Location:Brown Gap, Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (48.5 miles – 57 min) Knoxville (75 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (162 miles – 2 hours and 45 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.75821, -82.97711Trail Access:Take exit 7 on I-40 and follow Cold Springs Creek Rd 3.7 miles. Turn right onto Fall Branch Rd and drive 0.3-mi to the gate. The trail is just beyond the gate on the left.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:No official trail, a usage path follows Little Fall Branch to the waterfallHike Distance:~0.6 miles Hike Configuration: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 135 feetHiking Time:25 minutesDate of Hike:02-19-17, Sunday at 1:40 PMTrail Condition: Good — The usage path is in good shape considering how little traffic it receives.Hike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat except for a few boulders at the end. Isolation:High — Not many people know about this waterfall. Highlights:A nice, secluded waterfall with colorful cliffs just 10 min from the road. Lowlights:In drought conditions this would not be worth your time.Google Photos album link
This short hike to Little Fall Branch Falls is worth a quick stop if you are hiking in the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area of Pisgah National Forest. If you are hiking toMax Patch (like I did after this stop), or having a nice outing at the Cold Springs Picnic Area, then this 30-minute detour will most certainly surprise you. Little Fall Branch is very tiny, and it seems impossible that an impressive waterfall would be located on this watercourse. The waterfall is ~40 feet high and hemmed in by a cove of moss-covered cliffs. It would at its most spectacular in the summer after rain when everything is really green. Although the trail to the waterfall is unofficial, the path is easy and appropriate for any hiker. This waterfall is not listed on any map, I found out about it from the excellent new North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition book by Kevin Adams. I highly recommend purchasing this book if you love hiking to waterfalls.
Location:South Mountains State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (72 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (63 miles – 1 hour and 19 min) Raleigh (198 miles – 3 hours and 8 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.60236, -81.62917Trail Access:This is a confusing park to get to via maps and GPS directions. Just insert 3001 South Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612 into your GPS and try not to get lost!South Mountains State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:River Trail – Raven Rock Trail – Benn Knob Trail – Lower CCC Trail – Fox Trail – Jacob Branch Trail – Upper Falls Trail – High Shoals Falls Loop Trail – Hemlock Nature TrailHike Distance:~16.1 miles Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 3,261 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:06-04-16, Saturday at 10:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Almost all trails are forest roads in good shape. The few hikers’ only trails are also in good shape.Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are few extended climbs other than the initial ascent on the Raven Rock Trail. This is mainly strenuous due to length. Isolation:Above Average — This is an average of isolation being very high for the majority of the hike while anywhere near the waterfall you’ll always see people year-round. Highlights:Immaculately maintained trails, manmade views from various trails where there are no natural views, secluded campsites Lowlights:Forest roads get monotonous after a while, long section on paved road, views few and far between, way too many people at High Shoals Falls and surrounding areaGoogle Photos album link
South Mountains State Park is a great area for exploration and gear testing in a relatively calm environment. The trails are immaculate, and are mostly former forest roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are signs and blazes everywhere, it is impossible to get lost unless you really try. There are frontcountry and backcountry options for hikers of various physical fitness levels. It is also one of my fallback options when the weather doesn’t look so good in the bigger mountains ranges of western North Carolina. The South Mountains lie east of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a smaller, separate mountain range with peaks ranging between 2,000-3,000 feet. The state park is the largest in North Carolina, and that doesn’t include the vast South Mountains Game Land to the west. This is a huge area and much of the interior of this mountain range feels very wild and remote. On my previous two trips (including my recent post about High Shoals Falls) I did smaller loops that didn’t quite reach the state park interior boundary. My goal was to do the full southern perimeter of the state park which included peakbagging Benn Knob, one of the tallest peaks in the South Mountains. Since this hike either follows Jacob Fork or the ridges surrounding the headwaters, I dubbed this hike Jacob Fork Rim. I wasn’t sure what else to call it since I hiked so many different trails on this one big loop.
Location:Crabtree Meadows Campground, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (50 miles – 1 hour and 5 min) Charlotte (119 miles – 2 hours and 3 min) Raleigh (236 miles – 3 hours and 40 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.81236, -82.14338Trail Access:Trailhead parking is located at the entrance to the Crabtree Meadows Campground at mile 339.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is located between the exit for NC 80 to the south and NC 226A to the north.Hiking Upward link to hikeBlue Ridge Parkway – Crabtree Meadows CampgroundHiking Trails:Crabtree Falls Loop TrailHike Configuration: LoopHike Distance:~3.0 miles Elevation Gain: 740 feetHiking Time:1 hour and 20 minutesDate of Hike:03-16-16, Wednesday at 5:15 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — As with most popular Blue Ridge Parkway trails, this is in excellent condition with few spots of significant erosion. Also, there are switchbacks and stairs aplenty. Hike Difficulty:ModeratelyEasy — For most this is an easy hike, barring the climb you’ll face coming out of the gorge. Isolation:Low — Expect a significant amount of people on this trail year-round Highlights:A stunning waterfall, good access from the parkway Lowlights:Since this is only accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway you cannot drive here in the winterGoogle Photos album link
If you’ve seen a top 10 or top 20 list for waterfalls of North Carolina floating around the internet, I guarantee you Crabtree Falls is on that list 99% of the time. This is an incredible waterfall, and I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. I decided it was time to change that, and after a surprisingly grueling hike at Woods Mountain I still mustered up the energy to hike to Crabtree Falls that evening. Even though the sun was setting the lighting was perfect on this warm mid-March day. At just under 3 miles this is a great hike for the family. Not too difficult, probably on the moderate side for most. I consider it easy personally. If you huff-and-puff you’ll still leave with a smile because Crabtree Falls is one of the finest waterfalls in the state.
Location:Old Fort, Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (27 miles – 30 min) Charlotte (109 miles – 1 hour and 44 min) Raleigh (226 miles – 3 hours and 21 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.61324, -82.23087Trail Access:Get off I-40 at exit 73 in Old Fort. If you eastbound turn right before reaching the main road. If you are heading west pass under I-40 and turn right onto the east exit ramp, immediately turn left onto Catawba River Rd. Drive 3.1 miles to the parking lot.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Catawba Falls TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~3.9 miles Elevation Gain: 863 feetHiking Time:2 hours and 35 minutesDate of Hike:12-20-2015, Sunday at 10:30 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trail all the way up to Catawba Falls is in excellent shape. Everything beyond that is not a complete trail, and is in bad condition.Hike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat to Catawba Falls, on a well-graded forest road. Following my full hike is not what I would classify as strenuous, but instead technically difficult. Isolation:Very Low — Consider the location, accessibility, and name recognition of these waterfalls. This had decent crowds mid-winter and I’ve heard it is packed all summer. Highlights:Two easily accessible, beautiful waterfalls and one very difficult-to-reach but amazing waterfall all within a few short miles from the interstate. Lowlights:I’m being picky here, the “trail” to Upper Catawba Falls is dangerous and a spot for terrible erosion. Also the crowds on warmer days. Google Photos album link
If you love waterfalls and want the best bang for your buck, then visiting Catawba Falls should be at the top of your list. Thankfully the Foothills Conservancy and eventually the US Forest Service saved access to these waterfalls from private development. Now, this easy trail is one of the most popular in the region due to its beauty and ease of access beside Interstate 40. There are 3 waterfalls along a short stretch of the Catawba River. Despite being one of the largest rivers in North Carolina, here it is no more than your average mountain creek. The trail follows forest roads that previously provided access to an old hydroelectric facility. It is an easy 3 mile hike (round trip) to see Lower Catawba Falls and the spectacularly high Catawba Falls. At this point most hikers turn around, but a steep, hazardous scramble trail climbs to the top of Catawba Falls providing access to the picturesque Upper Catawba Falls. It is worth the effort if you are sure-footed, otherwise I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with Catawba Falls.