After seeing some recent Facebook posts on Yellow Fork Falls, I decided to do some reading up on it. After all, here is a 30 foot waterfall in the Linville Gorge…which is one of the “closer to home” destinations. Linville Gorge is a place that I have largely ignored, driven right past, basically not even on my radar. I can’t explain why, maybe it is the lack of known waterfalls. I have been all over the Linville Falls, Duggers Creek Falls, Wisemans View. I have driven the very sketchy road to Table Rock and hiked to the top for some awesome views, but that’s about it. This hike in search of Yellow Fork Falls was my first trip here in maybe 3 years. It was to be a good one…..
To prepare for this hike, I had to learn a little about it. I started by checking out some usual sources. First, Andy Kunkle had a nice blog entry on his experience there. www.angelfire.com. He mentioned “The Ladder” which caught my attention. Next, the person that hiked with him, Brenda Wiley, who has a wonderful site full of great writings and beautiful pictures email@example.com. After reading these, I went to Kevin Adams “North Carolina Waterfalls” and read up. His photo and directions were very good and I was ready to hit I-40 west bound. I would be entering the Linville Gorge from the south side this time, or the bottom, something I had not yet done in my many North Carolina travels. I would also be seeing more of Lake James today than ever before. The first item of business was finding the south side of Old NC 105 or the “Kistler Memorial Highway”. These are both fancy names for what is just a long dirt road that travels the length of the Linville Gorge from NC 183 in the town of Linville Falls on the north side, to NC 126 near Lake James State Park on the south side. I have seen this dirt road in varying conditions over the years. Some trips, it was in excellent condition, and other trips, there were so many deep grooves in the dirt, that I had to park and walk part of the way just to Wisemans View from the north side. When I read in Kevin Adams book that I would be traveling 3.85 miles on this road from the south entrance, I had a few reservations. But, after all the dirt roads I have now been on, especially in the nearby Wilson Creek, I was far from worried.
Finding Old NC 105 was pretty easy. There are several exits on I-40 that provide access to Lake James. Pick one, circle around to the north side of the Lake to NC 126 and the Old NC 105 dead ends into it. While driving around the Lake, I made a quick stop into Lake James State Park at the Paddy’s Creek Entrance. I saw a nice Linville Gorge Overlook from the bottom. Once on Old NC 105, I was pleased to see that it was a “newly paved” road when I turned on it. I thought this may be easier than I thought. It was paved for the first 2 miles then turned to a packed gravel, where it began climbing. It is a good, wide road with lots of places to pull over and explore, but was a very bumpy next 2 miles or so. I went exactly 3.85 miles and found a nice pull off with an overgrown road heading into the forest on the opposite side of the gorge. It wasn’t exactly as Kevin Adams described, but still looked promising, so off into the woods I went. It was a only short walk as the road circled back around, the fizzled out. Luckily, I could see the Kistler Memorial Highway, and bushwhacked back to it then walked back to my car. What went wrong? Maybe this wasn’t the location described in Kevin’s book.
Luckily, I had excellent cell connection here and went back to Brenda’s maps that she includes with her blogs. According to her tracks, I stopped a little early, so I drove north another tenth or so of a mile and pulled over where her tracks began. The trail was much less obvious than before but still noticeable if looking for it. I was here and happy, but not there yet. A mile hike still loomed.
The trail led into a large almost area of open pines. The trail soon fizzled out and I found myself walking through the woods on no trail. I circled back and found that my trail had turned left just after entering the woods. It was easy to follow from here on. There was also quite a bit of snow leftover from the previous weeks snow even though the temperature was pushing 50. For the next half mile, it was an easy stroll through the woods on a mostly clear trail lined beautifully by lots of snow, and mountain laurel. At the 1/2 mile mark, there was a small rock cairn on the trail and a side trail heading right with some blue flagging tape. This is where I made the right turn. It headed down from here, with the steepness intensity slowly increasing the further down I went. It also left the shaded snow cover for a more open scene. There were some fire damaged trees along this next 0.4 mile stretch that was on a much narrower path that was still easy to follow. Then it comes to an end at a small cliff, maybe 10 feet high and there it is the ladder.
By the time you reach the ladder, you are 9/10 of the way there. The ladder is not very tall. There is a bit of a challenge getting onto the ladder and in position to climb down. There is some rope tied around a bush to assist you into position for the climb. I will add that the ladder is planted very securely against 2 trees at the bottom and that as of 12/16/17, the ladder was in decent shape. This will change over time of course, but I can imagine when this happens, someone will probably simply replace it. Many thanks to whomever took the time and care to place this here. It would be considerably more difficult without this here. Seeing things like this, and the condition that the trail was in tells me that even though this waterfall has been out of the mainstream spotlight, people have been visiting and enjoying this one for quite some time.
Once down the ladder, it is a short but quite steep scramble to the waterfall. There are some large boulders to work around, just follow the trail, be careful, and take your steps slowly, and safely you should arrive. The scene that awaits is AMAZING!
How to describe this……a beautiful 30 foot or so waterfall, dropping several directions into maybe the most beautiful pool/swimming hole that I have yet witnessed. The water is a gorgeous aqua green color and very deep. Once at the pool, to the right, the water drops to at least 10 feet if not more, and the bottom can be clearly seen. Just to the left is a separate pool that is 4-6 feet deep. In between a small passage where the water is 2 feet deep and some boulders have been placed. This is how you get to the large area on the other side for relaxing, swimming, and in my case photo taking. I got soaked halfway up to my knees in this crystal clear cold water, but it was so worth it.
A small video to give a life feel:
The hike back up was quite a bit more strenuous than the the trip down, but once back at the rock cairn, it was an easy stroll from there.
This map shows a good track to the waterfall in the tan color, even the first failed attempt in green that I mentioned. As you can see from the map Paddy’s Creek forms just downstream where the two forks comes together. The fork that it is on is the Yellow Fork of Paddy’s Creek.
The trail and snow cover make for a very unexpected beautiful wintry hiking scene. The snow was nearly non-existent at the waterfall which was nearly 600 feet down below.