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.
Below the Lake Glenville Dam, the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River comes over a mighty 100-foot cataract known as High Falls (locally as Cullowhee Falls). Most of the year, the dam severely restricts the watershed flow, reducing the water level at High Falls to only a few slim ribbons. But there's a few times in the year when High Falls is transformed into a monster. Several days a year, water is released from Lake Glenville down the West Fork Tuckasegee River for kayakers, and the water subsequently crashes over High Falls. Watching High Falls transform in mere seconds from a low-flow waterfall into one that's totally flooded out is an astounding experience! Two trails lead to the base of High Falls: a steep, official trail through Duke Energy land from The Pines Recreation Area by the shores of Lake Glenville to the south, and an easy, unofficial pathway through private land from Shoal Creek Mountain Road to the north. This trail report describes the Shoal Creek Mountain Road access, which the property owners have graciously opened to the public. Even though it's over twice longer, the north access is highly recommended due to the relaxing nature of the pathway, the better vantage points of High Falls, and a bonus waterfall called Rough Run Falls. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 7th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to High Falls from Shoal Creek Mountain Road, stopping by Rough Run Falls along the way.
Southeast of the small college town of Cullowhee is the Caney Fork watershed, an area known little to most folks outside of locals. Although there aren't any notable waterfalls on the Caney Fork itself, many of its tributaries feature beautiful falls. Rough Butt Creek Falls is one of the nicer Caney Fork area falls, and it also happens to be fairly easy to access. Rough Butt Creek Falls is a gorgeous, picturesque cascade about 30 feet high that drops into a perfect, tranquil pool. Below the falls, you'll be treated to views of a particularly scenic section of the creek with numerous swift cascades and mossy rocks. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 24th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Rough Butt Creek Falls along the shortest way.
Protecting a small gulch on the east side of Lake Guntersville, Bucks Pocket State Park is one of Alabama's most underrated state parks. Bucks Pocket features a small slice of beautiful, wild scenery typical to the Cumberland Plateau. Two scenic, cliff-lined gorges are found in the park: those of Little Sauty Creek and South Sauty Creek. The park's best-known trail, the Point Rock Trail, follows Little Sauty Creek through numerous mossy boulder fields and woods that feature an abundance of wildflowers in spring, passing a small but very scenic waterfall on the stream. The Point Rock Trail then ascends to the rim of the gorge and ends at its namesake rock outcrop, which features panoramic views from a point on the rim high above the confluence of Little Sauty Creek and South Sauty Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Point Rock Trail out and back to Point Rock from the Bucks Pocket Campground.
Inside the city limits of the quaint town of Pisgah in northeast Alabama is one of the area's most under-appreciated pieces of public land: the Pisgah Civitan Park. This small community park protects a section of the course of Little Bryant Creek through Pisgah Gorge that features three notable waterfalls - two of which are significant - and an extraordinary natural bridge. An easy trail follows the rim of the gorge, accessing several clifftop perches with sweeping birds-eye views of the gorge and its waterfalls. More adventurous hikers will find a faint, rugged pathway that drops into the gorge, accessing the base of Middle Little Bryant Creek Falls and the natural bridge. Pisgah Gorge features a sampling of some of Northeast Alabama's finest natural scenery and must not be missed! This hike occurred on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. My plan was to first hike the rim trail out and back to views of Upper Little Bryant Creek Falls, Middle Little Bryant Creek Falls, and the Pisgah Gorge downstream. I would then descend the trail into the gorge to get up-close and personal with the middle falls and the arch. In addition, I would check out a side trail leading to an old mill site at the top of the upper falls.
Have you ever wanted to see both a waterfall and a cave on one hike? Then Stephens Gap Callahan Cave Preserve is the place for you. Not only do you get to see a waterfall and a wild cave here, but they are both in the same place! The gloomy cavernous space of Stephens Gap Cave features an incredible waterfall that shoots out of an opening in the cave and free-falls over 100 feet into the pit underneath. What's more: you don't need any caving experience at all to get into the Stephens Gap Cave's primary chamber and to view the waterfall. As long as you're capable of scrambling steeply down a boulder field into the cave and don't mind getting dirty, you can easily tour this stunning natural feature. The short hike to the cave is pretty in its own right, especially in spring, when a mosaic of new, bright green ferns is seen among the area's boulder fields and rock outcrops. Access to Stephens Gap Cave is exclusively by a permit system. Only 25 people are allowed to visit the cave on any given day, so it's best to register for your free online permit from the Southeastern Cave Conservancy in advance to ensure your access to the cave. For the best experience, visit the cave after rainfall or during a wetter period - that's when the falls is the most impressive. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Stephens Gap Cave via the access trail from County Road 30.
Chattooga Wild and Scenic River: Chattooga River Trail to Cane Creek Falls and The Narrows, Highlands, North Carolina
Above Ellicott Rock, the famous Wild & Scenic Chattooga River is wilder, steeper, and less-frequented. A separate stand-alone section of the Chattooga River Trail, not connected to the trail's main course from Ellicott Rock southward, travels several miles along the river between Whiteside Cove Road and Bullpen Bridge. This section of the Chattooga River Trail may actually be its most scenic, with numerous views of whitewater rapids interrupted by tranquil pools on the river. In addition, the trail passes near three unique sets of narrows on the river, one of which meets the definition of a true slot canyon. The trailside upper narrows are right by the confluence of Norton Mill Creek, featuring its own picturesque cascades. In addition, a series of spur paths and a short bushwhack leads more adventurous hikers to a scenic 25-foot waterfall on Cane Creek, another tributary of the Chattooga. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 24th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Chattooga River Trail out and back from Whiteside Cove Road to Cane Creek, from where I'd follow unofficial trails to Cane Creek Falls. This trail report additionally includes information about an alternate, short access to Cane Creek Falls, as well as about a seldom-visited waterfall on the Chattooga River itself called Corkscrew Falls.
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