High Falls - Southern Nantahala Wilderness
1-7-16 Seeing Bull Cove and High Falls requires a 5 mile round trip difficult hike, but if you catch them with good water flow and light, it's well worth it. It might be OK for bigger kids, but you'll be carrying younger ones before the hike is done. There's a gain in elevation of about 1200-1300' in the 2.5 mile hike to High Falls and most of it is after you leave Bull Cove Falls heading up to High Falls. There are also 2 crossings of Beech Creek that could be tricky in high water and the trail is eroded and rocky in places. Even though these waterfalls are in North Carolina, you have to drive into Georgia, then back up into NC to get to them. My first visit to these falls was in January 2004, and my most recent in January 2016. The area is beautifully rugged in winter, but I'd really like to return when the leaves are out.
Directions: Find your best way to Clayton, Georgia in Rabun County. As a reference, it's south of Franklin NC on US23/441. At the intersection of US23/441 and US76 in Clayton, take US 76 west for 7.8 miles and turn right on Persimmon Rd. This turn is clearly marked. Drive 4.1 miles on Persimmon Rd and turn left on to Tallulah River Rd. There's a small brown and white sign indicating camping down this road. The first mile of this narrow road is paved and is residential, so drive slowly. At the end of the pavement, look to the left for the Tallulah River Campground. It's a forest service campground that stays open all year, so you have this option if drive time is a problem. Info on the campground can be found here. From here, the narrow gravel road follows the beautiful Tallulah River through Georgia as FS70, but then re-enters North Carolina as FS56 before the trail head. There are 2 other seasonal campground along the river between 4 and 5 miles down the road. The first is the Tate Branch Campground and the second is Sandy Bottoms. All these campgrounds are first come - no reservations. Just after the last campground, enter the little community of Tate City. At about 7.5 miles total down Tallulah River Rd, look carefully on the right for a carsonite stake at the Beech Creek trail head - trail #378. Drive a very short distance past this and pull into the parking area on the left.
(The road continues and ends at almost 9 miles from Persimmon Rd at another parking area which would give you access to the other end of the Beech Creek Trail and also the Deep Gap Trail. The Beech Creek Trail is an 8 mile loop trail that Kevin Adams talks about in his North Carolina Waterfalls book. I did this loop on my most recent trip to this area and it is wicked - but beautiful. Total elevation gain is about 2500', then of course you have 2500' back down. I parked at the first trail head, so my last mile was walking back down the road to my vehicle. I'm only covering the hike to the waterfalls here, so read up in Kevin's book under High Falls for the description of the loop and other goodies in the area.)
Begin the hike from the first trail head and in a short distance look for the trail to bear to the left as it switchbacks up the mountain. The Beech Creek Trail is blazed blue, but most of the blazes have faded and you may not notice very many at all. You'll also see what looks like a trail heading straight up the mountain if you can't locate the switchback trail. This is a wash area, but has been used as the trail and will take you to the same place - the gap at the top of the hill. This short section of the trail is very steep. The trail flattens at the top of the hill and begins descending down to Beech Creek. In about 1/2 from the beginning, reach the creek and look for a faint blue arrow on a tree indicating that this is where you cross. On my last visit which was shortly after flooding rains, 2 large trees were down together across the creek and I was able to cross the one with bark still on it to the other side. Look to the left after crossing and pick up the trail. There were several blue blazes on trees just down the trail indicating the trail. (A faint path to the right leads a short distance to a primitive camp site.) Follow the blue blazes and in a short distance the trail bears left on an old road. Look to your right and notice that the road goes that way also. There were a few piled branches across the road going that way so you'll know where to turn on the way back, but don't count on those being there. Put something there yourself to help you remember to turn right on the way back down!
The trail continues slightly up hill for another 1/2 mile to a crossing of Bull Cove Creek. Cross the creek, go about 30 yards or so and take the side trail that leads a short distance up to Bull Cove Falls. This side trail crosses some rocks and logs and is tricky in a couple of places, so watch your step! It ends right at the base of the waterfall. Bull Cove Falls is in a beautiful little cove with a high rock wall on the left side. It's a 2 tiered falls about 40' high. On my last visit, there were some big logs at the base of the falls that didn't look like they were going any time soon, but it's still worth going to.
Bull Cove Falls
After soaking up the scenery here, start psyching yourself up for some elevation gain. Continue up the Beech Creek Trail for less than 1/4 mile and cross Beech Creek for the second time. When you come to the creek, look across and to the right a bit for the old logging road heading up the creek. Cross at the place you think is the safest. On this last trip with the water levels up, I had to go up the rocks on the right a bit, then cross on the rocks there. It was tricky, but I managed to keep my feet dry for the most part. This old road (the trail) follows the creek up for over a mile to the side trail for High Falls. With all the recent heavy rains, the trail was very eroded and is also very rocky. I had to stop several times to catch my breath, but that gave me a little time to enjoy the beauty of Beech Creek below me. Winter views of the creek are good, but will be partially blocked with the leaves back out.
At a 1/2 mile from the creek crossing, I was treated to a wet weather waterfall coming off the mountain on the left. The part next to the trail was 15' high or so, but I could see a drop of maybe 30-40' higher up the mountain. It would have been a steep climb up to it, so I opted not to on this trip. In another 1/2 a mile from here is a small man-made rock wall on the left. Just beyond the wall, the road switchbacks to the left. If you miss that turn and go straight here, you'll dead end at the creek at a 10' cascade. Back on the road, follow it up for another 1/4 mile to the next left hand switchback. On this last trip, a small sign with 'High Falls' in a rock pile on the ground indicates the way to the waterfall. This trail leads down to the base of the falls. You can't see the waterfall from the beginning of the trail, because it's tucked in a beautiful hardwood cove. The waterfall is in 2 sections and Kevin has it as 80', so that's what I'm going with also. The top section is the taller of the 2 and if you climb up to it, you'll find yourself looking about straight up at one of the prettiest waterfalls in the area. Be very careful here after heavy rains - the wet rocks will be very slippery! Below is another photo of High Falls, then a video of Bull Cove Falls and High Falls with some cascades and a wet weather waterfall you may see after a lot of rain.
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