Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Linville Falls: From the Gorge Floor

Quiet Reflection Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

The Linville Falls area is just North of the Linville Gorge along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can find this attraction at milepost 316.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just South of the Linn Cove Viaduct. A second trailhead can also be found off of Kistler Memorial Highway (Old NC 105) off of NC 183. To view the Linville Falls, your best bet would be the former where the visitor's center is.

This particular view comes from the most strenuous trail in the park, the Linville Gorge Trail. It is steep, full of rocks, ruts, and tree roots...however, for the best view of the Linville Falls, up close and personal, there is no better option. While I always recommend hiking attire and footwear, this is one of those occasions where a good pair of hiking boots will really help you along.

The trailhead starts at the visitor's center as the others. To the right of the office, you will find the trail that takes you to Upper Falls, Chimney View, and Erwin's View. To the left of the office you will find the trails that will take you to Dugger's Creek Falls, the Plunge Basin Overlook, and down to the Gorge itself. Choosing the trailhead to the left is what you want to do for this Trek.

Quickly after entering the wood line the trail will fork, take the right fork marked Linville Gorge. This trail is 0.6 mile and will probably take about 15 minutes at a good and steady pace. Not too long after starting this trail you will likely come across a very large tree that has fallen and is blocking the path. It has been there for at least the past year and is showing no signs of being removed. You can crawl over it to continue on the trail. You will reach another fork in the trail after 0.2 mile. Continue to follow the sign directions for the Linville Gorge. At this point the trail increases in difficulty as you start your descent. At one point there are 23 wooden stairs to aid in the hike and to protect the ground from sliding boots and shoes.

When you are finished with the stairs the trail does something rather funny. There is another fork, but there are no signs and there is supposed to be only one trail that proceeds through. The left fork is actually drainage from the mountains, and while it looks like a trail...it is not and will end you up on a very skinny ledge on the side of a steep slope....don't ask. What you want to do is take the right fork which is a much better trail that actually leads to the bottom of the gorge. It looks like the trail terminates at the river, but if you look closely, you will see it continues along the bank to the right. At this point, you will begin to hear the mighty Linville Falls as you get closer. You will make a shallow right turn along the rock wall and there you are...face to face with the Linville Falls.

Table Rock

There are several rock formations that you can rock hop on to get a better view, but you can also get close enough to the falls to actually touch it with just a small bit of wading. Keep in mind that there is no swimming in Parkway Waters. Of course, expect to see lots of people of all ages here in the warmer months as it is a very popular summer destination. Ifyou are like me, and want to enjoy this waterfall in the quiet, you might want to go in the winter months, or early in the morning.

For those of you who are photographers, this particular waterfall, and specifically from this vantage point, allows you to break one of the steadfast rules of waterfall photography. Due to the wide open canopy, the very fast water flow, and the fact that the sun rises in a perfect position to illuminate the falls very evenly, you can actually photograph this waterfall under a clear sky. There are very few waterfalls where this can be done successfully, so take advantage of this.

One additional note about the return hike. If you will recall, I mentioned a possible wrong turn you might take earlier. Well, it is pretty easy to avoid on the hike down, but on the hike back to the visitor's center, the chances of you missing a turn are pretty good. This is how I found out the destination of this impromptu trail. As you are hiking back, keep an eye out to your left. The trail is no better marked or worn than the drainage path, but you will see those 23 steps to your left. After you make this turn, the rest of the trail is easy to follow. There are no blazes, or other markers to keep you on the trail so be mindful of where you are headed.

This is the last trail at Linville Falls that I had left to hike. I now feel pretty qualified to make some suggestions for visitors. If you are there for just a short amount of time and are not that interested in a hike, you should go and see Dugger's Creek Falls. The trail is short and easy. The waterfall itself is the prettiest in the whole park, in my humble opinion. If you just have to see the Linville Falls, but are not in the best of shape, you should Trek up to Erwin's View. The hike is long, but easy with several stops along the way where you can rest while looking at the falls. The ultimate view, and the ultimate hike are the one in this entry...The Linville Gorge trail will take you right to the base of the most famous waterfall in North Carolina. You might be a bit tired after the hike, but it is well worth the effort.

Update 03-20-2008: In the second picture posted in this entry, you will see that the amount of water flowing through the crevas will have a profound effect on the personality of this waterfall. While low water flow still has plenty of visual interest, the power of this waterfall is best seen after several days of rain.  This is also the case with Dugger's Creek Falls.



Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Setrock Creek Falls, Pisgah National Forest

Setrock Creek Falls Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

Setrock Creek Falls is not what I would consider a must see waterfall, however, if you are in the area it is worth a look. For those of you visiting the Roaring Fork Falls, this is a great secondary destination as it is just a few miles down the road. All this is not to say it is not a very pretty waterfall, just not spectacular. The waterfall itself is primarily a waterslide with a small cascade at the bottom. It is about 50 feet high, so its not that large of a waterfall either.

The directions to this waterfall are a bit involved, but it is not too difficult to get to. As with the Roaring Fork Falls, you will need to exit off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 344 in Little Switzerland. You will turn North on NC 80 toward the Mount Mitchell Golf Course. Turn left on County Rd 1205 (South Toe River Rd), which will become Forest Road 472. You will follow this road for approximately 0.8 mile where it turns into gravel. Four wheel drive is not needed unless there has been a lot of rain recently which I am sure would wreak havoc with the road bed. At 1.5 miles, you will see picnic tables on the right of the road, and in an additional half mile, you will come to an intersection. You will turn right, which is almost a "U"turn pointing you in the direction you came from. After another half mile or so, you will come to the Black Mountain campground. There is parking for hikers on the left by the information board.

Once you have parked, the directions become kind of involved, so I will try to simplify what I had. You will cross the bridge into the campground and continue until you see a sign for the Briar Bottom Bike Trail. You will follow this trail along the bank of the South Toe River for approximately 0.2 mile. I caution you not to pay attention to the blazes, as they will change color without warning. After you cross a fairly long wooden bridge, you will come to a "T" intersection. You will turn right and continue on that trail for a little over 200 yards and you will be at Setrock Creek Falls.

I am not sure how popular this waterfall is with the campers, but none were at the falls when I visited. It is a rather remote waterfall and is a nice place to collect your thoughts. There are lots of ways one can photograph this waterfall, but I chose to concentrate on the cascade at the bottom. I was surprised at how little water there was flowing considering how much rain we have had lately. I imagine that in a drought (even a minor one), this waterfall would be nearly non-existent.

One positive to this waterfall is that the trees provide a nice closed canopy over the falls. That makes for much easier photography. However, toward the top of the waterslide, you will need to watch for highlights as any sun will hit the top sections.

Roaring Fork Falls: Pisgah National Forest

Perseverance

For those of you searching out waterfalls in and around the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roaring Fork Falls should be on your short list of waterfalls to visit. It is a 45 foot high cascading waterfall that snakes its way through the moss covered rocks to a small pool at the bottom. It is easy to get to, and is a nice way to stretch your legs after being on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You can find the Roaring Fork Falls in the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian District. The easiest route to take is to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 344 where the Parkway intersects with NC 80 in Little Switzerland. After exiting the Parkway, you will turn to the North on NC 80 and dive about 2.3 miles. You will turn to the left on County Road 1205, which is also named South Toe River Road. You will again turn left at the first road you come to, which is a matter of feet. This road has a sign indicating that the falls, as well as the Busick Work Center are on this road. The road continues for about 0.2 mile where it dead ends at the work center.

There will be a gravel turn out on the left where you can park your vehicle.  From this point your travel will be by foot. On the other side of the road you will see a two track road with a gate closing it off. This is just to keep vehicles out while foot traffic is still allowed. There is a sign stating that the falls are 0.5 mile down the trail. This is an easy path to walk, and is fairly level. You will come to the end of the path and will find a small wooden bridge leading into the woods. This is the route you will want to take to view the falls. The portion of the hike in the woods is short, and very easy to navigate.

It is not uncommon for this waterfall to have lots of visitors in the warmer months due to the ease of the hike. If you are wanting some quite time, be sure to go when its cooler, or maybe just a very cloudy day. There is enough of a pool at the bottom to invite swimming. It is not deep, but would be great for cooling off. For those wanting to photograph the falls, be sure and pick a cloudy day. There is a lot of thick vegetation over the falls, but any sunshine will peek through creating horrible hot spots along the rocks and cascades.

The rocks along this waterfall are a bit deceiving. They look nice and level, inviting you to try to climb alongside for a better view. While I am sure this is possible, be very...very careful. I found the rocks to be particularly slippery, and I chose the safer avenue along the bottom of the falls. There is plenty to be seen from the lower position, and the ground has much more traction.

Also of note, along the path leading to the waterfall, you will see two old structures. At one time, they had "Danger" and "Explosives" warning signs on them. Years ago, the forest service used these buildings to store the explosives used to build the roads through the mountains. That has since been contracted out to private companies.