Monday, August 8, 2016

Pisgah National Forest: Treasure Trove of Waterfalls

Pisgah National Forest Waterfalls – 4/23/16 – 7 miles
Cove Creek Falls
Toms Spring Falls
Unnamed Waterfall on Caney Bottom Trail
Waterfall on Long Branch
Mill Shoals
Bird Rock Falls

We were probably the only couple celebrating a 35th wedding anniversary at the Lazy J Campground, but somebody was enjoying an enthusiastic ongoing rendition of “Happy Birthday” at 1:00 a.m.

Let me back up. 

Since 1981 Jim and I have commemorated every wedding anniversary with a little getaway, sometimes right on the date but always within a month of April 25.  We’d hand the kids over to the grandparents and run like crazy to a city or a beach or, most often, the nearby mountains.  It’s a practice that we recommend to every couple, especially after children come along, and keep it going after the kids are grown, too. 

For those big ones that end in “0” or “5” we go big.  This year we’re planning a summer trip to Europe (stay tuned) but we couldn’t resist a little appetizer weekend.  Camping seemed like the right (cheap) thing to do, and hiking and biking, of course, is a standard component of our adventures.

Which led us to the Lazy J in Rosman, NC, on U.S. 215 at the “back door” of Pisgah National Forest where hiking trails and waterfalls beckon and the Blue Ridge Parkway is just up the hill.  Jim planned the food, I pulled together the gear, and we tossed it all into the car.  Rained the whole way to Rosman.
In case you’re going:  Lazy J is a little mom & pop place showcasing a little trailer office with plenty of seating on the front porch.  The women’s bathroom was “under construction” so there was a temporary one designated with one toilet but including a shower.  At check-in we got the rules, no noise after 9:00 p.m., “don’t make me come after you,” and we were assigned a prime site on the North Fork of the French Broad River.

The rain persisted.  We abandoned hiking plans for the afternoon in favor of roaming around downtown Brevard, enjoyed farm-to-table dining at The Phoenix.  The rain passed on and we sank into our camp chairs as the sun set (surprisingly, we were still able to see at 8:45 p.m.).  The stars came out – and the birthday party a few campsites away cranked up. I guess quiet hours are suggestions.
Saturday morning, Jim cooked up mushrooms, onions, red peppers with scrambled eggs rolled in tortillas, hot chocolate for me and coffee for him.  He loaded up his new backpack for more training for our Europe trip.  (I think he put a 10-pound weight and a few bottles of water in it.)

We drove up twisty-windy Highway 215 and on gravel forest road 475 into Pisgah NF – oops, the gas gauge is near empty, we forgot to fill ‘er up.  Will we make it?  We say we won’t worry about it, but we both keep one eye on the needle.  We passed through Gloucester Gap – memories of my too-long hike on Art Loeb Trail last summer – and drove to the Cove Creek Group Camp trailhead on FR 475.  Cars parked every which way on this fine Saturday morning.  We’re hunting waterfalls and marking off some Pisgah 400 miles simultaneously, using Kevin Adams’ North Carolina Waterfalls and NatGeo’s Map 780 for Pisgah Ranger District.

Our first target was Cove Creek Falls via Caney Bottom and Cove Creek trails, an eye-shaped hike (my term), meaning an oval loop with a short out-and-back on each end.  We walked in about .4 miles to the Caney Bottom trailhead just before the group camp area (which is huge). True to Pisgah NF’s character, we took a short detour on a wide but unmarked and unmapped trail up to FR 5046 just to see where it went, then backtracked to Caney Bottom. Several groups of mountain bikers passed us going uphill, therefore not life threatening, mostly MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra).

At a signed intersection, we stayed left on Cove Creek Trail and hiked another .4 miles to the right turnoff access to the falls.  This side trail is heavily used and goes every which way, to three viewpoints, top, middle and base of the falls.  All are worth a look-see.  No one else was at the base, but as we left the crowds were streaming in.
 Cove Creek Falls
That’s all you need to know if you’re just interested in the falls.  If you’re a trail completer, here’s what we did next:  back on the main Cove Creek Trail, we turned right to continue, but the rest of the trail was dull.  Intersecting with Caney Bottom again, we turned left to follow Caney Bottom to its opposite end – oddly, the end wasn’t at the obvious forest road.  Yellow blazes continued on the FR another quarter mile, around a bend and up, and ended at a slightly larger forest road.  Hmmm. 

Backtracked to the Caney Bottom/Cove Creek junction again, stayed left this time, and Caney Bottom became more interesting.  Blooming dog hobble crowded the narrowing trail as it hugged the mountainside, Caney Bottom Creek flowing close on the left.  We passed one large unnamed waterfall that had no discernible  access – why?  As many waterfalls as there are in Pisgah that have trails leading to them, I’m glad there are some mysteries.  A little tricky near the end because we could see the open meadow for group camping, but the trail veered right and zigzagged to intersect Cove Greek Trail.  Back to the car.

Second waterfall of the day, Toms Spring Falls, is also easily accessed from FR 475 (lots more vehicles).  Daniel Ridge Loop Trail begins as an old road bed (FR 5047) crossing the Davidson River on a bridge.  After about .4 miles, Daniel Ridge Loop departs steeply left, but waterfall seekers stay on the wide road bed for another 100 yards or so to Toms Spring Falls, also on the left.  OR just follow the owners of all those cars.
Toms Spring Falls is a combination of drops and cascades, totaling about 100 feet, looking fine after the moderate rainfall. We climbed up close and then dropped down to the forest road for a wider view.  Because it was a spring Saturday, I didn’t mind the crowds, but I made a mental note to see this one again some very early morning when folks are still sleeping. 
Our third waterfall of the day on Long Branch took a little more effort.  Still on FR 475 at a small parking area signed as FR 5095 (no car access), we were lulled by a gentle one-mile walk and vague instructions to look for an unmarked trail at the first creek crossing.  (Note: the creek actually passes under the road, so you must rely on your hearing to be sure you are at the right place.)  This unmarked “trail” was a tough, steep scramble, fortunately just a few hundred yards.  No crowd of casual waterfall sightseers here, just us.

Waterfall on Long Branch, a short drop at the top and a long slide

Hot and sweaty, Jim walked on precarious debris to the edge of the pool at the base of the slide and dunked his head. 

The afternoon was slipping away.  As we drove out of Pisgah’s back door, intending to fill up the gas tank, we passed right by Living Waters Ministry on Highway 215, a retreat that graciously allows access to a spectacular section of the North Fork of the French Broad River.  Time for a quick look, right?  What a treat!

An old mill sits on the river here at its confluence with Shoal Creek

On the right is Mill Shoals, a very wide 15-foot cascade

We wandered down the path following the river, admiring more lovely cascades along the way.
Bird Rock Falls aka Cathedral Falls

Bird Rock, a massive rock bluff overhanging the river.  I wonder what it looks like in a winter freeze?  Icicles everywhere?

Every waterfall has a unique personality, small, tall, wide, skinny, cascading, sliding, plunging.  So much natural beauty in such close proximity – how lucky are we to live in North Carolina?  More on tap for tomorrow.

“Look around. Look at what we have. Beauty is everywhere—you only have to look to see it.” ~Bob Ross

No comments: