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Middle Prong Waterfalls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:33 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 8, 2017, 5:33 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).  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.  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.  I started heading back to the car, but at the first switchback on FR-97 and 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 waterfall.  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.  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.  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.  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.