Monongahela National Forest: High Falls Trail to High Falls on Shavers Fork Cheat River, Elkins, West Virginia
Despite its generic name, the High Falls of Cheat is known as one of Monongahela's more distinctive waterfalls. As less than 20 feet in height, the falls isn't very tall - but its signature feature is its width, stretching across a 100-foot wide cliff. The enormous pool and swimming hole denoting the base of High Falls is a welcome sight on a warm summer day. A scenic trail leads to the falls across Shavers Mountain from the West Fork Glady Fork valley. High Falls is unusual in that it is one of the longest waterfall hikes in Monongahela, yet it is also easily accessible by a scenic tourist train ride from Elkins. The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad Company runs a seasonal track through the Tygart Valley and up the remote gorge of the Shavers Fork Cheat River, otherwise accessible only by foot. The track runs directly past High Falls, so during the summer, don't be surprised to find company from people who reached the falls by train. On the other hand, you're likely to have the hike and falls all to yourself in the cold winter months, especially if you choose to visit after a foot of fresh snow has fallen, like I did. This hike occurred on Monday, February 1st, 2021. My plan was to simply hike the High Falls Trail out and back from the trailhead along FS 44.
New River Gorge National Park: Waterfalls of Fern Creek and Endless Wall Trail, Fayetteville, West Virginia
The Endless Wall Trail is one of the most famous trails in New River Gorge National Park and all of West Virginia. Following the brink of the gorge for nearly two miles, the trail provides many outstanding views looking down from the towering cliffs of the Endless Wall. None is as legendary as Diamond Point, a rock promontory that features unobstructed views in both directions of the New River Gorge. However, what is less common knowledge is that the Endless Wall Trail serves as an access point to a set of spectacular off-trail waterfalls on Fern Creek. The trail crosses a placid Fern Creek above the gorge rim, but few people realize that a plethora of awe-striking beauty lies downstream. A side trail off the Endless Wall Trail known as the Climbers' Trail descends into the gorge through a series of ladders and caves, providing relatively easy access to Matteus Falls and Upper Fern Creek Falls. But reaching the middle and lower waterfalls of Fern Creek is a true adventure that is devoid of any paths, full of expansive rock gardens, and punctuated by house-size boulders. This trip report is split into two sections: the first describes the Fern Creek waterfall excursion, and the second describes the rest of the easy Endless Wall Trail. I initially hiked the Endless Wall Trail on Saturday, August 1st, 2020. I then returned to the area and explored the entirety of Fern Creek from top to bottom on Sunday, January 17th, 2021. This trip report combines details and photos from both hikes.
Monongahela National Forest (Laurel Fork North Wilderness): Laurel River Trail to Stone Camp Run Junction, Elkins, West Virginia
The Laurel Fork Wilderness is one of the least-travelled areas in Monongahela National Forest. The wilderness spans the length of the Laurel Fork of the Cheat River, an impressive waterway that winds through a remote area of the mountains east of the unincorporated community of Glady. You won't find any spectacular vistas or towering cascades here, but what you will find is a pristine river and a lovely (albeit sometimes faint) trail where solitude is guaranteed. The Laurel Fork Wilderness has been split into two halves by CR 40/FR 423, which crosses Laurel Fork at the Laurel Fork Campground. The report below describes an exploratory foray into the Laurel Fork North Wilderness. This hike occurred on Tuesday, January 12th, 2021. Starting at the campground, I traced the Laurel River Trail downstream through the broadening Laurel Fork valley to a junction with the Stone Camp Run Trail, and I then returned the same way.
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness: Ike Branch - Yellowhammer Gap - Windy Gap - Slickrock Creek Loop to Wildcat Falls and Lower Falls, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Imagine a large mountain waterway winding its way through a wilderness for nearly a dozen miles with zero road access. Picture a rugged, little-traveled pathway following this waterway, crisscrossing the creek many times through deep, slick fords, circumnavigating countless blowdowns and rock scrambles. There, you've discovered the Slickrock Creek Trail! This is the best creek trail I've ever walked in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and I'm not even exaggerating. Nowhere else have I found a combination of such remote beauty and rugged wilderness trail, which never follows any of the logging roads customary to most North Carolina waterways. As if you needed more incentive to tackle this hike, the Slickrock Creek Trail features two secluded waterfalls - Wildcat Falls and Lower Falls - with swimming holes that couldn't be any more refreshing after a long summer day in the backcountry. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 15th, 2018. My plan was to day hike a lengthy loop through the heart of the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Creek Wilderness backcountry. I would start off along the Slickrock Creek Trail at Cheoah Dam along US 129, but before long, I would take the Ike Branch Trail. At Yellowhammer Gap, I would pick up the Yellowhammer Gap Trail, followed by the Nichols Cove Trail and Windy Gap Trail. The Windy Gap Trail would finally bring me to Slickrock Creek, from where I'd spend the rest of the day tracing the Slickrock Creek Trail back to US 129.
There's the touristy side of the Horsepasture River. There's the monster Rainbow Falls and its sidekicks, Stairway Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls, all some of Gorges State Park's most popular and highly-regarded destinations. And then there's Windy Falls... the Horsepasture's truly wild side, tackled only by the most hardcore waterfallers and rock climbers. The Horsepasture's other waterfalls pale in comparison in the mighty shadow of Windy Falls, which crashes over 200 vertical feet through a conglomerate of boulders the sizes of two-story houses and slanted cliffs the sizes of small football fields. Those who reach this monster waterfall's base will be rewarded with a first-rate view of raw, breathtaking power, dwarfed by the even more majestic rocky surroundings. Yet reaching the base is an adventure not to be taken lightly, involving two rock scrambles with ropes and a squeeze through a keyhole perfect for getting stuck if you're larger than the average person. Gorges State Park neither sanctions nor recommends the trip to Windy Falls, and neither do I. Only people with substantial experience in cross-country rock scrambling with ropes must attempt to reach the base; those who don't could get injured or even fall to their deaths. Proceed at your own risk. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 8th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of Windy Falls using a steep, unofficial trail from Chestnut Mountain Road concluding in a series of technical and potentially dangerous rock scrambles.
Citico Creek Wilderness: North Fork Trail/Benton MacKaye Trail/South Fork Trail Loop and Old Goat Falls, Tellico Plains, Tennessee
Nestled between the Little Tennessee River and the Cherohala Skyway, the 16,226-acre Citico Creek Wilderness features some of East Tennessee's most remote hiking trails. The primary focus points of the wilderness are its two major waterways: the North and South Forks of Citico Creek. Seldom-traveled trails follow both streams, crisscrossing them many times along the way, and providing numerous views of the creeks' many scenic cascades and pristine banks. Even better, a short scramble off the North Fork Trail is the spectacular Old Goat Falls, crashing 40 feet through a cleft amidst ferny cliffs. This hike, an ambitious loop along both forks of Citico Creek all the way to their headwaters, is among the best creek hikes in Cherokee National Forest. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 1st, 2018. My plan was to initially follow the South Fork Trail from Citico Creek Road to the North Fork Trail junction. There, I would pick up the North Fork Trail and climb it to Cherry Log Gap, scrambling down to Old Goat Falls along the way. I would then follow the Benton MacKaye Trail from Cherry Log Gap to Cold Spring Gap, from where I would take the South Fork Trail back to Citico Creek Road.
Nantahala National Forest: Thompson River Waterfalls - Big Falls, Rich Falls, Simon Falls, and High Falls, Cashiers, North Carolina
The Thompson River is one of several great rivers in the Jocassee Gorges region on the south side of Lake Toxaway. Although the Thompson River isn't as well-known as the nearby Whitewater River (due to Whitewater Falls) or Horsepasture River (due to Rainbow Falls), the Thompson features a collection of gorgeous waterfalls, including a 200-foot monster called Big Falls. Big Falls on Thompson River is an awesome, massive waterfall that crashes down through an enormous open area full of cliffs and borders. This spectacular waterfall should be on every experienced waterfaller's must-see list. Much of the hike to Big Falls follow an unofficial moderate trail along an old logging road that meanders near the Thompson River. However, the final section of the Big Falls hike is an extreme descent into the gorge, including several short rock scrambles. Along the Big Falls hike, you'll pass side trails to three other beautiful waterfalls that are all unique in their own ways and are worth seeing. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 26th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Big Falls from Brewer Road. On my way in, I would make a side trip to Simon Falls. On my return trip, I would make side trips to Rich Falls and High Falls. Unfortunately, a series of heavy thunderstorms messed up my plans slightly, but it was still a great day.
Nearly every tributary of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River has waterfalls of some sort. 40-foot Long Creek Falls is a particularly spectacular drop only 100 feet above the Chattooga River. Long Creek Falls is accessed by a lesser-known yet easy unofficial trail from Turkey Ridge Road (FS 755), about 1.7 miles long. The great swimming hole and large flat rocks around Long Creek Falls make it an excellent summertime destination. The Long Creek Falls Trail additionally passes a steep side path to a seldom-visited cascading waterfall on Pinckney Branch called Homer's Falls. Flowing only in wet weather, Homer's Falls flows 20 feet through an incredibly lush and mossy rock grotto before emptying into the Chattooga River. Hikers who go to Long Creek Falls even have the option of making a side trip to the top of Raven Rock Cliff, a 100-foot cliff that towers over the Chattooga River and features great gorge views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Long Creek Falls from the end of FS 755, making the side trip to Homer's Falls along the way.
Yellow Branch Falls is an absolutely phenomenal waterfall in Oconee County, South Carolina (although it needs a lot of water to look its best). Over 50 feet high, Yellow Branch Falls features a stunning clamshell-shaped drop that spreads out in countless mini-trickles across a jagged rock face. From the Yellow Branch Recreation Area off Highway 28, an easy-to-moderate hiking trail leads 1.65 miles down the Yellow Branch valley past several smaller cascades to the falls. In addition, an unnamed tributary of Yellow Branch features a 35-foot cascading waterfall called Lohr's Falls. Lohr's Falls is only for experienced waterfallers, as there's no trail whatsoever to it. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike the trail out and back to Yellow Branch Falls. Along the way back, I would bushwhack to Lohr's Falls.
Lee Falls is often cited as one of Upstate South Carolina's top ten most beautiful waterfalls. Over 80 feet high, Lee Falls is an absolutely stunning free-falling drop in a 'tropical paradise' setting, surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. Although the moderate trail to Lee Falls isn't official, it's easily followed for 1.5 miles all the way to the falls. Along the way, you'll pass through several overgrown wildlife clearings and make six creek crossings as you scramble up the Tamassee Creek valley to Lee Falls. The best time of year to visit Lee Falls is during late spring after a good rain, when all the lush green growth around Lee Falls is particularly eye-popping and beautiful. Just be sure to go when the water levels are high. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Lee Falls.
Nestled in the Bald Mountains of Northeast Tennessee, the West Fork Dry Creek valley features some of the area's most beautiful streamside scenery. A well-known hiking trail, the Margarette Falls Trail, climbs along West Fork Dry Creek close to a mile past numerous scenic cascades to the 60-foot fan-shaped drop of Margarette Falls. Above Margarette Falls is a very unique waterfall called Bailey Falls. Accessed exclusively by an off-trail creek-walk, Bailey Falls consists of separate 30-foot upper and 20-foot lower sections in a gorgeous slot canyon. For experienced waterfallers, Bailey Falls is a must-see - no other waterfall quite like it is known in Tennessee. This hike occurred on Friday, April 27th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Margarette Falls Trail out and back to Margarette Falls. I would continue following a goat path past Margarette Falls and then walk the creek to Lower & Upper Bailey Falls. This hike was the second of six hikes that I did during a four-day trip to the mountains of northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
Pisgah National Forest: Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Cold Mountain via West Fork Way and Shelton-Pisgah Trail, Rosman, North Carolina
Just off NC 281 is a lesser-known entrance to the backcountry of Panthertown Valley: the West Fork Way trailhead. The unofficial West Fork Way ascends through the West Fork French Broad River watershed for several miles, passing the extremely steep access trail to three spectacular waterfalls: Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Lower Dismal Falls. West Fork Way then connects to another unofficial trail on the fringes of Panthertown Valley called the Shelton-Pisgah Trail, which follows a seldom-hiked pathway along the ridge of Shelton-Pisgah Mountain to Cold Mountain. A cliff on the west side of Cold Mountain, nicknamed the High Bethel View features an outstanding vista of Panthertown Valley spread out to the west - arguably the best of the valley's five views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 12th, 2018. My plan was to hike West Fork Way and Shelton-Pisgah Trail out and back to Cold Mountain. Along the way, I would take the side trails to Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Lower Dismal Falls. I would also stop by two other small falls - Aunt Sally's Falls and Lower Rhapsodie Falls.
Green River Game Lands: Milton Bradley Falls, Bradley Cooper Falls, Marilou Bradley Falls, Cavern Falls, and Big Bradley Falls, Saluda, North Carolina
When you imagine a place with five spectacular waterfalls in one hike, the lowest region of the North Carolina mountains in the Green River valley - elevation 1000' - hardly comes to mind. And yet, the Green River Game Lands and adjacent areas surrounding Saluda are home to a variety of excellent water features. Perhaps the most breathtaking waterfall in the area is 75-foot Big Bradley Falls, a sheer twin drop on Cove Creek that forcefully crashes down through a cleft in an amphitheater of enormous cliffs. Less than a mile from Cove Creek, the off-trail hike up Little Cove Creek, and later its tributary, culminates in the remarkably unique Cavern Falls, where part of the 30-foot waterfall shoots through a perpetually wet and dark cavern. What's more, the hike to Cavern Falls passes three other waterfalls - all very beautiful and picturesque. This hike consists of two starkly different sections: one half along Little Cove Creek is a difficult bushwhack and creek-walk that is suitable for experienced off-trail adventurers only, whereas the other half along Cove Creek is a relatively easy stroll along a well-defined trail to an outstanding waterfall accessible to most hikers. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 5th, 2018. My plan was to begin the hike at the trailhead by Wilderness Cove Tubing and follow old farm roads to Little Cove Creek, where I would hike off-trail upstream along the creek and its tributary to Milton Bradley Falls, Bradley Cooper Falls, Marilou Bradley Falls, and Cavern Falls. On my return trip, I would take a side trail along Cove Creek to Big Bradley Falls.
Nantahala National Forest: Panthertown Valley West End Loop to Wilderness Falls and Big Green Mountain and Deep Gap Trail to Laurel Knob, Cashiers, North Carolina
The trails at the west end of Panthertown Valley feature several popular waterfalls: Wilderness Falls, Frolictown Falls, and Granny Burrell Falls, as well as a spectacular well-known cliff line on the south side of Big Green Mountain called the Great Wall. This hike visits all of these destinations, in addition to lesser-known views atop Big Green Mountain itself. This hike also follows the Deep Gap Trail out of Panthertown Valley onto the seldom-hiked Laurel Knob Trail, a climbers' access trail that leads to the base of the 1200-foot cliffs of Laurel Knob. Laurel Knob boasts of the tallest uninterrupted cliff face in the entire Eastern United States! This hike occurred on Saturday, March 31st, 2018. My plan was to start out at the Salt Rock Gap Trailhead, where I'd take the Wilderness Falls Trail past Wilderness Falls to the Deep Gap Trail at Frolictown Falls. I'd then hike the Deep Gap Trail and Laurel Knob Trail out and back to the base of the Laurel Knob cliffs. Next, I'd return to Frolictown Falls, and I'd take the Great Wall Trail toward the top of Big Green Mountain, making a side trip to Granny Burrell Falls along the way. I would then follow the Big Green Trail past several views and continue down an unofficial connector to Macs Gap Trail. Finally, I'd follow the Macs Gap Trail and Panthertown Valley Trail back out to Salt Rock Gap.
Streams flowing off the north slopes of Unaka Mountain feature many of Northeast Tennessee's finest waterfalls. Particularly notable is a stream called Dick Creek, which features four stunning waterfalls in the Unaka Mountain Wilderness, including a unique 25-foot quadruple-flow falls and a spectacular 60-foot part-free-falling waterfall. All four waterfalls can be accessed out of Rock Creek Recreation Area via the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail, Dick Creek Trail/Road, and an unofficial pathway along Dick Creek. Additionally, a more popular waterfall - Rock Creek Falls - can be included on this hike, as it's also accessed out of Rock Creek Recreation Area along the Rock Creek Falls Trail, a very scenic trail with numerous stream views and even a bonus waterfall. This hike occurred on Thursday, April 26th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back along the Rattlesnake Ridge Trail and Dick Creek Trail/Road to the waterfalls on Dick Creek. I would then return to the Rock Creek Recreation Area and hike the Rock Creek Trail out and back to Rock Creek Falls. This hike was the first of six hikes that I did during a four-day trip to the mountains of northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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