Big Bradley Falls
7-19-16 Bradley Falls - aka Big Bradley Falls - is a really nice 75' waterfall tucked in a small gorge on Cove Creek. It can be a dangerous area and several people have died here over the years, so it's not for small children. The hike is just under a mile and is easy to moderate in difficulty, but there's a creek crossing along the way and you will most likely be getting your feet wet. The hike to the crossing is fairly short and easy however and you could bring the kids to this point to play in the creek during the summer months - like dozens of other folks do. If you continue across and to the overlook area, the trail becomes a bit more moderate with a steep section at the end to get down to the rock ledge. Getting to the base of the falls from this parking area requires a rope assisted climb of 20-30' down a near vertical rock wall. There is another way to the base from a different parking area that I describe below.
Directions: Get on I-26 southeast of Asheville heading towards Hendersonville. Pass the Hendersonville exits, take exit 59 for Saluda, then turn left on Holbert Cove Rd (SR 1142) at the stop sign. Drive 3.1 miles and park on the left side in the obvious parking area just before the road crosses Cove Creek. You can also stay parked here for the hike to Little Bradley Falls. The trail to Bradley Falls is on this side of the road. The trail to Little Bradley Falls is on the opposite side of the creek.
The trail isn't marked but begins at the back of the parking area and is very obvious. Almost immediately, cross a small creek, then enter a field. In less than 1/10th of a mile, the trail forks. Head to the left here and enter the woods on a wide dirt path. You could go straight and get to the same point, but left is quicker. Continue a short distance and notice a trail coming up the bank to the right. This is where you would come up if you had gone straight at the fork. Here's where I first noticed blue blazes on the trees marking the trail to the overlook. The trail continues and begins to parallel Cove Creek which is down below on the right. In a short distance, the trail descends to creek level where you cross to the right side. Water levels were below normal on my last trip in July 2016 and I still had to wade the creek. It was only about shin deep, so plan accordingly. Just before the trail crosses the creek, look to the right and a very low volume creek meets Cove Creek as Creekside Falls. It's about a 10' drop and would probably be pretty with more better water flow.
Once across the creek, the trail begins heading up hill following the blue blazes. Notice some side trails on the left that head down towards the creek and at least one primitive camp site. I didn't go down to check it out, but it's a good size area and might have more sites. The only 'No Camping' sign I saw was back before the creek crossing and I think it refers to right there along the creek at that point. The land is owned by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission if you want to look there for more info. From the creek, continue about 0.4 miles and look for a rough side path on the left that has a sign (on my last visit) indicating that people have died in this area. This trail goes down towards the top of the falls and to the rock wall with the rope to get down to get to the base of the waterfall. It's up to you to decide if you have the ability to get down safely, then back up again. In a short distance, pass another side path to the left and keep going on the main trail. In a few more minutes, look for the trail to turn left and down or continue straight. Either will get you to the same point, but left is a short cut. When the trails meet again, keep heading left and in a short distance, look for a dirt path on the left heading down towards the overlook. There was a blue arrow painted on a tree indicating that this is the way. This trail heads steeply down to the small rock ledge that will give you the view of the falls in the next photo. This area is not for small children. It drops off steeply towards the creek and if you fall here, you will die or be severely injured. Unfortunately, from this vantage point you can't see the entire waterfall. The main flow on the right side of the falls is blocked by the trees. It could get really ugly once that dead hemlock falls into the waterfall.
view of Big Bradley from the overlook
There's another way to the base by coming in from Green River Cove Rd and following Cove Creek up to the waterfall, avoiding the descent down the rock wall. It's a longer hike - 2 1/4 miles one way - and a little difficult at the end. If you do take it, remember that this is gamelands and you should be wearing blaze orange during hunting season! (Update August 2018 - from what I have seen on social media, some of this trail has been washed out and there are downed trees due to the recent heavy rains. Don't expect this to be fixed any time soon. Proceed with caution!)
To get to the parking, follow the same directions above to Holbert Cove Rd, but turn almost immediately to the left on to Green River Cove Rd after crossing under I-26 on Holbert Cove Rd. This road is extremely curvy and steep until it gets to river level. Drive about 3.6 miles and look for a parking area on the left just before the bridge. Just ahead on the right will be The Wilderness Cove campground and tube rental place. Walk up and into that property, bear to the left and head up the road pointing towards the gamelands. You'll pass the tube rental building on your left. At the end of this short road is a parking area for the gamelands that you can also park in if it's not full. The hike continues on the road beyond the gate.
Walk up this road for about 1.2 miles until you come to an old log building. The fields you will pass are maintained for wildlife and that's why you should avoid this area during hunting season. The main road will bear to the left at this building, but go right here and walk towards and past the other old log building covered in vines. Continue a short distance on the old road past the building to more wildlife fields that were planted with corn and soybeans on my latest visit. Walk along the right side of these fields to the end and pick up the trail as it enters into a very young section of woods. At the end of this short section of the hike will be a warning sign about how you could die at the cliff areas along this hike. The trail then continues through an older section of forest and at about 1/2 a mile past the log buildings, it crosses the creek. This will probably be a wet crossing and these rocks are slippery. The trail picks up on the other side and on this last visit was marked with flagging tape. From this point it's about another 1/2 a mile to the base of Big Bradley Falls. The trail up to this point has been fairly easy, but from here it gains elevation and is steep and narrow in some places. You'll see some smaller waterfalls on the creek below you along the way, but getting down to them is tricky. You may also see some fainter side paths that look tempting to take, but stay on the flagged trail which is the more obvious one. The flagging won't be there forever and might not be there when you go. Just before you reach the waterfall, you'll pass by a high rock wall on your left. Good luck and stay safe!
back to Polk County waterfalls page
places to go/links/videos/index/wildflowers/email