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Massive Waterfall Weekend

posted Aug 27, 2015, 1:08 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 30, 2015, 4:20 PM ]

This past weekend, I headed to the mountains to see High Falls on West Fork Tuckaseegee River.  August 22 would be the last time this year that Duke Energy would be opening the dam on Lake Glenville for a whitewater release.  Sandy had to work this weekend, so I headed out solo.  I drove up Friday evening and stayed at the Quality Inn in Sylva, as I wanted to get a quick start in the morning and be there before the dam opened at 10 AM.  I had Subway for dinner and saved the second half for lunch the next day.  Saturday morning, I checked out of the hotel and headed south on NC-107.  Just before Lake Glenville, I turned right on Shoal Creek Road and parked just beyond the gated road, arriving around 830, with plenty of time to make it to the waterfall.  This land is private property, but the landowner is kind enough to allow public access to view the beautiful natural resources.  After getting my stuff together, I hiked down past the gate and went left at the fork.  The trail loops around and then follows West Fork Tuckaseegee River upstream.  In about a mile and a half, flagging tape indicated a short spur trail to the right that led to the river.  Across the river, Rough Run flowed into West Fork Tuckaseegee River at Rough Run or Thurston Hatcher Falls.

The other side of the river is private property and marked as No Trespassing, so I could only go as far as shore of the river to get a picture of this waterfall.  Then, I hopped back across and finished up the trail at the base of High Falls.  It was still another thirty minutes or so before the dam would open, so I took the time to walk around on the rocks at the base of the falls that would soon be completely underwater.

There were a couple of cairns right at the base of the falls – they wouldn’t be lasting much longer!

As it got closer to 10, I found a nice big rock to climb up where I would be safe from the rising water and be able to get some good pictures and video.  Around 1020, it actually started.  I’m not sure how long it takes for the water to get from the lake to the waterfall, but when it started, there was no mistake.

First, the top section of the waterfall got huge.  Then the lower part started in two sections and finally, the river below the falls began to fill up.  It took a total of about five minutes before the waterfall and river got to their full flow.  Here's a video I made of the release:

After getting some pictures and video from the top of the rock, I got back down to the edge of the river and then went up to where the kayakers were putting in. 

The mist and spray from the falls made it difficult to get pictures.  I even climbed up to the middle of the falls, where the spray was overpowering.  I watched some kayakers take off down the now Class V rapids and then made the hike back to the car.  On the way, I stopped quickly at Thurston Hatcher Falls - there would be no crossing the river now.  While I was here, I met Tim, who wanted to go to Big Falls on Thompson River afterwards.  I never pass up an opportunity for adventure on Thompson River, so we drove over to the trailhead on Brewer Road, just off NC-281.  From here, we hiked down the old gated logging road that follows Thompson River downstream.  In about a mile, we passed the side trail that leads to High Falls and shortly after that, we had to ford the river.  The water level was lower than the last time I was here as there were several exposed rocks sticking out above the surface.  Not enough to rock hop though, so we had to wade across.  We continued down the path another 2.5 miles to the turn for Big Falls.  It’s not terribly obvious, but I spotted the flagging tape and cairn at the turn.  From here, it’s a steep climb down to river level.  It starts off moderate, but gets steeper and steeper.  Ropes tied to trees help with the steepest parts near the end.  Once down to the river, we had to go upstream a bit to the base of Big Falls.  A downed tree made getting to the base difficult the last time I was here.  It appeared that another tree had fallen and it was now near impossible to get through the mess of branches and logs.  Instead, we climbed onto some rocks before the trees and were able to climb under them from river level.  Now, we could see Big Falls.

This certainly was a day for massive waterfalls.  I ate the rest of my Subway and then we waded across the river and climbed onto the big rock on the other side.  I went up as high as I could go to view the top of the waterfall up close.

Tim was going to slide down the falls, but ended up changing his mind.  The water is mighty cold.  So we started making our way back up.  It wasn’t too hot, but was extremely humid, which made the climb back up that more difficult.  But soon we made it to the top and started hiking back.  Although he had talked about it on the way in, Tim was too tired to get any of the other waterfalls along Thompson.  He decided to set up his hammock, while I headed down to Waterfall #1 on Thompson River.

I had never been to this one before and for being on Thompson River, it was pretty easy.  And it’s a pretty nice waterfall too!  I was glad I made the quick detour here.  I also saw some tiger swallowtail butterflies puddling along the river bed.

I hiked back up to the main trail and met back up with Tim, resting in his hammock.  He packed it back up and we finished the hike back out.  Along the way, we ran into some guys who had been looking for White Owl Falls.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the trail to take.  We told them how to get to it, but they didn’t want to take the time to get that one.  We talked to them along the hike out.  Tim headed home and I went into Brevard to stay at the Hampton Inn for the night.  Sunday morning, I woke up, had breakfast, and checked out of the hotel.  It was a long drive home and I wanted to get in a good hike before I left.  So I headed to DuPont State Forest, just east of Brevard, and parked at the Hooker Falls parking area.  After getting my stuff together, I started out on the short Hooker Falls Road to its namesake waterfall.  I was here early enough that I beat the crowds and had favorable lighting to capture the falls.  One guy was swimming in the pool beneath the waterfall, but no one else was here.  I took advantage and walked around a bit to get pictures of the falls and then headed back.

I took the pedestrian bridge over the river and then followed Little River upstream along Triple Falls Trail.  I stopped for picture at the overlook where all three sections of the waterfall are visible.

Then I then climbed down to the rocks to get some pictures from here, where I could see the upper and middle sections of the falls.

It was still early and there was no one else at the waterfall.  Every other time I’ve been to Triple Falls, it’s been very crowded, so it was nice to have a bit of solitude here.  I continued following the trail and took High Falls Trail at the split.

After a quick stop at the overlook to see High Falls, I took Covered Bridge Trail up to the bridge over the waterfall and followed Buck Forest Road across.  I followed the road for just under a mile to a bridge over Grassy Creek and then took Lake Imaging Road to Grassy Creek Falls Trail.  Along the way, I saw some black-eyed susans blooming along the road.

The trail ends at the top of the waterfall and the views aren’t very good.  So I bushwhacked down to the base, but it was very cluttered and I couldn’t really get a decent view here either.

It’s not that scenic of a waterfall anyway, so I gave up and headed back.  Once across the covered bridge, I made a partial loop by taking Triple Falls Trail all the way back.  Along the way, I saw some great mushrooms growing right along the trail.

At the base of the lowest section Triple Falls, I headed out onto the rocks to get some pictures, though the waterfall had become crowded by this time.  Then I finished my hike back at the Hooker Falls parking area.  It was still early so I drove over to the Guion Farm parking area off Sky Valley Road.  From here, I hiked to Wintergreen Falls, the last waterfall in the forest that I had never visited.  I hiked south through an open field and got on Tarkiln Branch Trail.  I followed this for about a mile and turned left on Wintergreen Falls Trail.  It was about a half-mile to where the trail ends at Grassy Creek.  From here, I had to scramble over some big boulders for a view of Wintergreen Falls.  Although not big, it’s a very scenic waterfall and much less crowded than the more popular waterfalls on Little River.

It's more scenic that Grassy Creek Falls in my opinion.  I got some pictures here and then hiked back to the car.  I started making my way home, passing through Hendersonville and getting on I-26.  When US-74 split, I got off the highway in Columbus at NC-108.  I turned on Houston Road and then White Oak Mountain Road.  This last road, although paved, was extremely steep and windy as it switchbacked up the mountain.  At a couple points, I had to come to a complete stop and put the car in first gear to get up the hills.  After two miles, I parked right before Shunkawauken Falls.  This roadside waterfall is quite high; surprising, considering how high on the mountain it is.

I got a couple of pictures of the waterfall and of the views over Columbus far below the mountain.

After enjoying the view, I returned to the car and drove back to the highway and made my way home.