Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wilson Creek- Harpers Creek Falls


Nestled in the corner of Caldwell County, at the foot of Grandfather Mountain is a hidden gem of a natural area.  Beginning from springs on the upper slopes of Calloway Peak (5920'), Wilson Creek flows 23 miles joining Johns River(1020').  Flowing south, the river forms a small gorge and is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and is considered a part of the Pisgah National Forest.
Until recently it was a remote and rugged afterthought by hikers and vacationers.  Caldwell County has invested money to improve access and infrastructure....and what you have now is a magnificent hiking area.

 Getting there is pretty easy... just take Brown Mountain Beach Road off NC 181 and when you cross the Wilson Creek/John's River bridge, turn left and follow the green mileage markers along a gravel road.  However understanding where you are is a little harder. I have looked at trail maps online for a couple of years, and still not sure I understand the trail system. But thankfully, there is a nice lady at the Wilson Creek Visitor Center named "Glynnis".   Glynnis is a real expert.  Don't even think about hiking one of these trails until you talk with her!
We stopped at the Visitor's Center and were warmly greeted.  She walked us through the trail map and dissuaded us from our original destination by saying: "Don't you want to see the nicest waterfall in the mountains"   I was to Harper's Creek Falls we went.

We drove down the road from the Visitors Center until we found a parking lot on the left with lots of mile marker #7....the trail head was well marked with a yellow/orange blaze....just 1.5 miles to the falls said Glynnis and off we trudged.
The first quarter mile of the trail is a pretty steep haul....about 500 feet.  That is the bad news....the good news is the rest of the trail covers only 100 feet in elevation....hurt early and enjoy a nice hike.   

Reaching the top of the ridge, the trail 260 (Harpers Creek) to the left intersects with trail 265 (Yellow Buck) to the right.  Being unsure I took the left trail...and soon encountered some young folks trudging out from a night of camping.  "Which way to the falls?"  I asked.  "Don't know, never saw them." they said. I backtracked and begin up the Yellow Buck trail....only to think. "Why am I taking trail advice from 'hikers' who are packing out beer bottles in a black plastic garbage bag?"   So I returned to the yellow blazed Harpers Creek trail....

The trail to the falls is a nice path through the mountain forest along a ridge above Harpers Creek.  In the early spring, there are several window views of the stream...and many campsites along the banks.  I bet this is a very popular camping destination in the dog days of summer!
About 1.25 miles into the hike, the trail intersects with the white blazed Mountain to Sea Trail.  A sign indicates it is but 8.3 miles to NC 181.  Bear to the right at this point...a small incline takes you the last quarter of a mile to one of the best waterfalls in the state!
The trail dead ends at a cliff overlooking two of the three cascades of the Harpers Creek Falls.  The falls are easily five stories high and plunge off the rocks with an intensity that is similar to the more famous Linville Falls.  
Looking at how to get to the base of the falls, we were offered two choices and both involved ropes!   Yep, to get to the base of the middle cascade on top of the third cascade, you have semi-rappel down a rock face....nope not the Fat Bald White Guy!  

But an easier trek down to the pools side at the base of the third cascade consisted of a rock scramble/slide of about 200 feet with an assist of a rope for the last 75 feet....To my devoted Hiking Companion, I said: "Hey we can do that!"   I hoped!

What we beheld is without a doubt the best swimming hole in the state...and on April 12th...with 68 degree weather.....there were people brave enough to take a dip!

At the base of the falls is a large olympic size pool that is deep and smooth and free of rocks...the perfect summer time swimmin' hole.  At the top of the last cascade was a group of brave swimmers who accessed this choice spot via the aforementioned rope rappel.  

A couple of interesting people attracted my attention.  

First was a the flag shirted girl....
Second was the crazy guy who was making the cascade first his personal bath tub....

Then the guy decided to make the cascade a slide!

We also met a wonderful family whose three siblings, Josh, Keely and Emma took turns swimming in the 50 degree swimming pool at the base of the falls.....

If you want to visit one of the best swimming holes at the base of one of the best waterfall....Harpers Creek trail is a bucket list hike for you!...but make sure you bring your swim skinny dippn here!

The trail is a nice 3 miler with many side trails for those who want to explore the riverside...wade in the water ...or take a dip.  Great camping sites and a scenic hike.   Access is a 9....scenery is a 9.... trails are a 9....effort to view ratio is lopsided toward an easy trail for a great view.....Wilson Creek is our main hiking destination this summer....can't wait for the next trail Glynnis points in our direction.

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