Big Falls - aka Thompson Falls
Big Falls will always be one of my favorite waterfalls. Part of what makes it so wonderful is it's remote location. Another part is the huge rock area on the opposite side of the river that allows you to really get up close and personal with the waterfall. It's the perfect hang out spot on a nice summer day. It's a good sized waterfall - about 125' high - and considering how most of the rest of the river is closed in and littered with boulders and fallen logs, it's amazing how this area around the falls just opens up. There are several things to consider before making this 6-7 mile round trip. At a mile in, you have to cross through Thompson River. Unless the river level is way down, you will have to get wet - maybe up to your knees. At this level the water will be swift. If you slip and fall in, you could die. There's a 5-10' waterfall just down river from this crossing. If the river level is up, don't even consider going. This crossing will be extremely dangerous - even if you make it across and down to Big Falls, you won't be able to get across at the base of the waterfall and up to the huge rock area. Here's a shot from one of those times. Stupidity got the best of me (us) and we just had to go. The spray from the falls was so bad I could barely get a shot off.
Here are a couple more things to consider. Most of the trail is fairly easy, but the final plunge down to the river is very steep and dangerous in places. Parts of it are best done on your butt, so plan on getting dirty. There's one part that I won't do without a rope. I always carry a 25' section of climbing rope with knots tied in it in my day pack, and it's enough to maneuver this section. If you are standing on the main trail looking down towards the river (you can't see it through the trees), you might not think it's that bad, but it takes us 20-30 minutes to make the descent. One more thing - don't bother going on a wet day even if the river level isn't up. The descent down to the river will be too dangerous and even if you make it, the rock area on the opposite side will be too slippery. If you get hurt down here and can't get out, you WILL be spending the night. There's no way rescue could get to you in time.
I've had several emails from folks saying they have tried and failed to find Big Falls. If you are one of them, don't feel bad. It took us 2 attempts and we didn't find the trail down to the river that Kevin Adams describes in his 1st book until my 4th or 5th trip to Big Falls. (In his new book, Kevin has an excellent description and directions to the falls on the Thompson.) There are other waterfalls on the Thompson River near Big Falls that I'll ramble on about later, but 1st here is the 'safest' way to see Big Falls.
Park at the Brewer Rd parking as described on the previous page. Hike up the old gated logging road as if you were going to High Falls. Stay on this road until it comes to the river at just under 1 1/4 miles. It usually takes us around 1/2 hour to get to this point. This road narrows to a single path over red clay at one point, then widens back out. You will have heard the waterfall on Reid Branch off to the left then passed the side trail to High Falls. After this side trail, the road descends and switchbacks towards the river. Cross the river the best way you can. Remember I said you would probably have to get your feet wet. Once you cross the river, keep following the logging road which is the main trail. It's still maybe a mile and a half to the path down to Big Falls.
The trail follows the river but is at different elevations above the river. Most times during the summer you can't see the river from the trail, but you'll hear it a lot along the way. There are a few primitive campsites on the left side of the trail after you cross the river. About 1 1/2 miles after crossing the river, the trail turns to the left and crosses a tributary of the Thompson River. There's another trail to the left right before this - don't take this. Right after this wrong trail, there is some old logging era cable at your feet on the correct trail. Pass this cable and take the next left down and across the tributary. You'll notice that and old logging road continued up the right side of the tributary. After crossing the tributary, continue up the trail. The Thompson River will still be on your left. This next part is new as of early August 2007. In about 10-15 minutes after crossing the trib, look for a small side trail that leads down the steep bank. This trail is fairly new and leads to the base of what Kevin Adams calls Rich Falls in the latest edition of his North Carolina Waterfalls book. The waterfall was previously referred to as Waterfall #2 on the Thompson River. It's the waterfall Harry and I found on our 1st attempt to find Big Falls. In my previous writings I spoke of a metal forest boundary/gamelands sign. I'm not sure if that's even there any more. The boundary is and you may notice red paint on trees. This new trail is before that point - it's steep but there are small trees and rhodo to hang on to. If you had the time and energy, you could probably go down for a look before attempting Big Falls.
On to Big Falls - head down the main trail for another 10 minutes or so past this side trail and look for a another path to the left that leads staright down the bank. You may notice the boundary marker I have mentioned before you get to the side trail. The side trail isn't too steep at this point, but that changes. You may notice rocks piled up on the main trail, or some more flagging tape, but these markers are often removed by others. Even on this last trip I thought maybe I had passed it, but recognized it when I came to it. If you've tried to follow scramble paths before, you shouldn't have any problems following this one. On my last trip in 2006, it was fairly obvious where others had been. In about 15 minutes you should arrive at the place I mentioned where you need the rope. I've talked to folks who have done it without it, but I don't think it's worth the risk. It appears too that others may be bypassing this point some how. There's a tree right there to tie the rope to and it will help on the way back up. After maneuvering this drop, the path bears a bit to the right and continues down to the river just below the waterfall. This area is littered with large boulders. Just work your way back up to the falls. You might want to mark the spot where you arrived at the river. It might seem obvious when you get down, but might not be when you have to head back up.
Now that you've made it to the base of Big Falls, you'll want to cross to get to the big rock area on the opposite side. This means getting wet again. If the river level is around normal, figure on wading up to you knees for a few steps. There's a pool at the base of the falls with boulders as a break before the river continues to fall, so the water isn't as swift. You'll have to climb around on the boulders to get up, so that's a reason you don't want to come on a wet day. Once across, there's tons of room to hang out and explore the waterfall fully. In this next shot, Harry is about 3/4 of the way up towards the upper section of the falls and that's me about 10 seconds away from where the camera was set up. There's more rock area behind me. The 2nd shot is Harry doing the Big Falls slide with Dana watching - she did it too. If you do this, somebody needs to check the pool area for sticks, logs or other nasties that may have washed over the waterfall and are hidden from obvious view.
As I mentioned above, we didn't find Big Falls on our 1st attempt. Click here to see what we did find and to see the river and falls above Big Falls.
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