The hike to Sugar Creek Falls is a rewarding hike! There are 3 waterfalls involved in what is a fairly short hike and of reasonable difficulty, but enough to be still be considered an adventure.
I have had my eye on this area for awhile now, as 2 of these are on the “Kevin Adams 500 Waterfall Challenge”. Sugar Creek Falls comes in at #221 and Upper Sugar Creek Falls comes in at #222. I did not see a listing for the Waterfall on Dryland Laurel Branch, which is a smaller waterfall that flows over the same drop as Sugar Creek Falls. It was actually quite scenic in itself. I have also had my eye on this section as my stepdaughter once had plans to attend Western Carolina University. I was to visit a waterfall here each time I visited. It didn’t work out that way, as she chose another university. Luckily, my wife and I like to stay in Dillsboro from time to time, which is very close to this area, downstream of the dominant river in this area, the mighty Tuckaseegee.
To find this beautiful place, find the main entrance to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC along State Highway 107. Travel south of the main entrance for about 3.8 miles mainly following the Tuckaseegee River upstream. Look for a left turn onto Caney Fork Rd to turn left. There will be a brown sign for Judaculla Rock. Follow Caney Fork Rd for 8.8 miles. This road follows…big surprise here….the Caney Fork. At the 8.8 mile mark, there will be a small church on the right. Take a right here onto Sugar Creek Rd. Follow it a little over half a mile. The pavement will end and enter the forest. I parked just before a bridge crosses Sugar Creek. The road becomes quite rough from here on, so the hike begins here.
Start out by walking up the dirt road. At a fork in the road here, keep left. After 0.2 miles, the road will cross Sugar Creek. Staying dry is is difficult, but doable if the water level is low. After another 0.2 miles the road will make a sharp left curve. A smaller trail will break off here, following Sugar Creek upstream to the falls. There is a tree with some wood nailed in it that will help mark this.
Keep following the trail upstream and soon the waterfall will be in sight. I believe Sugar Creek Falls is about 1/2 mile from where I parked. Just as it is with many waterfalls, getting down to the base is the most challenging section. This one is no where close to the most difficult, but you will need to be careful here. You are a long ways from any help here. Once down,….what a beautiful setting. Two gorgeous waterfalls, each 25-30 feet tall in a plush green setting, dotted with wildflowers. I didn’t have a lens wide enough to get a good shot of both waterfalls in one photo, so I took them individually.
After spending a good 15 minutes here, there is another waterfall upstream….Upper Sugar Creek Falls. I walked back to the trail I was on and continued upstream. It is not far, but this is where the real fun of my hike began. Once I found the falls, getting down to them was somewhat challenging, a little more so than Sugar Creek Falls. The correct way down to the base was not clearly marked from the trail I was on, so I came up with my on way down… It took me 2 attempts to do this. My first attempt was to go down at an angle, as the slope here is somewhat steep. Unfortunately, my way down just became too difficult and I decided to go back up and try another way. The second way wasn’t much easier but it was safer…It involved some bushwacking, instead of maneuvering wet slippery steep rocks, and I was not to be denied after making it this far. Once there, it was beautiful. It was about the same size as Sugar Creek Falls, but quite different, with just a gorgeous, huge light green spring canopy above it.
Heading back, the adventure continues. I did not want to go back up the same way that I came down. I did see an easier and clearer path up from the bottom, which ironically has happened on other hikes in the past. It was more of a straight up way near the drop of the falls instead of the angled way from below that I took down. This way back up was much easier, and did include the large area of old trash from days long gone by that is mentioned in Kevin Adam’s book. The people that used to live in these woods way back used this area to dump their waste here. I guess they just didn’t have convenient dumpsters around and bulky item pick-up days, or convenience to the city dumps that most of us are accustomed to . I dated one of the items here based on the make and model and found it to be in the 1920-1940 era.
It was just a bunch of junk. Old remains of mattresses, bed frames, appliances, and other stuff. It is easy to walk around and luckily is way out of view from the waterfalls. Once past this, I found the trail…..or what I thought was the trail….It was actually marked quite well. It was clear now..that this is the easiest and marked way down to Upper Sugar Creek Falls.
Once completing the climb up and around the junk. I found my self on a nice dirt road. This was not the same road I used to get here from Sugar Creek Falls, somewhat perplexing. I knew the way back was obviously just simply downstream so I walked on this road downstream. It wasn’t long before I saw a waterfall that I hadn’t seen, or at least thought I hadn’t seen. As it turns out, it was the waterfall on Dryland Laurel Branch. I just happened to be way above it. The road I was on, must have been the same road that I left when it made the sharp left turn and I followed a smaller trail to Sugar Creek Falls. It must have just winded around the mountain up to this point. I just wasn’t certain. As the road began to drift off to the right, away from Sugar Creek, I had a decision to make. Either take a chance that this road is the same road as the one below and follow it back and hope it circles back around, or drop off the road and make my way back to the trail I took up to the falls which was clearly now visible a good ways down below. Luckily I found a few side trails that have been worn down the mountain. It appears that I am not the first one to find myself in this situation. So I picked one that looked reasonable and soon joined back up with the trail I had originally taken.
Back close to the car, I took note of a few more signs of life that once existed in this area. It was an old well, that still had a nice steady stream of water flowing out of it. I love seeing things like this, and just imagine what life must have been like. There are some other places here that are also well on their way to being reclaimed by Mother Nature. Thank goodness for old roads like this and the access that they give us to recreational hiking a century or so later. I am just so certain….that was their intentions all along…lol
Once the hike was complete, my watch had logged 2.07 miles roundtrip. So taking out some of my missteps, I imagine this to be about a 1.8 mile roundtrip hike, so not that long and doable by most. The waterfalls were all beautiful, with good flows, and the time of year…late April, was just perfect.