Nestled off South Toe River Road, near the Mt. Mitchell Country Club is a wonderful campground. The Black Mountain Campground is the trail head for several trails. We chose to hike the River Loop Trail which was billed as a 3.5 mile moderate loop trail. We hoped to visit a waterfall we read about as well. Turned out we hiked 5 miles but found a truly magnificent waterfall too!
Across the road from the entrance to the campground is the trail head. Parking along the road is limited. There must have been 15 cars and we secured the last spot. There you can view maps of the many trails that can be accessed from this place. The Mountain to Sea Trail, The Green Knob Trail and the Mt Mitchell Trail are all access from the South Toe River Loop.
The trail begins with a very sharp incline which made me question the labeling of the trail as "moderate" but after about a quarter of a mile the Mountain to Sea Trail veered north and the trail turned to hug the side of the ridge some 200 feet above the South Toe River. Still inclining less steeply the trail continued laterally until the intersection of the Green Knob Trail veered eastward. At this point the trail begins a gentle decline to the river.
About a mile into the trail there is a couple of clearings that finally provided us a view of the mountains rising above the narrow valley created by the South Toe River.
Despite the fact that the views of the river and mountainsides were obscured by the foliage, we did marvel at some of the natural oddities along the trail. This tree seems to have grown stair steps of mushrooms.
At the two mile mark, the trail emerges from the woods at a roadway bridge that crosses the South Toe River.
Hoping to finally be on a riverside trail we crossed the road and hurried down a wide level forest trail only to find that the trail began to rise above the river into thick woods. But the last flower blossoms of the season dotted a forest meadow and one beautiful blue butterfly entertained us as it flew from blossom to blossom. We also noticed the first signs of fall.
We also saw a nice display of mushrooms....some orange ones on a green mossy log....another that seemed to have a smiley face!
The trail looped over a ridge and we had to negotiate a recently fallen tree but soon emerged on the river side where we found a lone fly fisherman casting for river trout.
The path along the river ended as we emerged from the woods into the back of the Black Mountain Campground. At this point we saw the Mt Mitchell trail. We only imagine how strenuous that trail must be. Still from the campground there were several spur trails to the riverside
Soon we spied a wooden bridge ahead and my Faithful Hiking Companion pointed out the trail to Step Rock Falls. It was a 2/10th of a mile incline crossing the campground to the base of a magnificent rock mountainside upon which flowed a steady stream of spring fed water. It was the Step Rock Falls.
At the base of the falls is a small shallow pool. Of course the Fat Bald White Guy could not resist playing in the water.
Walking up to the lower cascade, I could feel the power of the waterfall and felt the cool mist on my face.
The cold water was creating an icicle like formation of water in the crack in the rock.
Someday I would like to return and climb to the top of the falls. This place will be a nice place to return in the fall as well. As we left I took a picture of the small creek that flowed from the base of the pool.
We trudged back to the river loop trail and crossed the wooden bridge and found several spur trails that took us to the river.
The trail then took us back into the campground and as we crossed the bridge heading to our car, I took one last picture of the South Toe River.
This is really a nice hike....but it is five miles long if you take in the Step Rock Falls. The access is great. South Toe River Road is just off NC 80 at the Mt Mitchell Golf Course, but parking is limited...rate that an 8...Trail is well marked and maintained....rate that a 9....the scenery for the most part of the trail consisted of forest trail views...would be better in the fall....8....effort to view is about right. Overall rating of 8.5.
Leaving the trailhead, I paused to take in a scene that I could not resist.
On the way to nearby Crabtree Falls, we also paused at the Black Mountain overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I believe this is Mt. Mitchell.
"The mountain has left me feeling renewed, more content and positive than I've been for weeks as if something has been given back after a long absence, as if my eyes had be opened once again. For this time at least, I've let myself be rooted in the unshakeable sanity of senses, spared my mind the burden of too much thinking, turned myself outward to experience the world and inward to savor the pleasures it has given me" Richard Nelson