Wildcat Rock Trail to Little Bearwallow Falls – 1/5/19 – 6 miles
What’s even more exciting than hiking a trail that’s new to me? Hiking a trail that’s new to just about everybody. North Carolina is crisscrossed with hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands and thousands of miles of trails, but the work of identifying and protecting more land is ongoing thanks to conservation groups and visionary landowners. And new trails are painstakingly constructed so that outdoor lovers can enjoy what is preserved.
Conserving Carolina is a land trust organization doing great work in land and water conservation in parts of western NC and upstate SC (Brevard/Hendersonville/Lake Lure/Landrum). You want to look at every corner of their fantastic website to see what they’re doing and how you can be a part of this important work. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!
On a chilly first Saturday of 2019 Jim and I hiked Wildcat Rock Trail, located west of Lake Lure in Hickory Nut Gorge. Formerly known as Little Bearwallow Falls Trail, in 2017 the path was rebuilt and improved to become Wildcat Rock Trail.
A breakdown of the 3-mile one-way trail includes Little Bearwallow Falls, Wildcat Rock and views across the Gorge, and a lovely meadow on the ridgeline of Little Bearwallow Mountain. The beauty of an out-and-back hike is turning around whenever you feel like it, checking out just the waterfall, the Wildcat Rock Overlook, or going the whole distance to the meadows.
Everything you want to know about Wildcat Rock Trail is here on Conserving Carolina’s web page, descriptions of the land’s history and the conservation process, directions to the trailhead and a trail map. Read all of it before you go to get the best experience!
From the parking area of the Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead on Gerton Highway, we crossed the road to the Wildcat Rock Trail kiosk. The trail passes along the edge of an apple orchard on private land (easement granted) and a footbridge took us across robust Hickory Creek.
Private property signs cheerfully remind us to be respectful of neighbors
Here we go up Little Bearwallow Mountain
Pace yourself - more than 100 carefully placed log stairs
At about the one-mile mark, Little Bearwallow Falls flowed in a white ribbon 100 feet down a broad rock face. The scene was stark, bare winter woods in deep morning shadow. Imagine it on a sunny spring afternoon in full force, green leaves and wildflowers all around. I think if you go off-trail a bit you can capture this beauty in its entirety. Just be careful where you put your feet! There was no ice when we visited, but this area is a big draw for ice climbers (at your own risk).
Can you see me? Little Bearwallow Falls
Part of the upper cascade
Looking back at Little Bearwallow Falls from further up on the trail
The trail continues ascending for another mile, increasingly rugged and steep, many boulders and rock steps. The thought crossed my mind – this is not going to be fun going back down – as I leaned into the mountain’s rocky face, looking out at the views only when at a full stop. No pictures! [Note: it wasn’t as bad going down as I anticipated.]
Just when you begin to think you’ve missed a sign somewhere...there it is.
Well, the overlook may be close but it’s still up (90 more rock steps). Imagining this trail in summer, I was glad for the cold air. There was a young couple with a dog at the overlook, but they left us to a few minutes of calm and quiet.
Back at the main trail, Jim and I turned left to continue ascending (a little more gently now) to the ridgeline of Little Bearwallow Mountain. Again a sign made no mistake about where we were. Future plans will continue the trail to connect with trails at the top of Bearwallow Mountain. For now, we contented ourselves with soaking up sunshine and roaming the meadow (no cows today).
Communication towers on the summit of Bearwallow Mountain
The 3-mile return hike was indeed easier, more people approaching the waterfall, and there was still plenty of afternoon in front of us. Feeling a little parched…I’ve heard about a cidery nearby…
“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” ~William Wordsworth