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. Read more
Pot Branch Falls is a beautiful, yet small 3 tier waterfall, well tucked away in the South Mountain Game Lands. After attempting to visit the waterfalls of South Mountains State Park, only to find the rather large parking area totally full on a cool 50 degree day, I opted for a plan B. What exactly was plan B? Wasn’t quite sure yet. I was definitely not in the mood for nearly 100 people all at the waterfall at the same time. As I left the park, pondering where to go next, I stopped at the bridge over Jacobs Fork River. Just upstream is a small waterfall that has been well marked “No Trespassing”for as long as I have been waterfalling. The signs that were here were large and clear….But on this day in spring 2017, they are gone. Does this mean that this track of River is now open to view? I can’t answer that, but I decided to check it out anyway for further research….lol Read more
The Horsepasture River in southwest NC runs but a short distance at a little over 18 miles long, before in emptys into Lake Jocasse in northern South Carolina. Even shorter is the 4.5 mile section from NC 281 to Lake Jocasse that is designated a wild and scenic river. In this stretch of river is 6 named & famed waterfalls, tons of smaller falls and rapids that would might get names on most streams, and some of the prettiest waterfall scenery that North Carolina has to offer. This area receives a ton of rainfall. Gorges State Park, where the Rainbow Falls Trailhead is located, receives over 80 inches of rain per year. That’s a lot of water running down the hills, and the Horsepasture usually has a very healthy flow of water. Of the 6 names falls, 4 of them are fairly safe to reach, Stairway Falls, Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls (viewable from the edge of pool only due to private property). Read more
Well, if the recent 60’s weren’t enough, today we hit the low 70’s, in February…Crazy! There was no way that I was not going to find a way to get out and enjoy this. My choice today was Stone Mountain State Park. Stone Mountain State Park is one of my favorite places to hike, especially during the week. The location is very close to the triad where I live. The park sits just at the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment. The elevation at the summit is only 2305, and the temperatures here while a tad cooler than the triad, tend to be similar to that of lower elevations, which makes it a prime hiking spot in the winter. This park was one of the original places that I began hiking so it holds a special place with me. I can not think of another hike that offers more variety in it! Read more
Usually, to see frozen waterfalls in Western NC, one must go further west and up in elevation. However, on our 4th night in a row of temps in the teens and single digits here in the lower elevations, I had a feeling that our small waterfalls at the nearby Hanging Rock State Park might just freeze up. It is a Sunday morning and is the last day of temps this cold, before rain and slightly warmer air moves in. So, I fought all instincts and got out of bed very early on a frigid morning and headed out just after the park opened at 7 am. I wasn’t expecting much company as it was 12 degrees in the visitor center parking lot. Read more
During a recent trip to Gorges State Park in far SW North Carolina, I decided to make Stairway Falls my primary waterfall. This is accessed off of the popular Rainbow Falls Trail. Normally, hikers use this to see the magnificent Rainbow Falls. This is done by reaching the river first, and then hiking upstream. After the wonderful views of Rainbow Falls, most will either head back to their cars, or continue upstream. After climbing the steep Rainbow Falls Trail to the top of this 150 foot waterfall, 2 smaller , but but still beautiful waterfalls await. TurtleBack Falls, and Drift Falls, are just minutes upstream and are quite a fine reward for those that hike up the punishing Rainbow Falls. I have done this numerous times.
But….there are also waterfalls downstream from where you first meet the river. Most avoid this area due to a lack of good trails, and dangerously steep terrain. Stairway Falls, Sidepocket Falls and eventually the very dangerous Windy Falls can be seen to some extent downstream. This day I chose to visit Stairway Falls. This is the first one downstream, has a decent path, and is gorgeous. It is a fine addition to my new waterfalls seen in 2014, which is now at 23. To see more on this, please visit my Flickr album, “New Waterfalls Of 2014”.
To get here, find your way to The Gorges State Park entrance on NC Hwy 281. This is about a mile past where NC 281 meets with US 64 in Sapphire, NC. Turn into the state park, and I would suggest stopping at the visitor center. This place is only a few years old, and is very cool. The Rangers inside are also very helpful with information here. Once past the center, continue downhill a bit until you see a large parking area on the right. Park here, stretch your legs and get ready for some fun.
At this intersection, turn right and head down the Rainbow Falls Trail. This is a nice trail that will descend slightly for most of the way until the river. After a mile and a half from the parking lot, you will notice a sign saying that you are leaving Gorges State Park. Here is the sign along with a photo of the Rainbow Falls trail in autumn.
After leaving the park, you will now be in the Nantahala National Forest. Shortly after leaving the park, there will be a thin, brown, carsonite sign on the left side of the trail. Rainbow Falls has been written with a marker and an arrow to the right. The trail that breaks off to the left here….is the one that takes you down to Stairway Falls.
The trail is immediately more narrow, but still in good shape. There appears to have been some maintenance done on it recently. It goes downhill, and in no time, you will be at the top “step”. This is the first of five 10 foot waterfalls, one after another. The trail keeps going down to the base, where a number of large rocks and boulders await to sit down, stretch out and enjoy these 5 beautiful waterfalls all working together to form the “Stairway”. I really enjoyed it down here. The water was up on an already high volume stream. The fall colors and blue sky were marvelous. Also, on a crowded Saturday in the park along the trails, I had this entire waterfall to myself to enjoy.
After Stairway, I couldn’t…not see Rainbow Falls. This is after all one of the finest waterfalls in North Carolina. So I met back up with the Rainbow Falls Trail, and kept heading upstream. Once the trail reaches the river, a large campsite will be on the right. Two streams must be crossed, dryly I am happy to report. One is rather large, with big rocks placed there to help make the cross easier. The trail then begins to climb, steeper as you near Rainbow Falls. Nice wooden steps have been added in the last 2 years or so to make this easier and safer. After the steepest climb yet, there it is Rainbow Falls…..
The heavy mist coming off of this large waterfall makes for an amazing site. If you get there in time…about 9-11 am, a large rainbow can be visible over the waterfall, on a sunny day that is. I was there around noon, so the rainbow was in the lower right section of the photo, working its way out of the picture as the sun’s angle was changing. Enjoy the view from the trail, or walk down to the new, lower platform. If you still have energy, head on up the trail to the top of the waterfall for some additional views at the top, and also on to view Turtleback and Drift Falls.
Here is a map of the hike. Starting point is in the upper right corner, with Stairway Falls being the first stop on the river, and Rainbow Falls being well upstream.
With a little spare time on my hands this week, I decided to go check out a waterfall that I learned was due north of Greensboro, NC. I found this one while reading a blog post from Mark Caskie on his “Line of Cedars” blog:
This means that I will actually be driving east, the one direction that usually is not used in waterfall directions from my location. Mayo River State Park is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks. With a few picnic areas, 2 short hiking trails, and a small fishing pond, I have to say that I was not overwhelmed by the options or scenery, especially compared to Hanging Rock State Park, which sits a few miles to the west. They are however in their infancy, and I am sure that better things are to come. They are headed in the right direction, because now …… They have a waterfall!
As I continue to develop my skills in photography, I have learned and accepted that I must look at rainy, gray days as opportunities…..good things. I am a sunny day hiker by habit, and enjoy being outdoors in good weather. The rainy days are usually spen…well, indoors. Because of the lighting challenges that sunny days present when photographing waterfalls, I have slowly, over time accepted the fact that I must get out on these gray days and take advantage….if I ever want to take better images.
Capturing the attention and imagination of an 11 year old is not an easy task. Keeping it for any length of time is nearly impossible. These were my goals on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in March. In a winter that has been defined by the prolonged brutal arctic cold blasts, an afternoon that is sunny and 75, must be taken advantage of. This meant that young Emma would NOT be spending this afternoon watching TV, playing games on the IPAD, or listening to One Direction. I remember her saying…”Do we have to go hiking”? Well, yes I said. Her mother wanted me to get her out and stretch her legs a bit. This was just what I intended to do. I disguised it a bit by bribing her with dinner at the local Dairi-O, a hot dog and ice cream joint that kids here go nuts for. I threw in the prospect for finding a geocache or two and she was game.
It’s a rare Monday off work in January. After a busy weekend hiking, and NFL playoff games, I was feeling a little lazy today. About noon, I decided to get out of the recliner and make sure this nice 50 degree day was not wasted. It’s a good thing that I live within a half hour drive of Hanging Rock State Park.