Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Graveyard Fields: Second Falls

Second Falls
Graveyard Field is located at Milepost 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Brevard.  It is not really known for waterfalls, but there are three of them on the property. They are the Upper Falls, the Lower (Second) Falls, and Yellowstone Falls.  From my understanding, the latter is very difficult to get to and I have not attempted it.  The Upper Falls is easy enough to get to, but you will be walking for a while, and unless there is a lot of water flowing, you might not be impressed with this waterfall.  The Lower Falls, or Second Falls is definitely worth your time to see, and that is the focus of this entry.

As I mentioned, you will find Graveyard Fields at Milepost 418.  It is a great set of trails right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is usually full throughout the day during all seasons except for winter. It is particularly busy in the early Fall as Graveyard Fields is usually one of the first places to show Fall color.  Once you get to the parking lot you will see the restrooms to your right (looking from the Parkway).  They are positioned right at the entrance to the hiking trails.  After you come down the steps you will find a paved portion of the trail that starts you off.  For this waterfall, you will need to stay straight and follow the signs for "Lower Falls". 


Autumn Pool
You will run out of paved trail and you will find yourself on a more or less familiar surface for a very short amount of time.  You will then come to a boardwalk as you start your way down into the valley.  At the base of the steps, you will find yourself walking across a pool that has a nice little cascade at the head of it.  When I shot this photograph the Fall colors had just started  and it all worked together rather nicely for a picture.

Once you continue past this, you will climb back up a little bit before descending one more time down to the Second Falls  It is easy, but there are a lot of steps that you will have to climb to get back up to the trail.  I didn't count them, but it is not excessive by waterfall step counts.  Once you get to the base of the waterfall, you will see the issue with this particular waterfall.



There are a lot of boulders strewn about at the base.  They provide a visual obstruction that really prevents most photography from taking place from the viewing platform or directly below it.  There are no easy paths to take which will put you in a better position to photograph.  The only thing that I can suggest is that you come prepared to wade through the water (which is deeper than my mid calf boots, or do some rock hopping.  I opted for the latter and found a path that was workable to get to a higher location among the boulders.  It was relatively simple, but I have been rock hopping for years and know how to be really cautious to avoid slipping, or finding myself stepping on a loose rock.



When it comes to photography, after you are able to get in position, this is an impressive waterfall to work with.  It works well as a horizontal or a vertical shot.  It is also one of the few falls that works when lit by the sun.  The trick is to go early in the morning and catch first light on the waterfall.  When I went at the end of September, the sun was in the perfect position to light the waterfall evenly.  I assume at other times of the year that the sun will move to the left and right causing some shadows which will be very problematic.


Cascades on Cascades
Keep in mind that most overall shots here will include the sky, so keep that in mind.  Some interesting clouds give a nice bit of texture to the sky and might help to diffuse the light hitting the waterfall.  In the event of a fully overcast day, isolations will work very well here.  I didn't shoot any since the water flow was so heavy.  Under more typical conditions, I think that isolations would actually work better than the overall shots of this waterfall.

The hike back to the parking lot is just the reverse of getting here.  Then entire round trip will be about 2/3 of a mile.  The climb up the stairs will get your attention, but can be done relatively easy.  If you are wanting more, you can strike out to the right fork when you come to it to view Graveyard Fields, and ultimately the Upper Falls.  The trail will loop back to the parking lot after a couple of miles.  It makes for a nice day, but be sure to start early as this area fills up really quickly.  Also, pay attention to the "No Parking" signs on the Parkway as you will get a ticket if you park on the shoulder through here due to the amount of congestion that is present much of the year.

Whenever you do go though, be sure to be careful and have a good time.  There is a lot to see and do around Graveyard Fields.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Pot Branch Falls

Scooped Rocks
This waterfall is probably not on your radar, but I assure you that you need to know about this one.  The name is kind of odd, but once you see Pot Branch Falls, the oddness doesn't stop at the name.  This is one of those great locations where erosion has really left a fingerprint on the landscape.  The three tiered waterfall is located in the South Mountains Game Land near South Mountains State Park.  Getting there will take you far off of the beaten path which will likely indicate that you won't be sharing this waterfall with a bunch of other hikers.  By Googling the location, your GPS should take you right there.

For those traveling on I-40, you will take the 103 exit which is for Hwy 64.  You will go East for 15 miles before turning on Hwy 226 headed East until you get to Jonestown Rd.  You will only be on Jonestown Rd for about a mile before turning left on Melton Rd which goes for about a half mile or so before you will turn onto Old CC Rd which is gravel and not overly well maintained.  This will go for about 3.5 miles or so.  You will have a small stream crossing, but you should have any problem with that if you have been able to handle the road conditions.  Shortly after passing a church (yes, there is a small church down this service road), you will come to a gate.  There is ample parking at the gate, and sometimes that first gate is left open.  You will need to get to the trailhead at a second gate to the right.

From here, you will walk down a very easy trail that used to be a road.  There are no markings but you won't have any problems at all finding your way.  There are a couple of places where you will need to cross small streams, but they shouldn't be more than ankle deep.  There are also rocks there that you can use to stay a little dryer if you choose.  The main thing to remember about this trail is that you want to stay to the right when given the option as there are some other spurs that continue on.  The entire hike is only about a half mile and is not problem at all.

Eroded Steps
This has been my first and only time to this waterfall, and I regret that I don't have any full shots of the main drop which is about 25 feet.  There was a tree that had recently fallen and blocked the view.  This tree still had green leaves attached, so I'm not sure how long it will remain there.  There is a bit of a scramble to get to the bottom of the falls, and it is very much worth it for the view.  The main shoot is carved between rocks and snakes down to a small pool below with another set of small cascades below that.  I can see both vertical and horizontal compositions working here.

Since I was unable to access the view of the main part of the waterfall, I stuck with the top sections which were actually quite interesting.  The photo directly above showcases the upper set of cascades which are less than two feet tall, but the way the rocks have been cut over time makes this really interesting.  From here, there is a small pool that then leads to another set of cascades that can be seen in the opening image.  This is probably the best part of the upper sections, and until the tree is removed, this view is worth the drive out there.  Just past the collection pool at the base of the cascades is the opening for the top of the main drop.  A Google search of Pot Branch Falls will show you what this main drop looks like.

With the Curve
From a purely photographic standpoint, there are a lot of options with how to represent this waterfall.  My favorite cascade at the top of the waterfall yielded this fantastic vertical image.  You can see how the rocks have been eroded away, and there are even pot holes in the surface of the rock.  This waterfall is like the English Muffin of waterfalls.  You will see all sorts of nooks and crannies.

Even though I was unable to get to the lower section on this trip, I was still there for about an hour working on different compositions.  I could see easily spending two hours here.  The nice thing is that at least in the Summer months when the trees are full, there is plenty of shade to work with early in the morning.  This is one that direct light will pose some major problems for.  I would recommend a fully cloudy day just to make sure that the lighting is consistent.  I have a feeling if the trees were not as full, I would have had a hard time with my photographs.

I am not sure if the tree will be removed any time soon.  I'm not really sure how this waterfall is maintained.  It might just be another natural act that pushes the tree on down stream, but that would take a very long time.  I do intend on keeping my ears open to find out when this view will be open again so I can take full advantage of the waterfall which I do believe is quite impressive and visually interesting.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Catawba Falls: Old Fort, NC

Catawba Falls
This is the first "new" waterfall that I have visited in many years.  I don't know why I haven't done more exploring of different waterfalls, but I seem to be content with my favorites for the most part.  However, I've recently seen some pictures of a waterfall that I remember thinking about visiting a long time ago, but never did.  The pictures made me really want to give it a try.  This is Catawba Falls, which is in the town of Old Fort, NC, and in conveniently located off of I-40 at the Old Fort exit.

Directions are fairly simple, and you can actually Google them.  For simplicity, you would come in on I-40, and take the Old Fort exit from either direction.  If you are coming from Westbound 40, you would take a left and cross I-40 before taking the right that is the ramp from Eastbound.  Just after entering the ramp, you would take a quick left onto Catawba River Rd.  If you are coming Eastbound, you would just turn off of the exit onto Catawba River Rd before coming to the main intersection.  At this point, you just follow the road until it ends.  You will pass the camp grounds on your left which is an indication that you are almost there.  It isn't far at all.  The parking area is at the end of the road and is a gravel loop.

Catawba Cascades
Once you get parked, the trail head is easily seen by the "information boards".  The trail is relatively simple and you should be able to make good time on it.  It is a constant incline so you will get tired quickly, but there aren't any real technical sections to work through until the end of the hike.  When I went, I made the mistake of not researching the distance of the hike, other than knowing it was not excessive.  After I had been moving with a purpose for about 30 minutes, I had to stop and catch my breath and used that time to figure out how long the hike actually was.  This is the nice part about a trail being so close to the highway, you actually have Internet connection.  I found that it was around 1.5 miles which meant that I should be getting close based on my pace.

Remember when I said that the only technical part came at the end of the trail.  Well, I crossed a bridge and the trail turned to the right and it was nothing but rocks.  It was not difficult, but there was a little bit of climbing involved to get up the trail, and it almost appears that you are off trail at that point.  Just after the rocks, you are there at the base of Catawba Falls.  Had I waited about 150 feet to look at the phone, I would have been there.

As you can see from the leading image here, Catawba Falls is a rather large waterfall, standing at 100 feet for the main falls.  However, unless there has been a tremendous amount of rain, it does not present as a waterfall of this size should.  On my visit here, there had been average rainfall recently, and I suppose that this is the "normal" state of the falls with swings in either direction due to water levels.

Saturated Moss
When it comes to photography, you will actually have a great time at this waterfall.  There are a lot of different ways to shoot it, and when I was here, I used everything from 16mm to 400mm to capture the images.  There are lots of trees which provide cover from the sun, but for the best experience I would suggest going on a cloudy day, with maybe a bit of rain.  During the Summer, the moss takes on a very vibrant color which really makes this waterfall stand out when you look at the individual elements.

Water Cairn
This is one of those waterfalls that you can get up close and personal with.  The cairn left by a hiker is evidence of that.  For the experience hiker, there is another section about 50 ft up which provides a view of the very top of the waterfall.  It is a difficult scramble to get to from what I have read.  I have also read that it is not really that worth it, so I haven't made the attempt as of yet.  Speaking of other options, there are plenty of features along the trail getting to the waterfall which might interest a photographer.  Some are very difficult to get to, and don't appear very safe.  I did not risk it for those scenes as the photographic outcome would have been marginal at best.  That isn't to say that under different conditions that you might not have better luck.

Foot of the Falls
As you can see from the pictures here, there is a lot to work with when visiting this waterfall.  To make the most of it though, you need to keep two things in mind. You will be standing in water that might be up to your shins to get the compositions that you want.  Also, you need to get there early in order to miss the crowds.  Apparently, this waterfall sees a constant swarm of visitors all year round.  This could be due to the fact that it just recently became open to the public, and it might taper off eventually.  It pays to get there before the crowds because there isn't much area to work when people start to show up.

I would say that this waterfall is very worth visiting if for nothing else, it is very pretty, and the hike is really simple to make.  Be prepared to shoot a range of focal lengths as the magic of this waterfall is in the details.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waterfall Hideaway: Hays, NC


While most of the waterfalls in North Carolina are on public lands, there are a few that are on private property which makes them a little more difficult to visit.  One of these waterfalls happens to be near Stone Mountain, and is part of the property for a very nice mountain cabin rental.  Unlike most of my entries in this waterfall directory, I will not be providing directions to its location in order to protect the privacy of those who stay there.  However, I will recommend that you pay the Waterfall Hideaway website a visit and consider booking your own trip.

The waterfall itself was not impressive when my wife and I went there in late January 2011.  I was suspecting the water to be flowing a bit more forcefully from all the precipitation that we had been experiencing.  However, that was just not the case.  There was but a trickle coming down over the rocks.  The size of the falls is impressive though.  It is about 70 feet top to bottom and there are several cascades along its path.  I imagine that with proper flow this would be a very nice waterfall to photograph.

The owners of the property have done a great job in showcasing this waterfall.  It is directly behind the cabin, and there is a walkway from the back door right to the base of the falls.  It is quite literally 40 feet or so from the cabin, and you can walk it bare foot if you are so inclined.  They have a nice place to sit by the base as well as a fire pit for warmth or even marshmallows I suppose.  At night the cascade portions of the waterfall are lit so this can be enjoyed 24 hours a day.

Mountain Bungalow

The real story with the Waterfall Hideaway is the cabin itself.  It sets in a large secluded lot with no signs of life anywhere around.  The community where it was built is a gated community with a long winding gravel road.  I would recommend taking a truck or something with good ground clearance in the winter months.  While there was no snow or ice on the roads when we went, the road was very soggy and muddy.  Four wheel drive is probably recommended in inclement weather.  That was actually part of the charm of this quaint cabin, you really get the feeling you are in the middle of nowhere.

Below the cabin you will find a walkway that leads down to a well done man made pond.  This pond is stocked with fish, and has a nice picnic table where you and the family can grab a relaxing lunch.  A little further down is a hammock with another couple of chairs tucked into the woods.  Great place for a nap!  Behind the cabin there is the waterfall which is linked to the pond by a short nature trail.  As you look to the right of the waterfall, there is a continuation of the trail that winds through the trees to an elevated lookout point.  There is a table and two chairs where you can just sit and take in the beauty of the 60 mile view ahead.

While the waterfall might not be the best out there, if you enjoy seeing different cascades, you really should consider staying at the Waterfall Hideaway at least once in your life.  The experience isn't something you will soon forget.  I am planning several return trips and hope to be able to photograph the waterfall in its full grandeur at some point.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Unnamed Waterfall: NC 68, Guilford County


Falls at Guilford Mill

North Carolina has hundreds of waterfalls throughout the state, only about half of them are named, and a good many of them don't even exist unless there has been a lot of rain recently.  The waterfall featured here is unnamed as far as I'm aware and appears to be manmade.  I believe it serves as a dam for the Old Mill of Guilford which is located across the street.  For most of the year this has a steady flow of water, but nothing all that spectacular.  However, after a heavy rain it comes alive and really takes on a different character...one that is worth including in this directory.

The waterfall is located on NC 68 in Guilford County, just north of Greensboro, NC.  It is on the West side of the road, and is on private property.  You can view it from the roadway, and there is no hike needed.  There is not much here for the photographer due to a lot of ground vegetation and trees which obstruct the view.  For those that wish to get closer, you will be trespassing, and I'm not so sure that you will be able to safely get closer anyway.  The brush is quite thick, and footing is very unstable.

Even though this is not all that great of a waterfall for photography purposes, it is nice to see as you are driving down the road.  It also makes for an interesting stop when you are visiting the mill across the street.  It is the water from this waterfall that powers the wheel for this still functioning grist mill.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MP 305, Drainage Waterfall: Blue Ridge Parkway


Rocky Runoff

It's rare that I will include a waterfall such as this one in this directory.  It does not have a name, and is not listed as a waterfall in any documentation that I have found.  However, I think that under the right circumstances this is one that is worthy of a little attention....and I think that opinion is shared by several people that I saw slam on brakes as they came passed it.  You can find this small cascading waterfall right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Linn Cove Viaduct.  The exact mile marker is 305, but the cascade is a little past it, but not beyond the intersection with Hwy 221.

While you will not be able to find this waterfall for most of the year, if the conditions are right with a lot of rainfall, you will be richly rewarded from driving past this falls.  You can see it from the road, and there is sufficient shoulder room to pull off of the Parkway so you can view it up close.  I would recommend pulling off of the road to avoid any rear end collisions.  There is no trail to get to this waterfall as it is maybe 20 feet from the roadway.

The one negative to this waterfall is that there is a drainage culvert at the base that collects the water from the waterfall, as well as drainage from the roadway.  This is a necessary evil and helps to keep the Parkway safe to travel on by redirecting the water that flows on and around it during the rain.

What makes this waterfall so interesting is that it is full of sediment and minerals from the rocky face of the mountain.  This introduces a wonderful brown tint to the water which really is an eye catcher.  There is very little interest in the base of this waterfall, so those that choose to photograph it might have a difficult time composing something other than a frame filling shot. That is ok though because there is a lot of visual interest just in the patterns of the water itself.

While this is not a named waterfall, and will likely not even be visible for much of the year, if you happen to be around the area of Rough Ridge and the Linn Cove Viaduct this is worth looking for.  There are many of these little falls sporadically placed along the Parkway, but this one is the best one that I have seen.  It does need lots of recent rains, and will likely only be active for a few days here and there.

Upper Creek Falls: Pisgah National Forest

Upper Creek Falls

The Pisgah National Forest is home to many waterfalls, named and unnamed.  There are some that are officially part of the national forest, but are credited with being in the Grandfather Mountain District.  The Upper Creek Falls is one of those waterfalls that falls under the Grandfather Mountain Ranger District.  I have finally started to explore these waterfalls based on the descriptions from Kevin Adams' Waterfalls of North Carolina.

You can find the waterfall actually quite easily.  Since most will be coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway I will describe it from here.  You will exit the Parkway at milepost 312 which will take you to NC 181.  You will head South for a distance of 5.6 miles and will look for a gravel drive on the left with a Pisgah National Forest sign at the entrance.  This will be right at mile marker 22.  The sign will say "Upper Creek Falls".  Follow the driveway to the gravel lot where you can park.  There are two different  trail heads from this parking lot which are labeled "Upper Falls" and "Lower Falls".  Most will want to take the trail to the North which will take you to the upper cascades and the main falls.  This is actually a loop trail so you will see the same sights no matter which side you choose to take.

At less than half a mile down a fairly easy trail you will come to the upper cascades, and the top of the main falls.  As of the time of this writing this is as far as I have gotten here due to really bad weather conditions.  I will add more later when I actually finish the hike.  The upper cascades, however, are well worth the trip just on their own.  It is an unnamed waterfall, and is just considered a part of the Upper Creek Falls.  It is not very tall, but there is a lot of white water action as the water spills down over the boulders.  There is a pretty good sized pool there that apparently is popular with swimmers and sunbathers in the summer months.  Kevin says that if you don't want to be around a lot of people, then you should go early in the morning or in the cooler months.

To continue down the trail you will need to pass through the water by either wading or rock hopping.  My choice would have been to rock hop, but on this first trip, it was raining and the rocks were very slick.  It just wasn't worth it to me to continue on this day.  Speaking of slick rocks, you can also see the top of the main falls from the upper cascades.  There are some flat rocks that look like you might be able to step on them, but due to the location and the steep drop, I would not recommend doing this.

An Autumn Rain

As you can see from the photo above, even the top of the falls is quite picturesque.  I'm looking forward to returning to actually see the falls from the base so I can really soak in what this waterfall has to offer.  According to Kevin, the Pisgah National Forest Map has this waterfall on their cover.  I believe it is a waterslide, but with a near vertical drop which might make for a very interesting sight.

As far as photography is concerned, I can't speak for the main falls yet, but there is an open canopy over everything which will make sky conditions very important.  I would recommend an overcast day in order to avoid exposure hot spots.  There could be compositions that could benefit from a nice blue sky, but I'm afraid that it would be very difficult to balance out the exposure without using some digital trickery such as HDR Photography.

Edit: 09-14-2018

I have been back to this waterfall once again and have seen better conditions than the first time out.  I did hike down to the bottom of the primary waterfall but found that it was rather nondescript as just a long water slide.  It was not worth the effort to hike down and back up again, plus it was very difficult to get a decent composition with the trees all around.  I will say that my supposition about the top of the falls being a great place to shoot is absolutely correct.  On the recent trek here, I was able to get a great shot of the section that I had first photographed in 2009, and found it to be an outstanding image.

Into the Gorge
For this shot, I had originally thought that digital trickery would be necessary but that wasn't needed at all.  I was able to get this shot with a circular polarizer and two different ND grads for a total of 5 stops of light reduction in the sky.  The clouds definitely helped the final exposure.  It can be done, and this is still one of my favorite aspects of this waterfall.

Friday, March 27, 2009

High Shoals Falls: South Mountains State Park

High Shoals Falls

South Mountains State Park is located in Connelly Springs, NC, just West of Hickory. This is a very large, and recently remodeled park here in NC. It includes elevations up to 3,000 feet, 40 miles of trails, activities such as camping, fishing, and even horseback riding. However, what brought me to the park was the 80 foot waterfall, known as High Shoals Falls. I had read about this waterfall in Kevin Adams' book North Carolina Waterfalls. While I was a little skeptical about the photographic potential of this waterfall, I knew that it was one that needed to be added to this directory.

Finding the park is easy enough, and complete directions can be found at the official website. I was able to locate the park with no problem following Kevin's directions. From I-40 (near Morganton), you will exit on Exit 105 which is NC 18. You will travel South on this road for approximately 10.7 miles where you will turn right onto Sugar Loaf Rd (SR 1913). You will stay on this road for about four miles until Sugar Loaf Rd ends at Old NC 18. Here you will turn left and continue on for about two and a half miles where you will turn right onto Ward Rd (SR 1901). After 1.3 miles you will come to a fork in the road just past the bridge over Jacob Fork. Take the right fork, which will lead you to the park's entrance after about a mile. The nice thing about this trip is that there are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction from I-40. You actually don't even need directions to get to this park as long as take the right exit from the highway.

Once in the park, you will pass the new visitor's center on the right. I would recommend that you stop and pick up a map of the park, although the trails are well marked. The map contains general information about South Mountains State Park, and provides plenty of information about what is available to you within the property. As you continue down the main road, you will pass camping areas, and equestrian areas. You will stay on the road until it ends in a circular parking lot. As you are locating a parking place, you will see that each of the trail heads are marked with what trails are accessed at those points, as well as distances for the hikes. At the time of this writing, I have only taken one trail, and that is the last trail head that you come to which is labeled High Shoals Falls Trail, 1.0 miles.

You will almost immediately notice that this trail is very well maintained. It is manicured, and has benches at various points. There are also wooden overlooks which can be used to view Jacob Fork River. There are plenty of displays set up to explain things like the difference between Mountain Laurel and Rhododendrons, and what Hemlock is. Like I said, this is a very nice trail, but it is a bit of a love/hate relationship. I personally enjoy trails that are left in their natural state so you don't see the impact of man on the environment. However, there have been many times that I have accidentally wondered off-trail because of the lack of maintenance. There are only a few tricky areas to this trail, and most of that is where you are going over rock, and there just isn't much that can be done to mark the trail.

The trail to the waterfall pretty much ends at a very steep staircase that will take a bit of effort to climb. Had it not been for the stairs at the end, this trail would have rated a moderate at worst difficulty rating. The stair climb, however, elevates this trail to strenuous...but it is only for a short time. Once at the mid point on the stairs, you are at the viewing level for the High Shoals Falls. Again the love/hate relationship pops up again. The observation deck is wonderfully constructed, and allows visitors to get close enough to this large waterfall to feel the spray. I imagine that this would be very refreshing to hikers after the climb. However, the observation deck makes it nearly impossible to photograph the waterfall without including at least the railing.
Jacob Fork River

While the main attraction is a bit of a disappointment to me as a photographer, the hike along the Jacob Fork more than makes the trip worth it. There are more cascades along this river than I have seen in most parks. If you are making the trip for the purpose of photography, don't feel guilty about spending some time working these areas. I think that you will find that there are many more possibilities for great images in the river than there are at the waterfall. To be fair, on this particular visit, it was starting to rain pretty heavily which forced me to call it a day before I would have normally. I might have missed a composition or two in the rush.

I will say this...I think that the best compositions are to be had beyond the overlook on several of the boulders near the base. I can see that it would be possible to get to these locations, but with the wet conditions from the rain, I just didn't feel comfortable attempting it. There have been photographers that have fallen to their deaths trying to get a good shot of this waterfall in the past. Honestly, while a very large and powerful waterfall, I don't think that this is a particularly pretty waterfall....definitely not worth getting hurt in order to photograph it. Kevin gives this waterfall a beauty rating, as well as a photo rating of 7. Maybe it was just the conditions on this day, but I would have rated it much lower.

I imagine that during the warmer months, this park is filled sun-up to sun-down. If you want to have a little peace and quiet to enjoy this waterfall, I would suggest going early in the morning, or in the off season. Even in the rain with 50 degree temperatures, I ran into a total of five other hikers which really surprised me. On a pretty day, I can just imagine how many people can be found on the trails.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elk River Falls, Pisgah National Forest

Elk River Falls

Located in the far Western part of North Carolina, Elk Park is almost in Tennessee, to the Northwest of Grandfather Mountain. This is a popular destination for not only the locals in the area, but also for the college kids at the various colleges in the Western part of the state. The waterfall is very easy to find as it is located pretty close to main roads. The directions that I had all seemed to start from the intersection of NC 194 and US 19E, which seemed easy enough, but I had no idea where that was. I'll start my directions in Boone, NC which is a standard location for this part of the state.

From the town of Boone, you need to take Hwy 105 South toward Blowing Rock. You can access this road from either US 421 or US 321. It is a nice little drive through Foscoe and Seven Devils. You will turn right on US 221 which will change into NC 181 going toward Newland. Right before you get to Newland, you will take a right on NC 194 and go North. The junction with US 19E is a little confusing because your inclination will be to turn left, but you need to continue straight as this road actually becomes US 19E going to Elk Park. There will be a very short street to the right leading to Elk Park that is right before you get to the fire station. You need to turn right, and take an immediate left onto Old Mill Road. You will stay on this road for about four miles when it dead ends in a gravel loop in the Pisgah National Forest.

Since writing this entry some 10 years ago, the advent of GPS is a wonderful thing.  I have found that most GPS systems will take you right to the waterfall from wherever you are starting out.  On my most recent trip here, I came from Blowing Rock and the route was very simple via GPS after entering "Elk River Falls."
Elk Lean
The trail is very simple, and goes straight from the parking area to the waterfall.  It is about a tenth of a mile and very simple to traverse. There are access points at the top of the falls which is seen in the photograph above.  This is a very dangerous area so please exercise due caution, and resist the urge to jump from the top.  On my first visit here, I didn't really do much with the top of the falls, but on this subsequent visit, I found that there was a lot of character up there and well worth the time to break out the camera.
With a Quickness
For those interested in photographing this waterfall, you will find that it has some unique challenges. The first one is trying to compose with the sky not in the frame. This can only be done from the right side, since as you move to the left there is nothing to block the sky from your field of view. There is a nice long rocky barrier in place that can be walked across with relative ease. There are boulders and some cascades between yet another barrier wall. If you are willing to get wet, there will likely be some interesting compositions using the rocks.  To be completely and brutally honest, on my first trip here the photography was terrible.  I had a very hard time working on a composition that made sense and didn't include a blown out sky.  It left a bad taste in my mouth from this waterfall.

Without a Ripple
When I returned in 2018, I brought with me a new bag of tricks and embraced the sky which had caused me so much heartburn earlier.  With a partially cloudy sky, you can actually get a little bit of drama in the sky which adds to the photograph.  It is advisable to use a graduated neutral density filter when incorporating the sky in your compositions to keep the exposures to a tolerable level. Early morning is said to be a good time to photograph this waterfall, and I can attest to that.  The morning sun will illuminate the woodline to the right and puts a little front light on the waterfall itself. Having the sun covered by clouds is the best case though.

This is a nice waterfall, and for shear size, it is great bang for your buck. However, be warned that if you go during the warmer months you will have a hard time finding any quiet or privacy from those swimming and sunning themselves. Judging by the bare trees near the cascades, I would imagine that fall would be a good season to visit. Whenever you go, just remember to be careful and watch your step.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mouse Creek Falls, Great Smokey Mountains National Park

Finding Your Way


Located in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, in the French Broad River Basin, Mouse Creek Falls is a very impressive and beautiful waterfall. With two distinct sections, the waterfall totals about 25 feet before dropping straight into Big Creek. I think that makes this waterfall a bit of a gem, as normally falls will turn into a stream that eventually flows somewhere else. Here, you get not only the cascades of the falls, but the rapids of a swift moving creek. Sharing the same water as Midnight Hole, you will also find that lovely aqua color in the water here.

To get to the trail head, you will take I-40 to Exit 451 which is on the Eastern edge of Tennessee. The falls themselves are actually located in North Carolina though. After exiting the interstate, you will continue North on Green Corner Rd which will lead you to Waterville Rd. Turn left when you approach a one way ramp (coming at you with "do not enter" signs at the base). You will cross the Pigeon River and turn immediately back to the left heading South. Continue on this road past the Walters Power Plant. The road will guide to the right, and you will cross a narrow bridge. Staying on the road will take you through the community of Mount Sterling. You will come to a four way intersection where you will see a sign straight ahead for The Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Continue into the park and stay on the narrow gravel road for about 0.8 mile. You will end your trip in a gravel parking lot.

To find the trail head, walk back along the driveway that lead you into the parking lot. You will see a gate with a sign for Mouse Creek Falls, and Midnight Hole. The distances are marked 2.0 miles and 1.5 miles respectively. Don't let this discourage you as the hike is an easy one on a well maintained path. Moving with a purpose, I was able to cover the 2 miles back in about 30 minutes.

A Smooth Embrace

One thing you will quickly recognize...the Big Creek is just that...a really big creek. There are lots of rocks and boulders, along with elevation drops that provide lots of small cascades and rapids along the way. Much of the way though, the trail is well above the water, making it very difficult to see the water up close. Occasionally though, the creek comes right up to the trail, or maybe I should say that the trail meets the creek in places. It is easy to get distracted looking at these sections and forgetting to look for the actual waterfall.

What you are looking for is a horse hitch post to the left of the trail in a wide section. If you look through the brush and trees you will find yourself face to face with the waterfall. While the view is great from the trail, you owe it to yourself to scramble down the bank to the creek level. Here you can rock hop on various boulders taking you closer and closer to the waterfall. Keep in mind that the force of the water is strong, and if you leave the rocks, you are likely to be in trouble in the currents. With a good water flow, I was only able to get half way across the creek, but that was plenty close enough to really be able to take in the beauty of this waterfall.

Having seen many waterfalls in North Carolina, I would have to say that this is one of my favorites to photograph. It is difficult in a way to make a great photograph of this falls because so much is going on. however, if you can isolate just the elements that you want to show, there are many different compositions available to you. Again, as with Midnight Hole, the green water is amazing.

It should be noted that the trail to both Midnight Hole, and Mouse Creek Falls is a horse trail. Therefore, no pets should be brought on this hike. For those of you with horses, this is a great trip to take. There are sections of the trail that look like they could be accessible to horses, but are clearly marked "No Horses". Looking at these locations, I would think this warning should be adhered to.

Edit 11-20-2016

I have just gotten back from a trip out to Big Creek after a month long drought.  From my experience with this location, I really didn't expect to see massive drops in the water levels, but I was shocked to see most of the area dried up.  I was happily surprised to find that Mouse Creek Falls survived quite well in the drought, and actually showed a bit more character with the reduced water flow.

An Autumn Blanket
Also, it is worth noting that you can continue on the trail past this waterfall, and you are very likely to come across some more really nice scenes.  A short distance up, you will cross over the river on a carriage bridge and will start walking along the opposite bank.  Most of the sides are too steep to easily access the water, but there are some places that will allow you to scramble down for some closer views such as this...

A Bit of Drama
So, it doesn't really matter what the water levels are like here at Big Creek.  You can still find plenty to see, and to photograph.  Just always be very careful walking on the rocks. They are pretty slick and will surprise you if you take them for granted.  With due caution, you should be just fine though.

Edit 12-29-2017

Mouse Creek Falls is now one of my favorite waterfalls now that I've seen it with an appropriate amount of water.  The newest picture is now at the top of the entry.