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Epic Fall Foliage Waterfalls

posted Nov 4, 2014, 10:01 AM by Justin P   [ updated Apr 10, 2015, 5:12 PM ]
For Fall Foliage this year, Sandy and I took a whole week to head out to western North Carolina and go on an epic waterfall hunting adventure. We left very early in the morning on Saturday and made our way west, arriving in Pisgah Forest around 10. We made a quick stop at Subway to get our lunches for the next two days and then headed into Pisgah National Forest. From US-276, we turned onto Forest Service Road 475 and drove past the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education and parked at the trailhead for Daniel Ridge Loop Trail (#105). It was a Saturday during peak fall foliage, so not surprisingly, the forest was very crowded. The small parking lot at the trailhead was full, so we parked along the forest road just past the trailhead. Once we got all our stuff ready, we started off for our first waterfall of the week - Toms Spring Falls. We hiked up the gated road and across the bridge over Davidson River and turned right to continue on the road. In about a half-mile, right past where Daniel Ridge Loop Trail splits from the road, we got to Toms Spring Falls, which is also called Daniel Ridge Falls or Jackson Falls. The waterfall is on Toms Spring Branch, which has a fairly small watershed. Despite heavy rains the week before, this one still had pretty low flow, but its still a nice waterfall given the easy hike. We first hiked up a side trail to view the falls up close from about the middle point, then headed back to the road to see it from the front.


One down, more than forty to go! We didn’t spend too much time as we had many more waterfalls to get so started heading back after a couple pictures. Back at the car, we drove back a short ways on FSR 475 and parked outside the gate leading to Cove Creek Group Campground. There was a bicycle event so this area was even more crowded than I had expected. We parked along the forest road and hiked up the gated road towards the campground. Along the way, we stopped to see some nice cascades along Cove Creek.


At the campground, we intended to get on Caney Bottom Trail, but missed a double blaze and continued on an old road. After a few minutes, we realized we were not going the right way and saw another group of hikers. We asked them and they too were heading to the waterfall but had missed the turn. I felt a little better that we weren’t the only ones who missed the turn. We headed back to the campground and found the double blaze and got on the blue-blazed Caney Bottom Trail (#361). In about ten minutes, the trail split and we took the yellow-blazed Cove Creek Trail (#340), which leads to the falls. In about ten minutes or so, there was a side trail that leads steeply down to the waterfall. Despite the crowds near the campground and trailhead, we were the only ones at the waterfall, so we took the opportunity to enjoy our lunch near the base. To get some good pictures of the falls, I waded into the creek at the base. The water was very cold! But at least it was only ankle deep and wading allowed me to get some nice pictures of the falls.

As we finished our lunch and got some pictures, more people started arriving at the waterfall, including those who we had seen when we made a wrong turn.  With the crowds arriving, we departed and headed back to the car.  We drove back to US-276 and headed north.  I was planning for a quick stop at Looking Glass Falls, but expected a crowd given its popularity.  This is one of the most popular and easily accessible waterfalls in the forest.  Although it’s roadside, we had to park almost a quarter-mile down the road to find a spot.  The waterfall was very crowded so I climbed out onto a big log past the viewing deck to get some nice pictures without people in the way.


Then we continued up US-276 a short ways to the parking area for Moore Cove.  Just before the bridge on US-276, we crossed a footbridge to get on Moore Cove Trail (#318) and followed this pleasant trail for about three-quarters of a mile to Moore Cove Falls.  The fall color in this area was beautiful and it was a lovely walk to the waterfall.  Moore Cove Falls is a 50-foot waterfall over a cliff with a grotto behind the falls.  This waterfall is probably second in popularity to Looking Glass, so it was kind of crowded.  We did manage to walk around the get pictures of the falls from different angles, including from behind it in the grotto.  We also saw a small rainbow near the base.


As more people arrived, however, we decided it was time and headed on.  Back at the car, we continued up US-276 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south to mile post 417 and parked at the Looking Glass Overlook.  From here, we had a great view of Looking Glass Rock to the southeast, but this was not our primary goal.


We crossed the parkway and took a short spur trail to connect with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  Along the way, we passed the dragon tree.



Past the tree, we hiked down some rocky steps and soon came to a footbridge over Yellowstone Prong at Skinny Dip Falls.  This waterfall used to be pretty unknown to anyone except locals, whose activities at the falls gave its name.  Nowadays, it’s very popular, right along the MST near Graveyard Fields, and it would be hard to get away with skinny dipping here.  It was way too cold for swimming anyway, with or without clothes.  At the top, we got some pictures of the upper portions of the waterfall, then went down the stairs and climbed out on the rocks for a few more pictures, though only the middle section was visible.

We also met a nice young lady here who was backpacking with her dog along the MST.  I took some pictures for her and helped her figure out where she was going, and then we made our way back to the car.  It was only another mile on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Graveyard Fields, our last stop for the day.  The parking lot had been improved over the summer, but it was completely full and we had to park a little ways up along the parkway.  We hiked to the main parking area and got on the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail (#358) and took the stairs down to Yellowstone Prong.  We turned right on the MST Access Trail (#358B) and headed down to Second Falls.  There was quite a crowd at this waterfall and the late afternoon sun made pictures very difficult.


After climbing out on the rocks, we headed back up the stairs to the loop trail and continued counterclockwise to the Upper Falls Trail (#358A) and hiked to our last waterfall of the day.  The hike through Graveyard Fields is beautiful though many of the trees at the higher elevations had already lost their leaves.


We got some pictures of the steep cascades at the base of Upper Falls and then headed up to see the main waterfall.  Unfortunately, due to a camera malfunction, I didn't get any pictures of Upper Falls.  I guess, I'll have to come back again some time soon.


Then we started making our way back, finishing up the loop trail back at the parking area ready to head to our camping spot for the night.  Before we drove too far off, however, we stopped along the parkway and got some pictures of Second Falls from a distance with the setting sun behind the mountains - a truly beautiful scene.


We also made a quick stop at East Fork Overlook for more nice fall foliage views from the parkway in the late afternoon sun.  Finally, we headed north on the parkway to Mount Pisgah Campground, our home for the night.  After setting up our tent, we headed into Pisgah Forest for dinner at Hawg Wild BBQ and then returned to camp.  Although the weather was pretty nice down below, it was extremely windy up on the mountain and there were even some snow flurries.  It was too windy for a fire so we got in our tent and tried to go to sleep. The strong winds made for a restless night as the side of the tent kept bumping us throughout the night.  I think sheer exhaustion was the only reason we managed to sleep much at all.  Sunday morning, we woke up cold and quickly broke camp to get off the mountain.  The wind had died down a bit overnight, but it was cold and very cloudy.  As we got back on the parkway, the visibility was poor but the clouds began to break as we headed south and there were clear blue skies by the time we reached US-276.  We went south on the highway and then west once we hit Brevard on US-64.  We continued to Sapphire and then took NC-281 south past Gorges State Park and parked along the side of Brewer Road.  The unofficial Thompson River Trail begins from here.  We walked along the gated logging road for about a mile, passing the side trail to High Falls and enjoying views of fall color along the river.


The trail then switchbacked down and led to a ford across Thompson River.  When I had been here before, we were able to rock-hop across the river during near drought conditions, but the water level was too high today so we had to wade through the chilly water.  Once across, we continued following the old logging road as it ran parallel to Thompson River.  Although we could rarely see the river from the trail, we could hear it often as the water roared over falls and cascades.  In about 2 miles from the river crossing, we came to the side trail that leads down to Big Falls.  Despite using GPS, we initially passed the side path and had to turn around.  The logging road continues past here, I believe ending at the Foothills Trail, though I haven’t followed it that far.  We initially passed the turn, despite using GPS, but found it easily after turning around when I realized we must have passed it.  There was a cairn and several pieces of marking tape so I don’t know why we didn’t spot it the first time.  The path down to Big Falls starts out gradual and deceivingly easy.  Then it gets a little steeper and steeper and steeper.  Fortunately, someone has tied ropes to the trees at some of the steepest parts to assist in the descent.  Finally, the trail comes down to the river below the falls and goes upstream to the base.  Another piece of rope helped us get down a huge boulder and then we came to a fallen tree.  Peering through the branches and logs, Sandy spotted another piece of marking tape, so we climbed through the mess of branches and came out at the base of the waterfall.  The water level was high enough that we couldn’t cross to the big rocks on the other side without getting wet.  It was over my knees and fast moving, so Sandy decided to stay dry while I crossed over to get some pictures.


This is a beautiful waterfall - one of my favorites in North Carolina.  And it was really flowing with higher than average water levels.  Unfortunately, it was hard to get a good picture as the midday sun was shining right on it and the water level was high enough to create quite a bit of spray and I had to keep cleaning off the lens.  The name Big Falls really seems appropriate when walking up the side on the big exposed rocks.  We had lunch down here and enjoyed the beautiful waterfall, then made the very strenuous climb back up.  The last time I had been here was in the summer when it was really hot.  The climb seemed a lot easier in the cool autumn weather and soon we were back at the top.  We started making our way back along the logging road and in about a half-mile or so, we took the side trail down to Waterfall #2 on Thompson River.  It was well-marked with tape and easy to follow, though rather steep.  This waterfall is a pretty cascading falls, about 35 feet high.  I climbed out on the rocks to get some pictures and then we headed back to the main trail.


A little ways further on the trail we saw an enormous bright green caterpillar on the trail; I believe that it was a Polyphemus caterpillar.  After crossing Thompson River again, we took the side trail to High Falls.  It’s about a half-mile and easy until the last decent down to the river.  We had to wade again to get across the river and into a good spot to view the waterfall.  The water was cold, but High Falls was quite beautiful.  We got a couple pictures here and then headed back to the car.


By the time we got back to the car, it was getting late, but we still had an hour or so of daylight - time enough for some more waterfalls!  We drove just a short ways up NC-281 and parked on the side of the road, just before Whitewater Church Road.  From here, we hiked the short D.E.W. Falls Trail (#281) about a quarter-mile to the waterfall.  This is a smaller waterfall but quite scenic, named for Dorothy Ehrlich Walker, a young lady who tragically died in a car accident.


Then we headed back across the street and scrambled down to John’s Jump, a nice 25-foot waterfall on Mill Creek a short ways downstream of D.E.W. Falls.


Since these were such short hikes, we decided to get one more waterfall for the day.  We started heading back on NC-281 and parked along a gated forest road before Brewer Road, then walked down the highway to a faint trail just past the guard rail.  It was a short hike down to Thompson River for White Owl Falls.  It’s not a big waterfall, but quite beautiful and photogenic given the easy hike to reach it.


After a few pictures, we headed back up to the car as the sun was beginning to set.  We drove into Cashiers for a quick dinner and then checked into our hotel - Hampton Inn.  After getting settled into our room, we hit the hot tub before bed.  It felt amazing after such a strenuous day.  Monday morning, we woke up a little later and had a nice breakfast at the hotel.  After getting ready, we headed into Cashiers, turning left on NC-107 south for about four miles to the trailhead for Silver Run Falls.  We hiked the short Silver Run Falls Trail (#435) to this scenic waterfall and got some pictures from various angles.


But just one waterfall is not enough!  Along the cliff face next to the waterfall, a bunch of roots and rocks made a steep scramble path up to the top.  We climbed up here and followed a faint path upstream through dense rhododendron a short ways to Upper Silver Run Falls, a nice 15-foot cascading waterfall.


After a few pictures, we headed back.  Climbing back down the cliff, we got a couple of curious looks from others who were at the lower waterfall.  I don't think they realized that there was another waterfall further upstream and probably had no intention of following in our footsteps.  Back at the car, we continued south on NC-107, turning right on Bull Pen Road, which becomes Forest Service Road 1178.  We drove about four miles to a pull off on the side of the road, near the gated FSR 4564.  Directly across from the gated road, we could hear and partially see a waterfall on Scotsman Creek below.  There was some flagging tape, so we started a challenging, but short bushwhack down to the creek.  Although it was really short, the hike was remarkably challenging.  We barely walked on actual ground, having to walk and crawl along rhododendron branches and thick brush.  There was a waterfall here, but it wasn’t the one we were looking for.  This is the Upper Waterfall on Scotsman Creek - it’s not a bad waterfall, though not necessarily worth the challenging scramble down to the creek.


We headed back up to the road and hiked a short ways down the gravel road to a curve to the right and found more flagging tape.  This was the right trail!  We hiked down another short, but challenging bushwhack to Scotsman Creek, this time to the right waterfall.  This is a really cool waterfall.  The water splits into two streams and falls over a cliff face, then cascades down.  The two streams go around a small island in the middle in the middle of the creek.


We sat for a little while here and I took off my boots and socks to wade in the creek below the falls.  The water was very shallow and I wanted to get pictures from different angles as well as head over to the island in the creek.  When we had enough, we climbed back up to the road and made our way back to the car.  In another mile or so, we came to the Bull Pen Bridge (also called the Iron Bridge by locals) over Chattooga River and decided to make a quick stop here.  First, we climbed down to river level downstream of the bridge.  From here, we could look upstream at the bridge and the Potholes, a series of cascades right under the bridge.


Then we went back up and headed upstream to some rocks for a nice view of the bridge amidst the fall color.  Several families were here at the rocks and we stopped to talk with them for a few minutes.  Although the Potholes isn't a real impressive waterfall, the rocky area is great spot to enjoy the natural beauty.  After a few pictures, it was time to head to some more real waterfalls.  We continued driving down Bull Pen Road to Highlands and got on NC-106 to Glen Falls Scenic Area. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot, but we didn’t see a lot of people on the trail. The trail is about three-quarters of a mile and moderate as it heads down the waterfall. Our first view of the falls was from the top. We couldn’t see much of the waterfall, but the fall foliage here was absolutely gorgeous.



From here, we headed down to the base of the upper section, consisting of two free falls and some nice cascades.



Then we headed down even more stairs and switchbacks to the base of the middle section. The middle section is perhaps the most impressive, a 60-foot series of cascades. We got some pictures here and ate our lunch at the base of the middle section.


While we were eating, a group of ladies came down for some pictures then headed back up before we finished. When we finished our lunch and started heading back up, I spotted an iPhone on the ground near the waterfall. The group had a five or ten minute head start on us, but I figured I could hike a lot faster than them, especially uphill, so I grabbed the phone and headed back up. Near the base of the upper section, I saw a lady heading back down, looking distressed. Sure enough, she had dropped her phone and was very grateful that I had brought it up to her and she didn’t have to go all the way back down. We finished up our hike at the car and made our way back to Highlands, then going south on NC-28. We turned onto Blue Valley Road that eventually became Forest Service Road 79. In about 4 miles, or about a half-mile past Blue Valley Campground, we pulled over near a gated road. From here, we hiked up the gated road for about a half-mile to a clearing with nice views of the pretty fall color.



Right past the clearing, we reached a creek and headed upstream a short ways to reach Picklesimer Rock House Falls. Similar to Moore Cove Falls earlier in the week, this waterfall has a freefall over a cliff with a large cave, or “rock house”, behind it.



And the cave was certainly big enough to stay under for shelter from a storm, though I don’t think I’d necessarily want to live there.


Unlike Moore Cove Falls, however, this waterfall is fairly unknown and we didn’t see anyone else here. Another benefit of low crowds - there was no garbage carelessly discarded around the falls. After a few minutes, we headed back to the car and made our way back towards Highlands. Picklesimer Rock House Falls was our last planned waterfall, but it was still early enough in the day that we decided to get a couple more.  We stopped at the Satulah Overlook along NC-28 on the way back to Highlands.  Across the gorge, we could see Lower Satulah Falls.


Although it’s over 100 feet high, viewing it from across the valley is not too impressive.  As far as I can tell, there's no way to get across for a better view of the falls.  However, the view from the overlook, including Satulah Mountain, was quite beautiful with all the fall colors and made the stop worthwhile.


We then continued into Highlands and got on US-64 west towards Cullasaja River Gorge for a couple more easy waterfalls.  First, we drove under Bridal Veil Falls and then stopped to get a couple of pictures.


Then we went another mile or so and stopped at Dry Falls.  It’s a short walk to this huge 70-foot waterfall and not surprisingly, there were a lot of people here.  The name Dry Falls comes from the fact that normally, you can walk behind the waterfall and stay dry.  The water level seemed to be up a bit and I got misted walking behind the falls - not always so dry.


After some pictures from different angles, we headed back through Highlands to Cashiers and had dinner and drinks at Gamekeepers’ Tavern, just up the road from our hotel.  Eating at the bar, I had a cheeseburger and Sandy had venison meat loaf and we both really enjoyed our meals.  I also had an Autumn Russian, a cocktail made with pumpkin-spice vodka, Kahlua, cream, and a dash of nutmeg.  It was yummy!  After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and took a dip in the hot tub before bed.  Our next day in Little Canada was going to be a challenging one!  Tuesday morning, we woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and headed out.  We were headed to the Little Canada area north of Lake Toxaway along NC-281.  This remote area has some of the most beautiful, but difficult to reach waterfalls in the area.  We went north on NC-281 for about six miles and turned onto Winding Gap Road and parked outside the Trails Carolina camp.  Initially, we headed through a power line clearing, but this wasn’t the way, so we headed back.  A lady who worked at the camp directed us to the trail that leads to waterfalls.  We took this trail off Winding Gap Road for about a half-mile through a clearing and then turned left onto the main trail, which is an old logging road.  The first mile or so was pretty easy - flat and easy to follow, with just a couple of easy stream crossings.  Soon, we reached West Fork French Broad River and crossed.  Shortly after this point, we came out at the base of Lower Waterfall on Tributary of West Fork Pigeon River, a very scenic cascading waterfall on an unnamed tributary that's not shown on the topo maps.


We crossed at the base and then headed upstream along the creek.  It was moderately steep through dense rhododendron, but easy to follow and in a short distance, we came out at the base of Waterfall on Tributary of West Fork Pigeon River, also called Rhapsodie Falls.  Although neither the waterfall nor the creek have official names, it was a beautiful falls.


The water tumbles off the cliff in a thin curtain, surrounded by lush green vegetation - there was no fall color here.  It looked like it would be possible to walk behind the waterfall, but there appeared to be sensitive vegetation growing in the spray zone, so we stayed in front of the falls.  We took a few pictures, then continued on, knowing the most challenging part of the hike was still to come.  After crossing the unnamed tributary at the base of the falls, we continued on the path towards Dismal Creek.  The trail was still pretty flat here and surprisingly well-marked with flagging tape.  In about a quarter-mile, the trail split with flagging tape showing paths in both directions.  A left turn here leads to Lower Dismal Falls, so we went right.  I knew we were heading in the right direction because the trail was insanely steep.  No switchbacks, no stairs, just straight up, up, up.  It was gruelingly steep, but thankfully not too long.  When we got to the top of the ridge, the trail turned and headed down into the gorge.  It was hard to believe, but the trail was actually even steeper going down.  It was so steep, there was no standing up.  All we could do was hold on to rhododendron branches and “monkey climb” down.  Heading down, I though I heard voices, but assumed I must be hallucinating from the strenuous climb.  Nobody else could possibly be at Dismal Falls today, being a weekday.  As we approached Dismal Creek, the trail leveled off, but was very overgrown and required a lot of climbing over wet rocks and logs and other hazards.  We followed marking tape to a point that came out somewhere in the middle of the falls.  Dismal Falls has a big free fall, maybe 50 feet, followed by a series of cascades totaling about 150 feet.  We still needed to get to the base, but I wanted to get some pictures from this point.


As we were taking some photos, I heard the voices again and saw two people down at the base.  Who would have thought that we’d actually see someone else at Dismal Falls on a Tuesday?  We backtracked and climbed down to the base of the waterfall as the two guys were getting ready to leave.  We talked to them for a few minutes, all of us surprised to actually see someone else here, then they headed back.  Sandy and I ate our lunch down here, though there wasn’t really a good spot to sit down and relax.  After lunch, we got some more pictures then started making our way back.


The climb back up to the ridge was very strenuous, requiring much climbing up the rhododendron, but once at the top, it was all downhill back to the car.  The hike seemed so much easier going back and we were back at the car in about an hour.  From here, we got back on NC-281 and turned almost immediately onto Slick Fisher Road.  In about 2.5 miles, we turned on McIntosh Road and went a short ways, parking on the side of the road.  Our goal was to visit Still House Falls.  The waterfall is in Pisgah National Forest and there is a thin strip of public land that leads from the road to the waterfall.  There is no trail, however, and it’s a very difficult bushwhack.  The bushwhack is less than a half-mile, but took us nearly an hour and was incredibly strenuous.  We climbed through dense rhododendron, belly-crawled under thick vegetation, and managed to cross a creek without getting wet.  Finally, we came to a path and turned right to head down to Still House Falls.  The final descent down to the waterfall was quite steep and required the use of ropes, but after the crazy bushwhack, this didn’t seem so bad.

Still House Falls was once the location of an illicit moonshine operation.  The difficulty in getting here made this a good spot for illegal activities.  But all evidence of the still was gone.  Now, there was a campsite located under the huge outcrop over which the water falls with a fire pit and even an oven made from rocks.  Unlike some of the waterfalls with a grotto behind them, Still House had high water flow.  The water is funneled through a narrow opening at the top and shoots out from the cliff.  It was a pretty impressive waterfall and worth the challenging bushwhack.  We spent some time relaxing in the grotto and getting some pictures, then made our way back.  It was still difficult, but seemed a bit easier going back.  Once back at the car, we still had some daylight left, so we continued north on NC-281 past Tanasee Creek Lake and Wolf Creek Lake to the pull-off for Paradise Falls.  The hike is short but rather steep.  We went down for a ways, crossing Wolf Creek and then followed a path to near the middle of the waterfall.  I had been to Paradise Falls before, but never to this point.  We had a nice view of the upper portion of the waterfall, but the rocks were slippery and sloped and so it was difficult to get far enough out for a good picture.


Then we made the extremely steep descent down to the base of the falls.  The water flow of Paradise Falls is controlled by the dam on Wolf Creek Lake and so is generally pretty low, even after a good rain.  However, the waterfall is still quite beautiful as it is set back into a huge chasm with gorgeous cliffs and rocks all around.  The pool at the base of the waterfall is a great swim hole, but it was way too cold today for that.

It was getting late, so we headed back up and decided to call it a day.  Heading back to Cashiers, we stopped for hibachi dinner at Yoshi Steakhouse and then headed back to the hotel.  This was our last night at the hotel, so we were sure to take advantage of the hot tub one last time!  Wednesday morning, we woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel and checked out.  We would be meeting Justine, Bill, and Grace in Brevard, but since they were driving from Raleigh, we had a little time to kill.  So we headed to Gorges State Park for a quick hike along Horsepasture River.  We had been to the waterfalls along here many times, but never during fall foliage, so this would be a great spot to wait for our friends to join us.  We hiked the moderate Rainbow Falls Trail (#499) into Pisgah National Forest for about 1.5 miles to the beautiful waterfall.  Surprisingly, there was no one else here (and yet we had seen someone at Dismal Falls the day before!).  The fall foliage surrounding the waterfall was gorgeous, the best fall color we had seen yet.  And there was even a nice rainbow, adding more color to the scene!  Amazingly beautiful...this was definitely worth the detour.


We spent some time here, enjoying the beautiful falls and rainbow and made a quick run up to Turtleback Falls before heading back to the car.


I made a quick stop near the top of Rainbow Falls to enjoy the view.  The foliage along this stretch of Horsepasture River was absolutely beautiful.


But we couldn’t spend too long as we had to meet our friends and had more waterfalls to get.  So we hiked back to the car, passing several groups of people heading towards the waterfalls.  I guess we weren’t the only ones who wanted to visit this falls today, just the earliest to arrive.  Back at the car, we left Gorges and headed back to Brevard.  We stopped at Subway again to get our lunches for the next couple of days and then met our friends at Davidson River Campground, where we would be camping tonight.  After setting up our tents, we headed north on US-276 and turned onto Forest Service Road 477 (Avery Creek Road).  In about 2.5 miles, we came to a pulloff under some power lines and started hiking on Buckhorn Gap Trail (#103).  Some incredibly mature person defaced the first letter on the trail sign to form a profanity.  The orange-blazed Buckhorn Gap Trail leads about 2 miles to the waterfall.  It’s also an equestrian trail and there were several spots where the trail fords a creek, but log bridges were available to cross without wading.  After about two miles, we took the Twin Falls Trail (#604) to the waterfall.  Although there are two falls, it’s not possible to see both at the same time.  We first went to the one on the left (on Henry Branch) and had lunch here.  This is definitely the more impressive of the two.


We climbed around at the base of the falls and got some pictures, before heading to the other one (on an unnamed tributary of Henry Branch).  The water level was not that high and this one was mostly obscured by foliage and downfall.


We got a couple pictures and then started making our way back to the cars.  Once back, we drove back to US-276 and continued north.  Past the Cradle of Forestry, we turned right on Forest Service Road 1206 and then another right on FSR 476 and followed this to the end.  We parked here and set off on our last hike of the day to see High Falls on South Fork Mills River.  We started off on South Mills River Trail (#133) for about a mile to concrete bridge.


At this point, we got off the main trail and followed another unlisted trail that crossed Billy Branch and continued following the river.  In about another mile, the trail appeared to end at the river.  According to our directions, we needed to cross the river.  The water level was not too high, though it was very cold, so we crossed here, expecting to pick up the trail on the other side.  After wading through the frigid knee-deep water, we got to the other side, but could find nothing that looked like a trail.  We bushwhacked upstream for a ways, but the going was extremely slow and it was getting late and the sun would be setting soon.  Finally, we gave up and turned around making it back to the cars right at sunset.  Carefully reviewing the maps and directions, we realized that we had crossed the river at the wrong place.  We needed to continue up another quarter-mile to the correct river crossing.  I guess we’ll have to come back for this one.  Before heading back to camp, we drove into Brevard for dinner at Twin Dragons China Buffet and then returned to Davidson River Campground.  It was quite cold this night, but we didn’t even bother with a campfire.  Thursday morning, we woke up early, before sunrise, and broke camp.  From Davidson River Campground, we went north on US-276 a ways, turning left on Forest Service Road 475B.  We drove about 1.5 miles and parked at the gated FSR 5043 just as the sun was rising.  After our failure to get High Falls yesterday, I was determined to get all of our target waterfalls today.  We started off hiking down the Forest Road to the first bridge and turned right to follow a faint path upstream along the small tributary.  It was less than a quarter-mile to the Waterfall on Northern Tributary of Log Hollow Branch.  The waterfall is about 50 feet, but the watershed is small so the waterfall wasn’t too impressive.


I would like to visit again after a good rain as I believe that this one would be a lot better with higher water flow.  After a couple of pictures, we backtracked to the forest road and continued hiking.  Shortly, we reached another bridge and could see the next waterfall from the road - Waterfall on Log Hollow Branch.  This waterfall is smaller than the others - maybe 30 feet - but it had the best water flow.  A leaning tree was right in front of the waterfall making photos challenging, but I found an angle to shoot with the tree framing the falls.


Then we continued hiking up the forest road another half-mile to the last waterfall on this hike.  Waterfall on Southern Tributary of Log Hollow Branch is the highest of the waterfalls, but had the puniest water flow.  It’s right along the forest road, but was barely noticeable in low flow.


We got some pictures and then hiked back to the cars.  I imagine that the best time to see all these waterfalls is right after a good rain.  Back at the car, we left the forest and got on US-64 West.  In Rosman, we turned on US-178 and stopped by Eastatoe Falls.  This beautiful waterfall is literally in someone’s backyard, but the people who live here are kind enough to allow public access.  Along their driveway, they have signs directing to waterfall parking and a warning of a very friendly dog.  As soon as we got out of the cars, we were greeted by this adorable dog.  Very friendly, indeed, though he didn’t have a name tag so we weren't able to find out his name.  We could see the waterfall from the parking area, but we let the dog lead us to the waterfall.  It seems that he's used to showing visitors the way and seemed to be really enjoying the company.  Eastatoe Falls is a really beautiful waterfall, maybe 60 to 70 feet high in a most beautiful setting.


We stayed here for a while taking pictures and playing around the waterfall.  The friendly dog seemed to really be enjoying the attention and even posed for some pictures with us.  And he seemed quite disappointed when we were leaving.  The landowners here should be commended for allowing the public to access this beautiful waterfall on their private property.  Leaving from Rosman, we got back on US-64 West and continued past Cashiers, Highlands, Cullasaja Gorge, and finally Franklin.  About 12 miles past Franklin, we turned onto Wallace Gap Road and then onto Forest Service Road 67 towards Standing Indian Campground.  We drove this forest road for several miles past the campground to the trailhead for Big Laurel Falls Trail (#29) and Timber Ridge Trail.  After a fairly long drive, it was nice to get out of the cars and go for a little hike to stretch our legs.  Following the trails, we crossed the bridge and turned right to stay on Big Laurel Falls Trail for about a half-mile to the waterfall.  Big Laurel Falls is not a large waterfall, maybe 20 feet, but very scenic.  It has an upper drop followed by some nice cascades.


It’s also pretty remote, requiring a fairly long drive on the gravel forest road, so we had the falls all to ourselves.  But we couldn’t linger long as we still had more driving and little more hiking to complete before the sun went down.  We tried to find the nearby Mooney Falls, but didn’t have any luck finding the trailhead, so we continued on.  Back at US-64, we went east for a short ways and got on Wayah Road.  In about 6 miles, we turned left on Forest Service Road 388 (Boardtree Road).  This road isn’t listed on the GPS and it thought we were driving off road.  But there was in fact a road here and we followed it about 2 miles to the trailhead for Rufus Morgan Trail (#27).  Another short trail, it took us about fifteen minutes to reach the nice 60-foot waterfall.


It is named for A. Rufus Morgan, a Episcopal priest and conservationist from the area who had a deep love for the Southern Appalachian mountains.  He hiked up to Mount LeConte more than 100 times, up until his 90s and maintained a significant portion of the Appalachian Trail.  We got some pictures at the waterfall, then finished the loop out back to the car, for a total of about a mile.  We then backtracked to Wayah Road and continued on this road, past Nantahala Lake and Nantahala River Gorge.  We turned left on US-19 and then took US-129 into Robbinsville.  Our home for the night was Simple Life Campground.  After setting up our tents, we headed into town for dinner at El Pacifico Mexican Restaurant.  The food was decent, but it just seems weird eating Mexican food without beer.  Robbinsville is in Graham County, which is still dry.  After dinner, we made a small campfire and took showers at the campground, our last opportunity to bathe on this trip, and then went to bed early.  Friday morning, we broke camp, and headed towards the Snowbird Backcountry Area in the Cheoah Ranger District of Nantahala National Forest.  From US-129, we turned onto NC-143 passing Santeetlah Lake and turning on Snowbird Road and then Big Snowbird Road.  Eventually, this road becomes gravel Forest Service Road 75 and ends at the trailhead for Snowbird Backcountry Area.  Along the way, we passed an extremely large hunting party - around 15 or so trucks and probably 30 to 50 hunters.  They had to move a couple of their trucks so we could get by and while passing, I noticed that the person moving the truck looked to be about 8 years old.  Shouldn't he be in school?  I guess hunting takes priority in this area.  He wasn’t old enough to drive, but he sure did know how to maneuver that truck on a narrow gravel road.  Shortly after passing the hunters, we arrived at the trailhead and started hiking along Big Snowbird Trail (#64).  The trail follows Snowbird Creek upstream for a ways and was very scenic.


In about 2.5 miles from the trailhead, we came across an old, rusty car just off the trail that was peppered with bullet holes.  I don’t know if this car was used in illegal activities or if it got shot up for target practice after it had broken down back here.  But either way, we had some fun getting pictures and pretending to be gangsters in the bullet-ridden car.


Right past here, we had to cross the creek where Sassafras Creek flows into Snowbird Creek and turned right once across to stay on Big Snowbird Trail, where left becomes Sassafras Trail.  We continued following the trail for about another mile and stopped for a brief detour down to the lower section of Big Falls on Snowbird Creek.  Despite the name, Big Falls is not particularly big.  The upper part is a series of small cascades and the lower section is a larger cascade, maybe 15 feet.  From the lower section, we couldn’t get to the base for a decent shot, so we didn’t spend a lot of time here.


After a few minutes, we made the very steep climb back up to the main trail and continued on to the next creek crossing over Snowbird Creek.  There is a nice footbridge here to make the crossing easier.


Across the bridge, Big Snowbird and Middle Falls Trail (#64A) split - both trails lead to Middle Falls, but Big Snowbird Trail has a number of wet creek crossings.  So we opted to take the dry route and follow Middle Falls Trail to the waterfall.  Initially, the trail is a very steep ascent up to a ridgeline above the creek, then levels off.  It was about another mile to Middle Falls on Snowbird Creek.  Although its not a tall waterfall, maybe 15 to 20 feet high, it’s as wide as the creek and quite powerful.  The setting of the falls is absolutely beautiful and the waterfall is extremely photogenic.


The long hike (about five miles one way) and remote location keep most visitors away so we had the falls to ourselves.  We sat along the big rocks at the base of the waterfall and ate lunch here and got some pictures of this beautiful waterfall.  When we were finished, we made the hike back to the cars at the trailhead.  Once back at the cars, we split up.  Justine and the others were heading straight back to Smokemont Campground to meet the rest of our group who were coming out for the weekend.  But, Sandy and I wanted to get some more waterfalls along the way.  Leaving the Snowbird area, we made a quick stop at the boat ramp next to the Cheoah Ranger Station for some nice views of fall foliage on Santeetlah Lake.


Then we returned to Robbinsville and started heading back east, stopping near Bryson City.  We headed to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to hike the short three-waterfall loop.  We started off along the Deep Creek Trail heading upstream along its namesake creek.  In just a couple of minutes, we passed Tom Branch Falls, which flows into the creek from the other side.  The waterfall is pretty high, probably around 60 feet, but the water level was a little low and much of it was obscured by foliage.


Nonetheless, it was a pretty waterfall that doesn’t require much effort to see it at all.  Continuing on the trail for about a half-mile, we came to a split and turned right on Indian Creek Trail.  Almost immediately, there was a spur trail to the left that led down to a view of Indian Creek Falls.  It’s a 20-foot cascading waterfall that was split into two streams.  It's not a big waterfall, but quite scenic.


After a couple of pictures, we went back to Deep Creek Trail and then turned left on Deep Creek Horse Trail.  This trail was a bit steep heading up initially and then back down.  I guess horses don't mind the elevation gain too much.  When we were almost back to the parking lot, we turned onto Juney Whank Falls Trail and made a quick stop at the waterfall.  This is another small but scenic waterfall.  Split into multiple sections, we got some pictures from the footbridge that crosses it in the middle.


It was getting late in the day, so we didn’t spend a lot of time here.  A couple quick pictures and then we headed back to the car and started making our way towards Smokemont.  We stopped for fast food in Bryson City and then continued past Cherokee to Smokemont Campground.  After finding the group sites, we set up our tent as darkness began to fall on the mountains.  Once we were set up, we made some drinks and socialized around the campfire before heading to bed.  Saturday morning, we woke up fairly early.  This was the one time this week that we didn’t have to break camp first thing in the morning as we were staying here for two nights.  From camp, we headed towards Cherokee on US-441 and turned onto Big Cove Road right past Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  In about 5 miles, we turned onto Mingo Falls Bridge Road and parked at the trailhead for the waterfall.  It’s only a quarter-mile to the falls, but requires climbing more than 100 stairs.  It was quite cold this morning so a quick climb helped warm us up.  The trail ends at an overlook across Mingo Creek with a view of the falls.  Mingo Falls is probably over 100 feet.  It didn't have a high water flow this morning, but is quite beautiful nonetheless.  The main flow of water was cascading down the left side of the rock face, but there were a number of thin streams of water on the right side with a delicate, stringy look.  It was really beautiful.


We climbed out on the rocks to get some pictures then headed back.  We continued up Big Cove Road back into Great Smoky Mountains National Park and parked at the trailhead for Hyatt Ridge Trail.  Our goal was Enloe Creek Falls.  We tried unsuccessfully to get this waterfall two years ago.  There’s no trail to the falls and it’s not shown on any maps.  But this time, I had a GPS waypoint and we were determined to get it.  We started off by hiking up Hyatt Ridge Trail.  It was still cold when we started our hike and I was initially wearing a sweatshirt to stay warm.  Hyatt Ridge Trail is quite steep and it wasn’t long before I paused to delayer.  The trail leads for just under two miles to the intersection with Enloe Creek Trail and it’s all uphill.  The foliage along the trail was showing great colors and we took several much-appreciated breaks along the hike to rest and enjoy the pretty leaves.


At the top, we turned left to get on Enloe Creek Trail and started hiking down, which made for a much quicker hike, eventually reaching Raven Fork at the point where Enloe Creek flows into it.  Raven Fork Falls, an 8-foot waterfall, is located just downstream of the bridge.  Although it's not a big waterfall, the bridge in the background makes for a nice picture.


We crossed the footbridge over Raven Fork and started following Enloe Creek upstream.  We were only about a quarter-mile from Enloe Creek Falls and I carefully watched the GPS as we got closer and closer.  For a short ways, it would have been difficult to get off the trail due to dense rhododendron, but then there was an opening and we got off trail and started bushwhacking towards the creek.  Soon, we could see the waterfall through the trees and I knew we would be successful this time.  As we approached the waterfall, we had to go down a bit and cross the creek on a huge log and then climb some rocks up to the base for a good view.  A few people who didn’t feel comfortable crossing the log bushwhacked along the side and made it to the top of the falls.  We got some good pictures of the waterfall and played around a bit on the rocks, then started making our way back.


We stopped at the campsite by the bridge over Raven Fork to eat lunch and I climbed down on the rocks to get some pictures.  Besides Raven Fork Falls, there are some nice cascades along the creek here.


After lunch, we started hiking back.  The climb back up Enloe Creek Trail was strenuous, but the pretty fall colors provided an opportunity for frequent breaks.  Once back on Hyatt Ridge Trail, it was all downhill back to the car.  It was still early in the afternoon as finding Enloe Creek Falls took less time than expected.  So on the way back to camp, we stopped at Oconaluftee Visitor Center.  We browsed the gift store for a few minutes then took a stroll around the Mountain Farm Museum and got some pictures of the old buildings and farming equipment.


The buildings here were originally constructed throughout what is now the park and were taken apart and re-assembled at this site so visitors can get a feel for early life in Appalachia.  Across the big open field, we could see a couple of bull elk grazing but they were too far away to get a good picture.  I also saw a couple of chickens running around and stopped to get some pictures.


Suddenly, I heard through a megaphone a ranger scream “Step away from the wild animal!”  Surely, she couldn’t have been scolding me about getting too close to a chicken.  They’re certainly not wild!  No, it was some idiot getting too close to the elk.  And he was completely ignoring the ranger.  She repeated her command to back away from the elk, but he didn’t listen.  Finally, another ranger in a vehicle with sirens and flashing lights sped across the field, ultimately scaring the elk back into the woods.  I couldn’t see how it was resolved, but I certainly hope the guy got a citation for that.  After that, we headed back to camp and made an early dinner, then headed to Clingmans Dome with a plan to watch the sunset from the highest point in the park.  We drove up Newfound Gap Road and turned onto Clingmans Dome Road.  As we approached the peak, it got cloudier and cloudier and by the time we parked, we could barely see five feet in front of us.  So much for a nice sunset.  But we were already here, so we made the short hike up to the summit and climbed to the top of the tower.  There were no panoramic views from up here, but it had a spooky feel being right in the dense clouds.


We stopped at the top of the tower for a few minutes, but there was no point in waiting until sunset since we certainly wouldn’t see it, and so headed back to the car.  Driving back to camp, we got out of the clouds and could view the sun’s last moments in the sky as we drove back down US-441.  We made a nice big campfire to stay warm and had drinks with our friends for the evening and then went to bed.  Sunday was our last day of adventure.  We woke up early and broke camp for the last time and left Smokemont.  We were heading east, but to avoid traffic in Cherokee, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway to bypass tourist traffic.  The early morning views along the parkway were very pretty.  We got off the parkway at US-19 near Soco Gap and backtracked about a mile and a half to the pulloff for Soco Falls.  Sandy and I had visited this waterfall several years ago in the snow and it was quite pretty, but we weren’t able to get down to the base, so this was our goal today with the nicer weather.  We stopped briefly at the wooden overlook, but the views here are partially obscured by foliage and we could only see the larger of the two falls on Soco Creek.


A scramble path leads down to the base and there was rope tied to trees for assistance.  At the base, we could see both of the beautiful waterfalls after a steep climb down.


After a couple minutes, we headed back up and continued driving east.  From I-40 near Old Fort, we took exit 73 and made a sharp right onto Catawba Falls Road, following it to the end.  The bridge to the Forest Service parking area is still under construction so we had to park on the side of the road here.  And we weren’t the only ones visiting Catawba Falls today - there were more than a dozen other cars here.  We got our stuff together and started hiking across the bridge and the parking lot that will hopefully soon be open.  Almost immediately, we had to cross Catawba River.  A few in the group were concerned about getting wet on this crossing so Shung stood in the middle of the river and moved some rocks around to make the crossing easier.  We continued up the trail as it followed Catawba River upstream, with another crossing over Clover Patch Branch just before a small waterfall at the ruins of an old dam and power station.  Then there was another crossing over Chestnut Branch before reaching Catawba Falls.  Even before the falls, there were some very pretty cascades and small falls on the river.


Catawba Falls is a big cascading waterfall, probably over 100 feet tall.  It’s not possible to see the entire thing and the fall foliage, while beautiful in color, made seeing the falls more difficult.


After a couple of pictures, we then climbed the very steep trail alongside the falls that eventually reaches Upper Catawba Falls.  Personally, I think this is the more beautiful of the two, though both are quite impressive.


Also, the difficult climb up to reach it reduces the number of other people and we had the falls to ourselves.  We played around at the base of the falls, getting pictures and goofing off, then started making our way back to the cars.  At this point, everybody was ready to quit.  But Sandy and I are true waterfall heroes and we weren't done yet - there's always time for one more waterfall.  So just the two of us, continued heading east on the highway and got off I-40 in Morganton and headed to South Mountains State Park.  Fall color was peaking at these lower elevations, so it wasn’t surprising that the park was very crowded.


After finding a parking spot at the Jacob Fork parking area, we hiked the blue-blazed High Shoals Falls Loop Trail to the waterfall.  The trail starts out following an old road and becomes more of a trail as it follows Jacob Fork upstream towards the falls.  As we approached the falls, the trail crossed the creek and headed up via stairs and rocks.  This last section was a bit strenuous after all the climbing and elevation gain we had done for the week.  After one last climb, we made it to the wooden platform at the base of the falls and got a couple of pictures of this scenic 50-foot waterfall.


We didn't linger too long as it was very crowded and we were both getting quite hungry.  Back at the car, we headed into Morganton for a delicious meal of fajitas at our favorite Mexican restaurant - Las Salsas.  A fitting end to a heroic week of hiking and waterfalls.  Here's a video I made of our adventure: