Nantahala National Forest: Lauren Falls, Patricia Falls, Lower Balsam Falls, and Balsam Falls via Mallonee Trail from Balsam Lake Recreation Area, Rosman, North Carolina
Southwest North Carolina's Wolf Creek sure is a potent stream with the six major waterfalls it is home to. The tallest and best-known waterfall on the creek is Wolf Creek Falls aka Paradise Falls below Wolf Creek Lake. But higher up on Wolf Creek is a set of four breathtaking pristine waterfalls clustered close together near Balsam Lake. The series of falls culminates with Lauren Falls, a spectacular near free-fall with a deep pool surrounded by beautiful water-sculpted rock outcrops. The hike to these waterfalls, especially Patricia Falls and Lauren Falls, is quite difficult as it involves a lot of off-trail scrambling, but less experienced hikers have the choice to hike just to the first waterfall, Balsam Falls, which is considerably easier to reach with only minimal scrambling. Along the way, visitors will be treated to many gorgeous views of Balsam Lake along the Mallonee Trail. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 14th, 2017. My plan was to hike to the Mallonee Trail along Balsam Lake from Balsam Lake Recreation Area to Balsam Lake Dam, from where I would follow faint paths to Balsam Falls, Lower Balsam Falls, Patricia Falls, and Lauren Falls. I would return the same way.
The Little Canada area of Southwest North Carolina is home to a vast array of majestic waterfalls, and Sols Creek is one of the area's signature creeks. Few North Carolina waterfalls are as jaw-dropping as Sols Creek Falls near the creek's lower end, but unfortunately, that falls is on private property. In contrast, Upper Sols Creek Falls is on National Forest land and is nearly as impressive as its taller brother. Tumbling 65 feet down a huge cliff, Upper Sols Creek Falls is a spectacular waterfall and falls into a fairly easy-to-reach category. The unofficial trail to the falls has a few creek crossings but is mostly in good shape and can be walked by hikers of nearly all levels. In fact, the most difficult part of the hike may be finding the obscure trailhead and pullout parking. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 14th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Upper Sols Creek Falls from NC Route 281.
Nantahala National Forest: Waterfalls of the Upper Whitewater River (including Sculpted Falls & Exit Falls) and Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek, Cashiers, North Carolina
The Whitewater River is one of the most spectacular rivers in the Southeastern US. In its 15-mile length, the river plummets over two of the region's tallest and most breathtaking waterfalls, through a rare narrow slot canyon, and over nearly a dozen smaller waterfalls. Most folks familiar with the Whitewater River only know about Upper & Lower Whitewater Falls. This report focuses on the area immediately upstream, known as the Upper Whitewater River area, which is one of the most rugged, pristine, and gorgeous stretches of river that I've hiked. The Upper Whitewater Slot Canyon is a particularly unique location, where the mighty Whitewater River squeezes into a narrow canyon about 300 feet long and only a feet wide, lined by sheer cliffs rising dozens of feet. The river even crashes over two significant waterfalls - Sculpted Falls & Little Canyon Falls - in the canyon, as well as two others - Entrance Falls and Exit Falls - at both ends of it. While the waterfalls around the canyon are this hike's biggest highlight, many other photogenic waterfalls such as 55 MPH Falls lie between the canyon and Route 281, and the scenic Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek, a Whitewater River tributary, is a great bonus too. Seeing all of the waterfalls along the Upper Whitewater River requires a cross-country trek about as challenging as any in the North Carolina mountains, although access to a few selected waterfalls by themselves is easier. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 9th, 2017. Placing one car at NC 281 and another on Heady Mountain Road, my plan was to follow the easiest route downstream along the Whitewater River between the two parking areas, making sure to visit all waterfalls on the river as well as Hornet Falls on Democrat Creek.
A 50-foot waterfall that spouts water from all sides of a jagged sheer cliff, accessible by a steep and tricky yet short path from the Blue Ridge Parkway: that's the matching description for English Falls. Located in Northwest North Carolina not far from the quaint town of Spruce Pine, English Falls possesses charm of a level that few other of the state's waterfalls seem to reach. The setting of the waterfall is magical, due to the lush greenery that peppers the cliffs and boulders at and around the falls. A small drawback of English Falls is that it is on a small unnamed stream, so the flow can be low during parts of the year. Nevertheless, if you visit English Falls at the right time, you will find it to be one of the most scenic and photogenic waterfalls that you've seen. This hike occurred on Tuesday, July 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to English Falls via the access path from the Blue Ridge Parkway. This hike was the tenth and final of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Grandfather Mountain State Park: Cragway Trail, Daniel Boone Scout Trail, and Grandfather Crest Trail to Swinging Bridge from Boone Fork Trailhead, Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Anyone who lives in the Southeastern United States must have a hike along the crest of Grandfather Mountain on their bucket list. No words or pictures can accurately describe or convey the rugged splendor of the Grandfather Crest. Part of Grandfather Mountain is still operated as a private attraction that does allow public access under a hefty fee and a number of restrictions, but most of the mountain is land owned by the state of North Carolina in the form of Grandfather Mountain State Park. One of the secondary trailheads for Grandfather Mountain is actually off the Blue Ridge Parkway, from which several trails lead to Calloway Peak - the highest point on Grandfather Mountain. From there, the Grandfather Trail makes a very rugged traverse over two other peaks - Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak - with many technical rock scrambles, cable sections, ladders, and of course, outstanding views. The 360-degree vistas on Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak are of the type that you would find in Montana or Colorado rather than North Carolina. Eventually, the Grandfather Trail descends into the mountain's private section, reaching Linville Peak (where additional views await) and one of North Carolina's best-known tourist attractions: the Mile-High Swinging Bridge. This hike occurred on Monday, July 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Tanawha Trail, Nuwati Trail, Cragway Trail, and Daniel Boone Scout Trail to the summit of Calloway Peak, passing Top Crag View, Flat Rock View, Lynn Cove Viaduct View, and an old plane crash. Then, I would follow the Grandfather Trail over Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak to Linville Peak and the Swinging Bridge, making side trips to Watauga View and Indian House Cave along the way. My return route would be similar, but I would use the Underwood Trail to bypass MacRae Peak, and I would use only the Daniel Boone Scout Trail instead of the Cragway Trail and Nuwati Trail for a slightly easier descent back to the trailhead from Calloway Peak. This hike was the ninth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Linville Gorge Wilderness: Razor Edge Point and Cathedral Falls via Rock Jock/Pinch-In/Linville Gorge/Conley Cove Loop, Linville, North Carolina
The Linville Gorge Wilderness of Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina's third largest wilderness area, encompasses an area that is one of the most rugged areas in the Southeast: Linville Gorge. Flowing along the bottom of the gorge is the boulder-strewn Linville River, located as much as over 1500 feet below the gorge's rims at its deepest spots. The Linville Gorge Trail runs through nearly the entire length of the gorge, passing countless obstacles as it follows the steep banks of the Linville River for miles. An array of trails and roads runs along the rims of the gorge, and a number of extremely steep paths provide access to the gorge floor, allowing one to hike loops of varying length encompassing both the gorge floor and rim. One of those loops is the Rock Jock Loop: a spectacular yet grueling hike that passes at least six particularly breathtaking vistas and many other smaller views as well as numerous cataracts on the Linville River and one tall waterfall on its tributary. While it is possible to hike the Rock Jock Loop in one day like I did, it will be very tiring, and in order to get the most enjoyable and relaxing experience, turning the Rock Jock Loop into a weekend backpacking trip could be a good idea. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 8th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Rock Jock Loop/Linville Gorge Loop counter-clockwise from the Conley Cove Trailhead. This hike was the seventh of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Linville Gorge Wilderness: Mountains-to-Sea Trail to Table Rock, The Chimneys, The Amphitheater, and North Carolina Wall, Linville, North Carolina
If I had to name the ten best hikes that I have ever done, the hike along the east rim of Linville Gorge to Table Rock and the North Carolina Wall would make the list without question. This section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail provides access to several jaw-dropping vistas of Linville Gorge as well as its surroundings. North of the Table Rock Picnic Area is the summit of Table Rock, whose lofty peak is surrounded by cliffs hundreds of feet high and whose elongated rocky summit is home to a series of grand vistas that encompass a 360-degree view. Meanwhile, to the south, the MST first passes through a place called The Chimneys, a series of wild and jagged rock outcrops of all shapes and sizes, where the knife-edge ridge with 360-degree views forms a boundary between the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont and the ruggedness of Linville Gorge. Then, if all of that wasn't enough, a pair of side trails lead to the North Carolina Wall. Rising hundreds of feet high, the North Carolina Wall is an incredible line of cliffs with continuous views over a half-mile long along the east rim of the gorge. This hike occurred on Friday, July 7th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Table Rock Trail from the Table Rock Picnic Area to the summit of Table Rock. On my way back, I would take a side trail to an area of cliffs known as the Devil's Cellar. Then, I would follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the other direction to and through The Chimneys, before taking a side trail down to an area on the rim of the gorge known as The Amphitheater. Finally, I would follow another faint trail along the top of the NC Wall back to the MST, before retracing my steps back to the picnic area. This hike was the sixth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Linville Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in North Carolina. Located on the Linville River at the very head of Linville Gorge, the falls cascades over a hundred feet via multiple tiers, crashing into a huge plunge pool lined by tall cliffs at the end of the final 45-foot tier of the falls. A network of popular trails, stemming from the Linville Falls Visitor Center, weaves around the falls and leads to five different viewpoints of it (including the base itself). In addition, a bonus waterfall known as Duggers Creek Falls can be seen from one of the trails. This hike occurred on Friday, July 7th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to each of the five viewpoints of Linville Falls as well as Duggers Creek Falls from Linville Falls Visitor Center. This hike was the fifth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Pisgah National Forest: Harper Creek Loop to Harper Creek Falls, Bard Falls, and South Harper Creek Falls, Linville, North Carolina
The Wilson Creek watershed in the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest is well-known for its numerous hiking trails and backpacking opportunities. One of the largest tributaries of Wilson Creek is Harper Creek. Harper Creek and its tributaries are home to several spectacular waterfalls in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain. Particularly impressive is South Harper Creek Falls: a massive 120-foot double sliding waterfall that can be viewed from three distinct locations: the base, the midpoint, and the cliffs on the other side of Harper Creek. If you hike the Harper Creek Loop, you'll also pass triple-tier Harper Creek Falls - that isn't too shabby either - and have the option to take a lengthy side trail to Bard Falls on North Harper Creek. However, it is best to be prepared for overgrown trails and over a dozen wet crossings of Harper Creek if you do hike the full loop. This hike occurred on Thursday, July 6th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Harper Creek Loop counter-clockwise from Brown Mountain Beach Road, following the Harper Creek Trail and then the Raider Camp Trail. Along the way, I would take a side trip to Bard Falls along the North Harper Creek Trail, and I would also take short side trails to Harper Creek Falls and three different viewpoints for South Harper Creek Falls. This hike was the fourth of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
The Snake Mountain Trail easily makes the list for the top 5 best mountain hikes in North Carolina. Located in the Elk Knob Game Lands, the Snake Mountain ridge sports spectacular views in all directions from a trail that follows the very knife-edge crest of the ridge, passing over many rock outcrops and sometimes traveling mere inches from the edges of cliffs dozens of feet high. The hike to Snake Mountain is not for the average hiker due to the extremely steep ascent and the numerous technical scrambles along the ridge, but those who make it will be rewarded with some of the best views anywhere in the Southeast. The Sunalei Preserve and its homeowners must be commended for their willingness to allow public travel through the private property that the first part of the trail passes. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 5th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back along the Snake Mountain Trail over the North Peak and South Peak of Snake Mountain from the north trailhead off Meat Camp Road. Unfortunately, rain and fog ruined some of the views, but it still turned out to be a spectacular hike. This hike was the third of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Update #4 12/20/17: Viewers hiked Snake Mountain on Saturday, December 2nd, and Tuesday, December 19th, and are pleased to report that there are NO “No Trespassing” signs or anything of the sort on the trail! This is great news - let’s keep our fingers crossed that the trail stays open with our help! The former parking area for the trail is gated - reportedly due to drug dealing going on in the parking area - but hikers are still free to park alongside the road at the trailhead (there is plenty of space to do so). The viewers reported seeing multiple people on their hikes to Snake Mountain, which suggests that there is continued public interest in the Snake Mountain hike. For now, you are free to hike the trail but please respect the private land and leave no trace.
If you're looking for the perfect combination of beauty and ease of access to a waterfall in North Carolina, Elk River Falls has to be at the top of your list. A well-used relaxing trail leads along the banks of the mighty Elk River to the base of Elk River Falls, a tight sheer 50-foot drop into a huge plunge pool that is known for its swimming opportunities. Most folks who hike to Elk River Falls don't know that another excellent waterfall can be reached fairly easily from the same trailhead. 100-foot Jones Falls is on a small tributary of the Elk River and during the wetter months is a sight no less impressive than Elk River Falls. A signed spur trail from the Appalachian Trail facilitates access to this gorgeous spot. Hikers will be able to see both waterfalls with a hike of fewer than four miles. This hike occurred on Wednesday, July 5th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Elk River Falls and then to follow a forest road and unofficial connector path to the Appalachian Trail, which I would use to reach Jones Falls. I would return the same way. This hike was the first of ten hikes that I did during a seven-day trip to the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Beech Creek Loop to Bull Cove Falls, High Falls, and Big Scaly Mountain Overlook, Tate City, Georgia
A classic Southern Appalachian wilderness hike, the Beech Creek Loop is a 'must-do' for all classes of hikers alike. I'll add that the Beech Creek Loop is among the top hikes that I have ever done, in Georgia or elsewhere. Over its eight-mile course, the loop visits two spectacular waterfalls - one of which is about 100 feet high - and passes a lengthy but worthwhile side trail to a breathtaking 180-degree view from Big Scaly Mountain into the Tallulah River Valley. In addition, the trail provides a perfect wilderness experience, full of solitude all throughout the Beech Creek gorge and on the slopes of Big Scaly Mountain. A short stretch of roadwalk is necessary to close the loop, but even walking along Tallulah River Road is nice, as you will get several views of the Tallulah River and its cascades. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Beech Creek Loop counter-clockwise, although I would use two cars to eliminate the 1.2-mile roadwalk. Along the way, I would take short side trips to Bull Cove Falls and High Falls and a much longer side trip to the vista on Big Scaly Mountain. Note that if you do the Beech Creek Loop, you must by all means take the time to go to the overlook as well.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Holden Cove Trail/Appalachian Trail/Bly Gap Trail Loop to Oversoul Falls, Ravenrock Cliff Overlook, and Fall Branch Falls, Tate City, Georgia
The Upper Tallulah River splits the Southern Nantahala Wilderness's lower region into two nearly separate parts. To the east of the Tallulah River, some of the wilderness's most famous landmarks are situated, such as Standing Indian Mountain, High Falls, and Denton Creek Falls, each of which is reached by well-used trails. The rugged terrain to the west of the Tallulah River tells a whole different story, however. Few official trails traverse this remote area, but a pair of unofficial footpaths provide access from the bottom of the valley all the way to the ridgetops. A beautiful waterfall called Oversoul Falls is found along the unmaintained Holden Cove Trail, and a difficult trek away from the Bly Gap Trail will lead an experienced hiker to Fall Branch Falls, a long series of steep cascades and slides. Even the Appalachian Trail in this area is used lightly compared to many other sections of the AT, and you're not likely to meet any people along the way to the breathtaking Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. This hike was occurred on Saturday, May 20th, 2017. My plan was to begin the day with a surprisingly difficult bushwhack from the Bly Gap Trailhead to Fall Branch Falls. Then, I would move on the main hike of the day, placing a second car at the Holden Cove Trailhead and hiking the Holden Cove Trail past Oversoul Falls to the Appalachian Trail and to Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. I would finish the hike by following the AT to Bly Gap and then hiking the Bly Gap Trail back to the first car. Folks without the option of taking two cars for the hike would have to make a final 2-mile roadwalk to complete the loop.
Chattooga Wild and Scenic River: Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon via Chattooga River Trail from Bullpen Bridge, Highlands, North Carolina
The definition of the term slot canyon is "a narrow canyon formed by the wear of water rushing through rock". These unique canyons are fairly common in the Desert Southwest sector (such as in Utah or Arizona) of the United States. What if I told you that there is a slot canyon, or several, in southwest North Carolina? Are you baffled yet? It is actually the truth, as there are a few isolated and very rare slot canyons on some of the mountain rivers and creeks in southwest North Carolina and adjacent portions of extreme northeast Georgia. At the Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon, the mighty river gets squeezed into an unusually deep and very picturesque alleyway that is no more than a few feet wide. Two small but photogenic waterfalls act as bonuses to this already excellent hike. There might still be more slot canyons out there in the Blue Ridge Mountains, waiting for their turns to be discovered and introduced to the public. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Chattooga River Trail out and back from Bullpen Bridge to a goat path that would take me to the Chattooga River, from where I'd walk upstream to Whoa Nellie! Sieve and the Upper Chattooga River Slot Canyon. After the hike, I would make the scramble to Potholes Falls at Bullpen Bridge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Boogerman Trail and Big Fork Ridge Trail, Maggie Valley, North Carolina
The Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a place where beauty and history mingle together. By the mid 1800s, there were several settlements in the valley, the remains of which we can still see today. The mountains around the Cataloochee Valley are home to areas of gorgeous old-growth forest, where tall trees tower proudly into the sky in areas that have never been logged. On this hike, you will first hike along the Caldwell Fork - a picturesque mountain stream - before taking the Boogerman Trail past some of the area's most remarkable trees, as well as a couple of significant historic points, including an old cemetery and an old stone wall. You will then follow the Big Fork Ridge Trail across a low ridge that separates the Caldwell Fork valley from the Cataloochee Valley, before concluding the hike along Cataloochee Road and seeing several more historical points of interest. If you're lucky, you might also spot the renowned Cataloochee elk. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 1st, 2016. My plan was to hike the Caldwell Fork Trail to the lower Boogerman Trail junction, from where I would follow the Boogerman Trail to its end farther up on the Caldwell Fork Trail. I would then take the Caldwell Fork Trail to the Big Fork Ridge Trail, which I would follow to Cataloochee Road. I would finish the hike by walking Cataloochee Road back to the trailhead.
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Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 482.4 Miles
Year 5: 190.3 Miles