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.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.4 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:00 (includes lengthy break at the falls)
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 304 feet
Pros: Spectacular waterfall
Cons: Several tricky spots on the very steep scramble to the falls
Points of Interest: English Falls - 9 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: None, not an official trail
Best Seasons to Hike: Spring
Beginning Point: Grassy Pullout near Milepost 322 on Blue Ridge Parkway
Directions from Spruce Pine, NC: From the intersection of Altapass Highway and US Highway 19E in Spruce Pine, follow Altapass Highway South for 4.6 miles to a T-intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then, turn left on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow it for 5.4 miles to a grassy clearing with a great view on the right. Milepost 322 is on the left side of the road at the end of the clearing. Here, the Blue Ridge Parkway curves left. About 0.1 mile after the clearing and milepost, there is a small grassy pullout on the right. This is the parking area - make sure to park your car fully off the road. There is space for two to maybe three cars here. If the pullout is full, by any chance, there is another small pullout on the right just before the clearing.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
English Falls is one of my favorite additions in Kevin Adams' new Third Edition of North Carolina Waterfalls. It is amazing that such a beautiful waterfall so close to the Blue Ridge Parkway has been off the radar for such a long time, with only a few select people being aware of its existence until recently. Today, two routes are used to access English Falls. The first route, which I personally used and recommend to others, is a very steep scramble path on the west side of English Falls (River Right using kayakers' terms). The other route is a bushwhacking route on the east side of English Falls, which also takes the hiker past a small but scenic upper waterfall called Upper English Falls. I have not hiked the bushwhacking route, but from what I've heard, it seems like that route is as steep as the scramble path - or nearly so - without the benefit of a path or ropes. This trail report describes the route that uses the scramble path on the west side of the falls, but if you wish to learn more about the east route and Upper English Falls, please refer to Kevin Adams' superb articles about English Falls and Upper English Falls.
To hike to English Falls the way I did, you first have to walk along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a little bit southward from the grassy pullout area (assuming you parked in the pullout north of the clearing and view). Thus, follow the same side of the parkway as you parked slowly downhill to Milepost 322, which is on the other side of the road about 300 feet from the starting point. There is a guardrail along the road here. Right around the milepost (a few feet past it), a fairly well-defined path strikes off to the left from the road (east from the road), steeply downhill into the woods. Begin following this path. There was a piece of pink flagging tape near the beginning at the time of this hike. The path becomes a bit less distinct after about 100 feet, and when that happens, stay right (even if you don't see the path). In less than another 100 feet, approximately 0.1 miles from the beginning of the hike, you will reach the top of a cliff-line at the rim of the North Fork Catawba River Gorge. A path runs along the edge of the cliff-line. You may not come out onto the path at the same point that I did, but even if you come out onto it farther, chances are you'll have to turn left onto it. The only exception will be is if you came out onto it right at the creek (unlikely but possible), in which case you would have to turn right. Just remember that the path follows the very edge of the cliffs - you won't find it higher.
Once you reach the cliff line, turn left and follow it for some time. The path steadily becomes more distinct. If you come out at the same point that I did, you'll have to follow it for about 400 feet, but like I said, it may be less. Now, just before the path reaches the unnamed creek that English Falls is on, you have to pay close attention to another distinct path that turns right and begins a steep descent. A piece of pink flagging tape was attached to a tree above this new path to the right, but it may not be immediately obvious from the first path. If you reach the creek, turn around and walk back about 50 feet to find the turn. Note that the route straight across the creek is the way to Upper English Falls as well as the alternative route to the base of English Falls. Once you turn right onto my recommended route, follow the path for less than 50 feet to a precipice. This is where the path begins the extremely steep pitch to the base of English Falls. There are three distinct tricky spots, but as of this writing, each one has a rope for aid - although these are ropes left by other hikers and you must always commit yourself to them at your own risk.
The first tricky spot had a purple rope for aid at the time of my hike. It is the easiest of the three tricky areas. A few feet past the end of this steep pitch, the path turns left away from a cliff and begins the second steep pitch. When I did the hike, no rope was here yet, but fellow hikers have posted pictures of a rope now in place here. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part, because it is very steep without much to hold on to. However, the ground is just dirt - without any cliffy areas - so it still isn't an extreme descent and is in the capabilities of many hikers and waterfall enthusiasts (it's definitely not for beginners though). Past this part, the path turns right for a few feet, passing along the base of another cliff, and then turns left, hopping down an 8-foot ledge. This is the final tricky spot. Getting down the ledge isn't a major issue and is just a large hop, but getting back up may be more problematic. If you look carefully, there are several small outcrops on the ledge with just enough space to put your hands and feet on, but you have to be sure of your capabilities to use both your hands and feet for the scramble before attempting this. My father and I did it just fine though, so it really isn't that scary. Once again, no rope was here at the time of my hike, but as of this writing, there now is one. Please see the photo gallery below for photos of individual parts of the trail and the tricky spots. Once you're at the base of the ledge, simply turn left and follow the obvious path to the base of English Falls, which you'll reach at about 0.2 miles.
The environment around English Falls is very sensitive. When you hike to the falls, please avoid stepping on all of the rare spray-community plants and moss that grows on the rocks around the falls. It is best to stick to the established path and small viewing flat near the falls to avoid trampling all of these plants. With that said, English Falls is a very beautiful waterfall - especially when the flow is good. The falls' cliff is magnificent, and the creek spouts water from all sides of the cliff. The main drop is a free-fall in the middle, but an equally impressive cascading drop run comes in from the right, and during high flow, there is another free-fall on the left side. All of this converging falling water creates a unique and photogenic scene. The setting is also very remote and serene, and I hope that it can stay this way for years to come, especially in terms of its greenery. English Falls is located on an unnamed tributary of the North Fork Catawba River. There have been a few references to the creek as 'English Creek', but this is incorrect - the creek is not named on topographic maps. The falls is named after the English family, who lives downstream from the falls. Even though there is private property some distance downstream, English Falls is on land that is completely open to public access - land that is at the boundary of Blue Ridge Parkway territory and US Forest Service territory.
From the base of English Falls, simply retrace your steps back to the parking area. Remember that you can also cross the creek and scramble up the opposite side of the falls (if you're uncomfortable with climbing back up the 8-foot ledge), but there is no path or ropes to aid you there. You will return to your car at 0.4 miles, concluding the hike. Despite its short distance, I would allow between one and one and a half hours for this hike, plus the necessary amount of time to just relax at the falls and contemplate the gorgeous scene.
None, unless you use the alternative route on the east side of the creek
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