Boone Fork Trail & Hebron Falls – 10/13/18 – 6.2 Miles
North Carolina has had a difficult four weeks, two hurricanes devastating the eastern part of the state and wringing themselves out over the mountainous western counties. Hurricane Florence pounded for September 12-15, and Hurricane Michael came up via Florida to punch again on October 10-12. Michael was the fourth strongest storm ever to strike the U.S.
We’re not storm chasers, but Jim and I were interested to see how the water flow was affected in the NC mountains. Hebron Falls was on my waterfalls list. It’s off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Julian Price Park near Blowing Rock. We made plans for a nice full day in the High Country, a quick out-and-back hike to the falls and then a hike up Snake Mountain (northeast of Boone).
We left Charlotte at 7:30 a.m., fixated on the increasingly threatening black clouds as we drove toward the mountains. We were going to the falls first to beat any crowds. I suspected that Snake Mountain might be a bust if the clouds stayed. As we gained altitude up to the BRP, the thermometer dropped steadily.
At the Price Park picnic area the temperature was 42 degrees, windy and spitting rain. Do we have enough clothing layers to do the hike? We both long pants, short sleeves underneath long sleeved shirts and rain jackets. Jim wore a thin fleece jacket and a ball cap, but nothing for his ears, no gloves. In my backpack I always carry gloves and my Liberty hat, but otherwise I had only a nylon jacket that isn’t intended for hiking. We donned everything, started walking and warmed up nicely.
Hebron Falls is on the Boone Fork Trail, a five-mile loop of big water thrills and chills. It’s a signature hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the right amount of challenge, interest and distance for experienced hikers to take novice friends along. I’ve hiked the part of the loop that runs concurrently with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail, and together Jim and I hiked the whole loop many years ago going clockwise, but I haven’t taken the detour to Hebron Falls. Today we tackled the loop counterclockwise.
After the first mile the trail intersects with my old friend the MST. When Danny and I appeared at the river’s edge here in 2010 we were challenged by a wide expanse of flowing water. I successfully rock hopped across while Danny waded through. Today there’s a beautiful bridge that I symbolically strolled across and back.
The trail stays close by the river to the right, enticing hikers to go to the water’s edge for a closer look at white water tumbling over boulders. Having never seen Hebron Falls before, at several places we wondered, is this it? Cascade after cascade after cascade.
Never fear, friends, you will not miss it
Hebron Falls is at a short switchback side trail down to a giant’s bowling alley of boulders and water tumbling and crashing everywhere. On this cold and inhospitable-looking Saturday we saw just four like-minded waterfall chasers; on many Saturdays it’s crawling with people, Appalachian State students and coolers of beer. (My friends and I did the same on the New River when we were Virginia Tech students!)
We followed the rough scramble up the righthand side to get to the main falls, but every crevice had its own impressive mesmerizing flow.
Checking the time, we decided we were already in a great place and should postpone Snake Mountain ‘til another day. We continued the Boone Fork Loop counterclockwise, still sticking alongside Boone Fork River.
At about the 2.5 mile mark, the trail leaves the larger stream and curves left to follow Bee Tree Creek upstream. The water flow narrows but is just as robust – and no more bridges. The trail crossed Bee Tree at least 8 times (at one point 3 times within sight of each other), crossings that are probably inconsequential rock hops in the summer but today required contemplation and a plan before stepping off. All were precarious rock hops and log balancing acts. A couple of times Jim had to help by pulling me across wide expanses. No mishaps, so I can say it was a whole lot of fun.
Let Jim go first
Finally turning away from the water, the trail left the woods for a nice meadow stroll and the final mile cutting through Price Park Campground to return to the picnic parking area. The weather brightened, and the further we went around the loop, the more people we encountered. Folks were setting up tent compounds, lighting campfires, kids riding bikes. We were a tiny bit envious and wondered if they were prepared for the coming cold night. (Two years ago, in October 2016, we camped in this campground with friends right after Hurricane Matthew!)
Including side trips to viewpoints, the total hike was 6.2 miles. With time for a little something spontaneous now, we drove into Boone to find Howard’s Knob, which I’d heard about but not seen. Howard’s Knob is a Watauga County Park featuring a prominent point overlooking the town and Appalachian State University. We drove to the top (there might be a hiking trail but we didn’t have info for it) and enjoyed the clear long distance views all the way out to the hallmarks of Linville Gorge.
A midafternoon meal at Wild Craft Eatery in downtown Boone, picking up goodies at Insomnia Cookies for the drive home – cheers to a chilly adventure exploring with my better half!
“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” ~Author Unknown