After last week`s adventure to the Huntfish Falls on the North side of FR #464 which took us down into the gorge where the Little Lost Cove Creek is located, it was decided that this week we would go down the South side to the gorge where the North Harper Creek is located. There are numerous falls located in that area plus the Mountains To Sea Trail also covers part of it along with many other intersecting trails making unlimited loop hike possibilities. Dave submitted his idea for a loop hike to the planning committee which was approved so we ended up parking at the trail head where Trail # 239 and Trail #271A is located. On the way we saw a Doe and her newborn fawn (not quite a day old) cross the road in front of us. The fawn kept falling down as his new legs were not working so well yet ! After parking at the trail head, we would walk a short distance down the road (East) to find an unmarked trail that you can almost see from the vehicle which we would take down to the creek about a mile below where we would pick up Trail #266 which is the trail that runs beside the creek in the bottom of the gorge. This unmarked trail was easy to find but is only a faint trail with an old sign post that had the number 39 sprayed on it in faded orange paint.The trail is on some maps and was shown to go straight down the ridge and appeared steep on the map but ended up being a pretty good trail with only a few minor trouble spots. It was a quick, efficient way to get to the bottom of the gorge and trail #266 which was about a mile below the North Harper and Chestnut Cove Br Falls and about a quarter mile above the MTS Trail intersection. It did not take long to reach the bottom where we had to cross the creek to find trail #266 where we took a right and proceeded upstream on a very nice trail through some beautiful ferns towards the waterfalls.
The trail is very good through this area and we found several really large and very nice cascades/small falls which we stopped to enjoy. It was a warm and humid day so we were in no hurry. The first thing we came across thanks to Bol’Dar’s keen awareness, was a snake. At first we thought it was a copperhead but later research would reveal that it was instead a non-venomous Northern Watersnake that are very common in these areas of North Carolina. Bol’Dar located two more at the first set of cascades we stopped at. One leaped off the rocks into the water and stayed there until after we were gone.
Moving on up the trail we soon came across another nice small falls which we could see from the trail and then the next set we actually took the time to climb down to to check out the huge boulders and small falls we found there. It was also much cooler down by the creek. After this I spied another unique set of falls which required some climbing down to and I was the only one that was willing to do this but it was worth the effort although it was too bright for any really nice pics and I was a bit paranoid after seeing so many snakes already.
Speaking of snakes, it was not much farther up the trail from there that we passed by some rather large rocks and then Bol’Dar found us another snake sitting beside the trail. This time it would be a Garter Snake who was nice enough to pose for us so that we could get his picture.
Not far up the trail from there we reached the Chestnut Cove Branch Falls. These are at least 200 feet and are more of a large cascade than a waterfall and there is lots of exposed flat rock to walk up and down the falls on. Of course if it was wet this would not be easy or safe. We spent quite a bit of time here checking this place out and attempting to get any usable photo`s in the super bright sun. There would be no clouds this day so if any good shots are to be had we will have to come back.
I was at the bottom of the falls with Dave getting some pics beside where the Chestnut Cove Branch enters the North Harper Creek when I kept noticing Bol’Dar near the top taking pics of something down in one of the potholes. I eventually made my way up there to see what was so interesting when I was about to step over a very small pothole full of water that I noticed this HUGE snake soaking himself in it ! I am sure it was like a personal hot tub for him yet cooler than sitting out on the exposed rock itself as he (or she) looked quite comfortable there. Bol’Dar proceeded to inform me that he was photographing other snakes in the larger and deeper potholes and was surprised when I showed him the big snake in the small hole as he and Dave had walked right beside this a few times already without seeing it.
After getting some pics of the big snake (which also turned out to be a Northern Watersnake) it became restless and slithered out of the hole leaving a wet track behind and proceeded to swim down the falls to where Dave was. We warned Dave and he did get a picture of it as it ended up at the bottom where he was eating lunch. I climbed higher on the exposed rock beside the falls to check out the snake that Bol’Dar had been looking at and found it was living in a large pot hole full of water that contained several large tadpoles, a frog and a lizard so this snake had no shortage of food to eat.
After this I went into the woods to find some shade and sat down beside the trail to eat my lunch and waited on everyone else there. I knew from my research that the North Harper Falls were just a short distance upstream and I was looking forward to seeing them as they are a 40 foot vertical drop at the bottom with another 200 feet flat rock cascade above them which looks very similar to the Chestnut Cove Branch Falls but, it seems Dave was somewhat confused from a previous trip he and Lou had made to this same area from the other end of trail #266 (from FR #58) and somehow thought the cascades they seen were the Chestnut Cove Branch ones so he insisted that there were no more falls above this point. I argued that there was and that the North Harper Falls should be about 100 feet up the creek (and they are !) but for whatever reason he suggested we take the blue blazed trail that was right there beside us back to the top to complete our loop and then take the other trail (#271A) up to the Little Lost Cove Cliffs to check out the view from there. Also, Lou was not feeling 100% and since we expected it to be a steep climb out of the gorge in the heat, we proceeded up this trail back towards the top and the vehicle. This trail would end up being trail #239.
The blue blazed trail started right past the top of the Chestnut Cove Branch Falls and went steeply uphill for a short ways until it met another trail (the actual trail #239) forming a ‘ T ‘. There was no signs or markers and at that time we had to assume to go right as that would match what the map shows. We could not help but wonder where going to the left would lead to. I would later learn that it would lead in a very short distance, directly to the top of the 200 feet tall cascades of the North Harper Falls and was there to provide a safe way between the bottom of the 40 feet tall vertical part of the North Harper Falls and the top of the cascades there. It is very steep on each side of the vertical part of those falls, so using those routes would not be for the average hiker. We rested at the ‘ T ‘ before continuing to go right on #239 making our way back towards the top. It turns out that the trail never really was steep after that point. Instead it came out on an old log road that traversed the mountain following parallel with the contour lines of the map slowly gaining elevation little by little until it eventually reached the top. There was an old log bridge that was pretty cool, and some rocky areas that looked like would be a great place for exploring later. it did not take long nor did it require much effort to get back to the vehicle at the top.
After a rest and some nice cool AC in the car, Dave suggested that since the Little Lost Cove Cliffs trail had another trail head located higher up the mountain, that it may be less climbing to go from that end back to where we were rather than go the other way around. This made sense to me and since I knew we would be walking from one end to the other regardless, we dedicated to go from the upper end. We drove to that point which is a couple miles back up FR #464, and turned around where Lou would then take the car back to the previous trail head and wait on us there while we proceeded to climb the steep steps there towards the cliffs. We had seen a part of the cliffs from the road before and knew it had to be an awesome place but we were about to find out just how awesome it really was.
We gained elevation quickly but it soon leveled out and started following the ridge along the top towards the cliffs. Dave was correct that there was slightly less climbing going that direction but the other end was on an old log road and was gradual so either way would be actually easy. The loop trail is only about a mile or so long so we came to the cliffs within about 20 to 30 minutes hiking. We found a side trail to the left that led a short ways to the cliffs. The views from here, despite the hot and hazy conditions were amazing.
We were soon joined by a young lady named Katie, who had came there to say goodbye to the mountains as she had graduated college and was moving back to Charlotte, NC. She did not stay long as she had asked about getting down to the North Harper Falls which we did tell her about the trail we had came up on and according to Lou, she was headed that way last time he saw her. We spent some time on this set of cliffs and moved further along them where we soon discovered there was another large set of cliffs just over from them which we presumed we would find by following the trail. There was also a snake skin there which Dave thought was a rattlesnake. I cannot confirm nor deny the identity of it. We took some pics from there and proceeded back to the side trail and then the trail which indeed did take us right to the other cliffs. Many types of laurels were in bloom so it was a very beautiful time to be there.
The second set of cliffs was just as awesome as the first and maybe even higher and more vertical. We spent some time there as well enjoying the incredible views of the North Carolina mountains which would include the Blue Ridge Parkway where it passes over Grandfather Mountain and beyond. There were anchors in the rocks at the edge of the cliff where people had obviously been repelling and I can see why with the height and sheer vertical cliffs found there. The endless mountains to the East and South were breathtaking and I could only imagine how nice it would be on a less hazy day or even to see the sunset from there. Looking over at the first set of cliffs revealed just how tall they were and how they continued well below what you could see from standing on top of them. I will definitely be coming back to this area in the future.
It did not take long at all to get down from these cliffs back to the vehicle as the trail soon came out of the woods into a large grassy meadow where there were some old apple trees and an old road that led from the lower part of the field all the way back to the FR #464. It was obvious this was most likely an old homestead back in the day. It felt good to be back to the vehicle and riding down the road feeling the cool air on our way to the barbeque place where we would consume cold, sweet, ice tea and good food. Other than not making to the North Harper Falls, it had been another great day in the woods and I am sure we will be coming back to the falls that we missed out on very soon.
To see more photo`s of the Chestnut Cove Branch Falls, please visit the Photo Gallery here.
To see more photo`s of the Little Lost Cove Cliffs, please visit the Photo Gallery here.