, and could only see the bottom, by looking back down the falls into a large pool. This may be a popular sliding and swimming area in summer , and a great place to hang out with friends, but definitely not the best view of Harper Creek Falls.
Now the tough part was in front of me…climbing out of this hole. It was straight up a steep and wet rock. I can see how some people get out by sliding down the lower and smaller bottom section of the falls and climbing out the easier trail at the bottom. But me, I used the rope and simply put one foot in front of the other, just like the older guy did, not looking up or down, and just climbed. In just a matter of seconds it seems, I was back up top. This whole part can be avoided as the real view is at the base. Just down the trail is a very obvious scramble path to the bottom. About 3/4 down this one, rope is needed and provided again, but only to assist instead of life support. Once down, I made my way out onto some rocks for some pictures. This is where the fun began.
A young man who was already down here asked me if I wanted to see a snake eating a fish. I was like “hell yeah, you better believe I do!”.. What a silly question…lol. He directed me over to it and wow….a large 3 foot long water snake with a 1 foot long catfish in his mouth. He was struggling, trying to find a place to chill and enjoy his lunch.
After that, we begin to head back. The walk back was pretty uneventful. We began to tire a little especially the dogs. Here are a few more photos, including the map of the hike.