After our last trip to Bard Falls in the Harper Creek area a week ago, we completed seeing all the waterfalls that area had to offer so this week we found ourselves at the Upper Creek Falls. These falls are also located in North Carolina and not far from the Harper Creek Valley on state highway 181 that runs between the Pineola and Linville Falls area and Morganton. Arriving at the trail head around our usual time of 10:30am, my friend Dave, who had already been here before, educated me on the layout of the trails while I took some photographs of the Beacon Heights Tower. Here is a zoomed pic so you can see it better. (It seems like you can see that structure from anywhere around here). There are two trails to choose from here, the Upper Falls trail and the Lower Falls trail which when combined allows for a very nice loop hike. Since we were planning on exploring the creek above the upper falls to possibly discover some more falls or cascades, we chose to go on the upper falls trail and if time and weather allowed, to come back on the lower falls trail.
As you start out you are well above the Upper Creek gorge which you can see below you with the high ridge on the other side, so it is apparent that the trails will take you down hill to the creek. The trail is very well worn with lots of exposed roots and easy to follow as it makes it way through some rocky areas and down to the creek below and following the upper falls trail it is only a few minutes to reach the bottom. We could hear the water loudly below and could soon see some waterfalls upstream to our left that are above the upper falls which was where we were planning on going to look for even more falls. You will know when you get to the creek when you come to a huge set of wooden steps that are built over the steep rock ledge and lead down to the edge of the creek where the trail crosses just above the top of the upper falls. The trail actually crosses the creek here but we stopped here so I could go down to the top of the falls for a look and get some pics from that angle. I was very surprised how tall these falls are. There is a huge rock sitting just to the right side of the top of the falls where I was able to get a look off the edge. It is breathtaking to say the least.
After checking out the view from the top, I went back to the trail where Dave was setup and taking pics of the smaller falls and water pool that lie just upstream from there. There was really no easy way to get up the left side of the creek to get better shots so, I took what I could before we crossed the creek to the other side.While we were there, a group of people came down and crossed the creek before us and one of them had used my hiking stick to help get across the creek and luckily Dave spotted it in time for me to holler at them and get it back.
Once across the creek the trail goes to the right and follows the left side of the creek, down towards the bottom of the upper falls. We chose to go left instead and upstream to get closer to the falls there and see if there were more above them. There is a trail there, actually a series of them, all leading that direction but it is rough in spots. We made our way along it stopping at various places to get views of the falls that we could see from the creek crossing and just above them we found another small falls with a long slanting cascade with a deep pool at the bottom. I noticed a rope hanging over the pool at the bottom on the other side so this is obviously a popular swimming hole. There would be people sliding off the cascades into the pool when we came back.
Here is a video of a lady sliding down these cascades:
We went as far as we could go up the creek past the swimming hole, and found a large, flat, rocky area with an impressive set of small falls just above the previous cascades where we took a long break and got what pics we could and ate some lunch. During this time, I heard some people below us who were having a fun time at the swimming hole. (zoomed shot) Looking back down the creek you could see just how much elevation was being lost as the creek makes its way down the gorge. After that we went back the way we had came and rejoined the trail and made the descent down the trail towards the bottom of the falls.
It is steep going down into the gorge so the trail does have some switchbacks to make it easier. After the first one there is a place where you get your first view of the Upper Creek Falls. They are very impressive and especially when there is ample water flowing like there was on this trip.
Continuing further down, staying on the trail closest to the creek, we reached the base of the falls where you can get out on the open rocks there at the bottom to get the full view of these falls. According to Dave and his hypsometer they are about 92 feet tall. As usual the sun was shining brightly and there were not many clouds so getting any good pics would not be possible. We hung out there for quite awhile hoping on some clouds before moving on down the trail to what is known as the lower falls.
Here is a video I took of the Upper Creek Falls:
I found a place just below the upper falls where we got a view of a nice set of cascades and pool that mark the bottom of the upper falls where the long, narrow chute that starts at the base of the upper falls ends up at. This made for a very different and unique view of the upper falls. You could see the large rocks piled up just below the upper falls.
From there it is not far on the trail to reach the lower falls. They are not a large falls but have their own beauty as most falls do. The best quality of the lower falls is the long sloping cascades below them. This is a very well know swimming hole and there was a family there sliding down the long water slide into the pool at the bottom. This would be worth the walk to slip and slide here, as the rocks here are smooth and made just for sliding.
You can see a video of the fun here:
We spent some time here watching the sliders have their fun and as much as they tried to get us to try it, we declined and eventually had to figure out how to cross the creek to get to the return trail on the other side. Although the creek narrows here, there was still a fair amount of water flowing quickly and it was just wide enough and the rocks were just wet enough to make jumping it not a good idea. The only way was to remove our boots, wade across and then put them back on so that is what we did. As I rolled up my pants legs, Dave unzipped his high tech hiking pants and came across without issue.
The trail on the other side starts off steep as it ascends the other side of the gorge but eventually levels out some and has numerous switchbacks. We met several people coming down and one had a tiny newborn baby in a papoose strapped to the front of her which I had to scratch my head as it is very rough and rooty with lots of rocks and steps, and knowing that one fall could cause much injury to the baby, I had to wonder what some people were thinking. We were informed that a copperhead was found and killed just up the trail a ways but I was already keenly watching for snakes. Not too far above the gorge we came to a really high rock cliff that caught my attention. The trail switched back at the cliff but came back around to be at the top of it where I took the time to climb up and have a look off the top. This was amazing and when I looked over the edge I seen rope hooks bolted into the top of the rock where apparently people do rappelling here. The view down definitely brought on that vertigo feeling as the cliff is sloped and there is actually air underneath you. Although we had not climbed that far out of the gorge, I could already see the creek below and the high ridge across from us on the other side.
We continued climbing and switching back and forth many more times and came to another set of tall rock cliffs. I went off trail and followed along the bottom of it for a ways to check it out and it kept going and going into a really neat area. I want to come back here one day and follow it all the way.
After a few more switchbacks we eventually reached the top and the end of the trail on the opposite side of the trail head where we started. Of course there was one last set of steps to climb to reach the grassy area beside the parking lot! We could hear thunder and clouds were building so we knew a storm was coming. It had been a really warm and humid day and the climb up from the bottom, although not that far, had definitely burned up a few calories so I was ready for some cool AC in the car and some awesome BBQ at our usual stop in Roan Mountain, TN.
Before heading towards home, we went down highway 181 for a few miles to find where the Mountains To Sea Trail crosses as this is where I am hoping to come out at on my upcoming annual birthday hike. It is not far from the Upper Creek Falls. We stopped at the Brown Mountain Overlook to get some visuals before the impending storm hit and we drove the rest of the way home in the rain. It had been another awesome day in the woods and we had seen plenty of beautiful waterfalls and cascades and I am sure I will be coming back here again in the near future.
To see the complete collection of photo`s for this area, please visit our Photo Gallery here.