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, visiting English Falls at the right time will yield one of the most unusual and photogenic waterfalls that you'll ever see. This hike occurred on Tuesday, July 11th, 2017, and a revisit occurred on Wednesday, June 17th, 2020. My plan was to hike out and back to English Falls via the access path from the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 2017, 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.
Update 6/23/20: I have finally revisited English Falls almost three years later. The trail has changed in several ways. English Falls has seen an explosion in visitation over the last few years so the trail is now very trampled down and eroded. As a result, the hike has actually become more difficult. The slope is very slick with few footholds or handholds. Agility and experience with ropes are a must to complete this scramble safely. The trip report has been revised with the most recent directions plus information about Upper English Falls.
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: 9 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 304 feet
Pros: Spectacular waterfall
Cons: Very steep, difficult, dangerous scramble straight down the mountain
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. On both of my visits, I have used the better-known route on the west side of English Falls (the River Right side). This is the route most people use. It is certainly doable for those who are experienced in rock scrambling, but it has become increasingly more difficult with erosion from high visitation. The other route is on the east side of English Falls (the River Left side). It is longer and used to be a bushwhack, but there is now a path here too. The scrambling is generally milder and easier on this route but I haven't field-checked precisely how it leads to the base.
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 well-defined trail begins below the guardrail and drops steeply into the woods. In about 250 feet, the trail reaches the top of a cliff line that marks the rim of the North Fork Catawba River gorge. Bear left on the obvious path along the bluff line and continue about 350 feet to a split right before the unnamed creek that English Falls is on. If you wish to access the base of English Falls using the main route I used, turn right. The path straight ahead crosses the creek and is the alternative route to the base of English Falls, so you may follow it if you wish - I just don't have intel on its precise route.
So to follow my route, turn right, go about 50 feet, and then turn right again, arriving at a precipice. This is where the path begins its extremely steep pitch to the base of English Falls. There are three distinct tricky sections. On my visit, there were ropes in place left by other hikers. However, there are a couple caveats. These ropes are illegally placed and could be removed by the National Park Service at any time, as these ropes are treated as maintenance of an unofficial trail, and they expose the NPS to liability. I am aware that ropes have already been removed from this path several times, only to be replaced again by unaware hikers. On top of this, I would personally never trust ropes that were left behind by other hikers - who knows how long they have been in place and what their condition is? I strongly encourage you to bring your own ropes instead of expecting ropes to already be in place for you. And be sure that you pack out your own ropes.
As mentioned above, I'm describing the crux of the descent to English Falls as three 'precarious' sections. The initial steep dirt pitch drops through a cleft in the cliff line. A few feet past the end of this steep pitch, the path turns left away from the upper cliff and begins the second steep pitch. The second section is the longest and most dangerous in my opinion, as it's a near-vertical slope that consists of nothing but dirt and mud. Although there are a few trees you can hold on to, a rope is nearly a necessity here. About halfway down the second steep pitch, you will pass a secondary bluff line on the left. This is the access for Upper English Falls. You'll arrive directly at the base of Upper English Falls after following the bluff for less than a minute. Upper English Falls is only about 15 feet high, but it's a very scenic multi-faceted drop leading into a small pool. Be very careful around this spot as just behind you is the top of 50-foot English Falls. There are a couple more small cascading drops above Upper English Falls. You can explore them by climbing through a small cave on the far side of Upper English Falls.
Back on the main route - once you're past the second steep pitch, the path turns right for a few feet, hugging the base of another cliff, and then turns left, hopping down a 10-foot ledge. This is the final tricky spot. Getting down the ledge isn't a major issue and is just a large hop for those who are sure-footed with good knees. Getting back up may be more problematic though so evaluate the scene wisely. If you look closely, there are several small incisions in the ledge with just enough space to place 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. Again, if you've brought a rope, it will ease this part immensely. In the photo gallery below you will find my photos from 2017 that highlight the trail and the most difficult sections. Once you're at the base of this final ledge, turn left, approaching English Falls up ahead. The main path soon turns right and continues a slick and muddy (but less dangerous) scramble to the base of English Falls. The fainter path straight ahead descends closer to the falls but also leads to the base. The total hiking distance from the Parkway to English Falls is about 0.2 mile.
The environment around English Falls is very sensitive. English Falls was one of the greenest waterfalls I'd ever seen when I first visited in 2017, like a scene straight out of a tropical rainforest. Due to the exponential increase in visitation, many of the endangered spray-community plants and lush colonies of moss growing on the rocks and slopes around the falls have been trampled to death. When you hike to English Falls, whatever you do, please stick to the established path and areas that have already been trampled to dirt. It is fine to step on the bare rocks in the creek, but please do not step on anything with vegetation growing on it. Is that photo opportunity really worth it? The sensitive ecosystems around English Falls have already suffered so much impact - let's save what's left. 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 scene with three separate waterfalls. 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 ledge and steep, muddy slope), but you're on your own 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.
Thanks Brett Haas for sharing the following video of the route to English Falls!
The video shows the primary scramble path route to the base of English Falls.
This video was taken in 2017 so the trail looks very different now, but it will still give you a nice general idea.
Use the full screen button on the bottom right of the video to view it in full size.
Pictures from 2017
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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