The last weekend of April 2017 brought me a chance to see Lower Bearwallow Falls in Gorges State Park. I have had this one high on my “Waterfalls To See” List for years now. It is said to be a difficult, long hike, one that should be researched and planned ahead of time. The opportunity was there several years back but I had other plans. Once the idea was put before me in spring 2017, I was all over it.
Lower Bearwallow Falls is a 55 ft free falling Waterfall. If you have ever visited the Gorges State Park Visitor Center, you will find this waterfall all over the place, from large wall photos, to souvenirs, to video that is shown in their auditorium. The problem for this one comes when you ask them how to get there. They are quick to tell you that there is no trail there and there are no plans to build one. It’s somewhat of a tease. Luckily, the internet and now even some new books coming out, have provided a way to see this beauty. The route there is not described favorably, being long and hard, with rivers to wade and mountains to bushwhack. This is true to a certain point. While it was tough, I found it to be easier than I had it in my mind anyway. Step one is finding the Frozen Creek Access to Gorges State Park. Driving on US 64 west out of Brevard, drive to and through Rosman, NC. Just a few miles west of Rosman look for a left turn on to Frozen Creek Rd. Turn left here and follow Frozen Creek Rd for 3 miles until you see the sign above. This is where you park and where the fun begins. This is going to be roughly a 10 mile hike so have snacks and plenty of water, or some type of water filtering device…(Lifestraw, Sawyer, etc). Also, make sure there is enough daylight left to begin a trek like this. The Access trail leaves the parking area, crosses Frozen Creek, then connects to the Auger Hole Trail. This is a forest Rd that is closed to vehicles, but i found to be in excellent condition throughout the hike. The Auger Hole Trail will be your guide for the next 4 miles. I had read that it was all down hill going to the falls and of course all up coming back. This was certainly NOT the case. In fact the first 0.7 miles to the Cane Break/Auger Hole Split was all uphill. From there, it is 2.8 miles to the crossing of the Toxaway River. Most of this is a rather uneventful walk up, down, back up, back down stroll along a very long, long dirt road. At 2.3 miles from the start, is supposed to be the access to the Maple Springs Branch Falls, and Auger Fork Falls. We could certainly hear these and were able to get some glances from the road through the trees. However, we opted to skip these, and keep our eyes on the prize, pushing forward to Lower Bearwallow Falls. Some views from the trail:
I saw some construction equipment at a trail junction. The trail to the right said Wintergreen. I assume this is Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River, which I have yet to go to. Anyway, it was an indicator of things to come, as the Toxaway River came into play way down the left side of the trail. A large waterfall soon came into sight and sound, what I learned was Chub Line Falls. Just the view from way above, it looked larger than any photo I have seen of it. It is also known to be quite a steep bushwack to get to. So again…we passed. Once the Toxaway River is in view, the trail soon begins to descend and make switchbacks. Before you know it, you are at the 3 1/2 mile mark and at the spot where the Auger Hole Trail meets and crosses the Toxaway River.
The man in the video and demonstrating the Toxaway River Crossing is Merijn. Merijn is from the Netherlands and has made a trip to North Carolina / Tennessee for the last 2 years to come out and hike to our waterfalls. I think that speaks loudly for what a special treat we have in our waterfalls. They are known worldwide. Merijn wanted to see Lower Bearwallow Falls badly. I wanted to see it just as bad, so this was a great idea and a great day. As far as the Toxaway River crossing goes….just know it will not be done with dry feet. As long as you know this and are prepared for it, all is well. Pay attention to the sign noting the swift water crossing. I am a big guy and found the force of the current trying to take my legs downstream. See the video above.
From the other side , it is now 1/2 mile to the spot to turn left for Lower Bearwallow Falls. It is all uphill also. So with the first 0.7 miles and this last 0.5 miles uphill, there is 1.2 miles of the 4 that are all uphill. I’m just pointing this out to show this is not an all downhill hike to the falls and uphill back as I have been led to believe. Once up, it’s time to go back down. We passed the place to turn, which wasn’t marked. We ended up at a trail junction for a trail heading left and down to the Lime Kilns before Merijn realized that we went to far. So we backtracked, found the location on the map he had downloaded onto his Garmin, and made our left turn. It is along a ridge and goes straight for awhile. There is somewhat of a trail here but nothing really defined. We followed some flagging tape until it started heading left and down the mountian. Then the tape stops and we were on our own. I am not sure who put this flagging tape up, but they led us in the wrong direction, and we had a wicked bushwack/descent until about halfway down when we met up on a route that was obvious others had taken. We continued scrambling down, as the sound of the waterfall grew louder and louder. A few more rocks and trees to maneuver, and there she was…Lower Bearwallow Falls!That first view was amazing. It is so much bigger than I imagined for some reason. It was really flowing well today also. We looked around and saw some good places for photos on the river left side(the side we were on), and a large island in the middle. We didn’t explore more than that with this fragile environment down here. We had nice clouds to start, which led to some good photos, then the sun came out and we had to change up our strategy. I found a nice area on the back of the island under some shade and worked with that. Merijn and I really took our time down here. This was one to enjoy and covet. I probably spent 1 hour and 45 minutes down here taking it all in. This is far longer than I normally spend at any one Waterfall. Here is a video I posted on YouTube .
Eventually the time came to leave..we didn’t want to. We worked our way up, which I always find easier than going down the mountain. When we got to the point where had came in from the left, we stayed straight, working up the mountain. This was the way everyone else clearly went and we were back at the ridgetop in no time. It was all down hill to the Toxaway, which after slipping on a log and getting my feet soaked at Lower Bearwallow Falls, I just left the shoes on and walked right through.Once back at the river, I noticed a forest road with a sign…1270, that was heading downstream. I have no idea where this goes, but my first thought was that it might go as far to where Bearwallow Creek enters the Toxaway, and then it could be possible to creekwalk up to Lower Bearwallow Falls. I’ll have to look into that. Anyway the walk from the river back is where the many miles and scrambling begin to take their toll. This 2.8 mile stretch is mostly uphill with a few level and down stretches. We took a break or two, but made it back just fine. Merijn was in such good shape for this hike, that he seriously considered scrambling down the bank for Maple Springs and Auger Hole Falls. I told him I would wait for him…lol. After doing the hike, and reflecting a bit, they don’t really need the build a trail to this one. The Auger Hole Rd is already there. That’s 95% of it. The last scramble is fine. It helps add to the adventure of the trip. I really wouldn’t want to see it crowded with people anyway. Here are a few shots of the wildlife seen .