Journal/Blog‎ > ‎

Middle Prong Waterfalls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:33 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 10, 2017, 4:40 PM ]

Monday, I headed to Middle Prong Wilderness for some waterfalls.  I took NC-215 south past Lake Logan and right after Sunburst Campground, I turned onto Forest Road 97.  It was gated right after the ford on Right Hand Prong so I parked before the gate.  It was just under 1.5 miles, in the second switchback where I got on FR-97H, which is more of a trail than a road and becomes Haywood Gap Trail (#142) as it enters the wilderness.  In a short distance the trail passed over the middle of Little Beartrap Falls, but the view from the trail is not great.  After crossing the creek, I bushwhacked up the river right side of Little Beartrap Branch to get to the upper section of the waterfall.  It was quite tricky to get out on the rocks for a good view, but it was a pretty nice waterfall.

Back on the trail, I continued about a half-mile and got off the trail again.  The spot to get off the trail is not obvious at all, but its between two big dirt mounds and I thought I could hear Middle Prong Falls from there.  At first, it was an easy bushwhack through a relatively open area.  Then it got real steep and I had to hold on to rhododendron going down.  I kept climbing down and eventually came out at the top of Middle Prong Falls.

I could tell it was a great waterfall, but there was no way down from here.  So I went back up just a little and followed the cliff downstream until I could make my way down to the creek.

Middle Prong Falls was a really impressive waterfall and I spent some time enjoying the view.  The powerful water flowing generated a nice breeze that kept the bugs away and it was a bit cooler.

But I had a rough climb back up so I didn't linger too long.  I continued on FR-97H into Middle Prong Wilderness to where the trail crosses Middle Prong.

There's a real scenic but smaller waterfall on the river at the crossing where Haywood Gap Trail picks up on the other side.

But my destination was Big Beartrap Branch, so I had to backtrack a bit and pick up a side path that led to the creek.  From here, I needed to bushwhack up to the waterfall, but after going almost a half-mile, I couldn't find it and gave up.  I was alone and didn't want to press my luck, so I started heading back to the car.  Along the way, I spotted some beebalm blooming along the trail.

And I ran into a nice couple who gave me an Off Wipe to repel the pesky bugs.  They were really bad in here.  At the first switchback on FR-97, I followed a path to the base of the lower section of Little Beartrap Falls.  I couldn't find a good spot for that waterfall, but the next tributary over - Berry Branch - had a nice little waterfall flowing over a rock in two streams.

There were some nice cascades downstream on Little Beartrap Branch as well.

Then I headed back to the car.  Back on NC-215, I headed south for about 2 miles and pulled off where the road crosses Green Creek.  A small path on river left led a short ways to Little Bird Falls, a small, but scenic waterfall.

It was such a lush, green setting; even though the waterfall is small, the mossy rocks and vegetation made it feel like a rain forest.

I got a couple pictures and then drove a little further to the pull-off for Sunburst Falls.  First, I headed to the upper sections upstream of the road.

The rocks were wet from recent rain so I didn't scramble too high.  Then, I scrambled down below the road to see the lower cascading section below the bridge.  Usually, I don't like man-made stuff in waterfall pictures - it distracts from the natural setting.  But this bridge is so scenic, it really brings out the scene.

Back at the car, I drove a little further a pulled off on the left.  I donned water shoes and found a super steep and overgrown path down to West Fork Pigeon River.  There was some flagging tape to indicate the best way down.  At the river, I scrambled upstream a short ways to get past a cascade and then crossed the river to the base of Lower Wildcat Falls.  Although short, it's rather difficult with the steep scramble down to the river and then creek-walking up to the waterfall.

But it looked really nice, especially in high water.  On the way back, it was easier to get past the cascades on West Fork Pigeon River on the river-right side.

When I had visited Wildcat Falls, the water level was really low, so I figured I'd try to hit that one up as well.  I drove further up NC-215, almost to the Blue Ridge Parkway and pulled off at the big MST parking area on the right.  From here, I got on the MST going westbound into Middle Prong Wilderness.  The trail paralleled the road for a ways then headed west through the woods and then a field.  It continued through a muddy area and then started switchbacking up the mountain.  After the second switchback, I found a spot to get a nice view of Mount Hardy Falls from a distance.

This one is on a very small stream, but in high water like today, it was quite impressive - more like a waterfall out west.

I went a little further on the MST and then turned back.  It rained a little here and there on the hike back, but not much.  The field part of the hike was overgrown and I got really wet hiking through here.  Back at the car, I started back down NC-215, making one more stop at the trailhead for Wildcat Falls.  After parking, I hiked past the campground and rock-hopped Bubbling Spring Branch and got on Flat Laurel Creek Trail (#346).  Right away, there were some small cascades just off the trail.

With the recent rains, they looked pretty nice.  It was another half-mile or so to Wildcat Falls.

It's a small tributary, but looked a lot better than my previous visit when it was just a wet rock.  After a couple pictures, I headed back and packed up to depart in the morning.