Big Bradley Falls – Hiking Into The Gorge From The Bottom

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As the summer 2014 was coming to a close, I was pushing, trying to get in as many new waterfalls as I could. There is just something special about hiking to new waterfalls: the anticipation, and all of the “unknown” factors that come with them. I find that summer is the best time to explore new areas, and take on the “unknown” factors. I have many waterfalls remaining….just in NC alone left to explore around for the first time. This mid September day, I had chosen Big Bradley Falls in the Saluda, NC area.

Big Bradley Falls is a very nice 75 ft high waterfall on Cove Creek. It is tucked away in a nice, small gorge. Most people seem to access this from Holbert Cove Rd, which has a nice large parking area on both sides of the road where it crosses Cove Creek. On the left side (coming from I-26), is the trailhead heading downstream to Big Bradley Falls. On the right side is the trailhead going upstream to Little Bradley Falls, which I think is equally if not more scenic than Big Bradley Falls. They are both very nice. Check out my February 2014 trip to Little Bradley Falls.

Hiking to Big Bradley Falls from Holbert Cove Rd…. (which I have yet to do), seems to be a fairly short hike, that gets tricky…best way to describe it. I have attached “NC Waterfalls” description of the hike, that clearly points out some of the challenges and hazards that come with seeing this waterfall. At the end, the view is from above. Depending on which side path you choose, or what time of year you go, trees and foliage may be a problem. The best view seems to be from the bottom, or the base, as it usually is. From up here, it would require a rope assisted, very steep descent from what I have read. Needless to say, many injuries and some deaths have occurred here. This did not sound like something that I just had to do. Maybe this is why I have put off visiting this one for so long. I have been in this area several times before. But….I learned of an alternate way in….

Instead of approaching Big Bradley Falls from the top, with all of the dangers, what if there was a way to get in safer from the bottom? Well there is.. Between reading Kevin Adams iconic book “North Carolina Waterfalls”, researching Rich Stevenson’s equally iconic website www.ncwaterfalls.com, and a few others as well, I got enough info on an alternate route that comes in from the bottom. Opinions seem to vary on the difficulty of it, but from what I could tell, they all seemed to describe it as safer than being near the cliff top or trying to climb down the vertical wall. If you want to safely see Big Bradley Falls from the base, this is the way.

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Shown above is the screen shot from my iPhone. I used the Trimble Outdoors Navigator app to track this. This is loosely described as the Green River access point. To get here: find exit 59 on I-26 in Saluda, NC…just north of the NC/SC state line. If coming north, Holbert Cove Rd heads to the right , left if coming south. Either way, you will be heading away from Saluda. Instead of driving the 3 miles to the Holbert Cove Road access points, turn left almost immediately onto Green River Cove Road. This road will take you down the mountain and is very, very steep and twisty. The number of hairpin curves… I lost count in the double digits. Plan on taking the first 2 of the 3 1/2 miles on this road….very slow. At the bottom…whew!, it straightens out, and runs on the right side of the Green River. The River was running very high on this day from recent rains. It is a heavily used recreational river and tubers were everywhere. Speaking of tubing, you should be looking for “Wilderness Cove Tubing” on the right. This is the access point, trailhead, whatever you want to call it. There is a parking area next to the river across the road from the tubing place. I walked in and spoke to the gentleman running the tubing business and verified that this was the place. They seemed hesitant to give me any concrete directions, but confirmed that the gated road running along the Green River was the way, and to follow it to Cove Creek and then head upstream. This was good enough, but it was a good thing I had Kevin Adam’s book in my pack. A little more detail was needed.

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Now that we have crossed the road, into the tubing/campground area, we are on the dirt forest road that is heading downstream along the Green River. I was on this road a little more than a mile. It is easy hiking though, flat, and somewhat scenic. There were a number of late summer corn fields with nice wild flowers and distant mountains that made for a pleasant walk. Near the end of the road walk, just after a sharp turn to the right, old farm buildings begin to appear. This is where this hike gets a little more interesting.

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The old farm buildings are the point where you leave the road you have been on and head up Cove Creek. I haven’t seen Cove Creek yet to this point, but I can hear it. Just past the first building on the left side of the road, the road turns sharply left. Follow a smaller road/ trail that heads straight. On the right, pass the ivy overgrown house on the right and head towards a large, open field. At this point I had some confusion….I can save it for you.

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When the road reaches the wide field, it ceases to exist. Maybe it was just the knee high grass that was every where. The field had somewhat of a Y shape to it, with one extension going along Cove Creek, and one the opposite way. I had no clue at this point. By instinct, I chose the walk along what was a deer trail on the left side hugging the creek. I must mention that these are NC Gamelands and the deer tracks in here were enormous. I did not encounter one, but there are some nice sized deer patrolling this area. Anyway, on the left side, when I reached the woods, I hit a dead end. No trail, just thick brush, briars, disappointment. I was not ready to call it a day though. It was still early, and a beautifully dry, cloudy day about 70. With recent rains, it was an optimal waterfall photography day. I walked along the tall grass bordering the woods all the way to the other side, or the furthest point away from the creek in the field and spotted where the trail picked up. The message here if you attempt this hike, is when you approach this field, stay right, go up the right side of the Y, and the trail you will easily find.

The trail is narrow at first, but easy to hike and follow. As of 9/14/14, the trail is marked with orange flagging tape all the way to the falls. However it is hard to follow in a few places. Some trial and error was experienced on this day. The trail soon widens out, and is easy for a short while. The trail then comes to a ford of Cove Creek. The hike picks up some intensity from here on.

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Yes, the sign is correct. I also like what appears to be bullet holes in the sign. Back to the crossing, I was able to get across dry, by rock hopping diagonally down stream. It was not easy, and coming back I didn’t even think about it. I just took my shoes off and walked accross at a spot where the water was shallow and there was moss on the streamed bedrock, creating some traction for my bare shiny white feet. On the other side, the wide road days are over, the trail is narrow from here on, and begins to climb at a moderate pace, even steeply towards the end. There were several nice waterfalls of good size that the folks coming in from the top will never view. After a steep climb up where the first waterfall was, the trail stopped at a somewhat flat campfire site. I could make out a faint trail heading down to the creek and took it…..more confusion. The trail goes upstream a bit and just ends. The good thing is that I was at the base of what I guess to be an unnamed waterfall that was of several tiers and probably 20 feet high.

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I may have taken the wrong trail, but I could tell by some other footsteps that I was not the only one. It is actually worth it to take this side trail as this waterfall was beautiful. After a few photos, I made my way back to the campsite, and found the flagging tape marked trail heading left, away from the creek, steeply uphill. At this point the trail is heading so steeply uphill and at a diagonal angle away from the creek, and on such a narrow path with no room for error, that you will probably find yourself using the rocks and roots at times. This doesn’t last long, but is the diciest part of the trail. It is still safer than approaching a cliff and climbing up or down it. Once at the top of this climb, and by this time, wondering where the hell this waterfall is….lol…there it is! The path follows the now steep cliff just on your left. Follow it to some beautiful views of this unique, tall, picturesque waterfall that flows heavy on the right side. There are some big boulders down here to work around for views so be careful. This is not the place you want to find yourself getting injured. I was able to talk with 3 guys down there, swimming in the pool at the base. They came in from the top. I asked them how hard it was, and they looked at me like “dude, don’t even think about it”. Hey I am decent shape and not that old and could probably out hike any of them…lol. Here are some different views from the bottom.

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The return trip was uneventful, downhill or flat. It was a rather long hike. I ended up hiking just under 6 miles round trip for this, including my trial and error issues. I would say to expect 5 – 5 1/2 miles for sure. It was tiring but…..safer than the top way for sure. I would like to do a hike in from the top soon probably as I expect to go back and redo Little Bradley Falls. I will be able to make an even clearer suggestion of the better way to go then. But if you want to see the base and do it safely, there is a way…if you are willing to walk a little more.

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4 comments

  1. Thomas, you have amazingly awesome photos here. As I read the dialogue, it was just as it was when I took the trail. We also got confused at the open field and just like you, we ventured on around and got back on the very narrow overgrown trail. I finally made it there alone for my first time there, I was bound and determined to find it and since then I have been back to show my buddies.

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