Cliff Falls - Caesars Head State Park
2-27-16 - Here's a 3.5 to 4 mile round trip hike that will take you to 3 waterfalls in a less crowded section of Caesars Head State Park. The hike is moderate in difficulty and will take you to Cliff Falls, Firewater Falls, and Rockcliff Falls in that order. This is my first visit to these waterfalls and unfortunately it was on a bright sunny day - not the best for waterfall photography. The area looks like it would be good for wildflowers, so I plan to return in warmer and greener weather.
Directions from Brevard: From the intersection of Broad and Main Streets in downtown Brevard, take US276 south (East Main St) for about 12 miles to the North Carolina / South Carolina state line. Drive another 2.7 miles and park in the visitor center parking lot for Caesars Head State park which is on the right. Be sure to pull in to the first driveway which is one way going in. There is a $2 per person fee for using these trails which is very reasonable. The pay station is across 276 at the Frank Coggins Trail head, but you can go into the visitor center and pay there so you don't have to walk across the road to pay, then walk back to your car to hang the tag on your rear view mirror. If you plan on visiting several of the SC state parks in the span of a year, I suggest getting one of the South Carolina State Parks passports. It will pay for itself after a very few visits.
Begin the hike on the purple blazed Frank Coggins Trail which is almost directly across 276 from where you pulled in. Before you begin, you might want to pick up a trail map of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area in the visitor center. These maps are also at the various kiosks at the trail heads and some trail intersections, but I always like to have a paper copy with me. The trail begins as a gravel drive, but in 1/4 mile, splits off to the left and becomes a dirt path. From here the trail begins to descend through the woods and in another 1/4 mile, it intersects with the blue blazed Coldspring Connector Trail. Turn right here and continue to follow the purple blazes. The trail continues a slight descent and in less than 1/4 mile look for the purple blazes to go both left and right. If you have the map, notice that the right turn cuts over to join the Naturaland Trust Trail which you will be on later, but stay to the left and head slightly uphill, then downhill for just over 0.1 miles to a wooden footbridge at the top of Cliff Falls. If you bring kids, watch them very closely here. It's safe on the bridge, but very easy to get out on the rock at the very top of the waterfall and it's a 20-25' drop straight down. As you can see in the photo below, someone has spray painted the rock. It takes a special kind of ignorance for someone to carry a can of spray paint in and deface a beautiful area like this. It's happening more and more and I wish these people would just stay home.
top of Cliff Falls
There is a way to see the waterfall from the base and this is the hardest part of the hike. Continue across the bridge and take the yellow blazed Rim of the Gap Trail which is immediately on the left. This trail may be closed in winter due to icy conditions. Take this trail for a very short distance and look for a steep scramble trail down towards the base of the falls. From there you'll have the view of the waterfall in the first picture on this page. Below is a close up of part of the waterfall.
The next waterfall on this hike is Firewater Falls. From the bridge at the top of Cliff Falls, continue following the purple blazed Frank Coggins Trail through the rhododendron and laurel. In about 1/4 mile, the trail passes by the 20' Firewater Falls. The waterfall isn't that impressive and may be only a trickle or non-existent in drier weather, but the entire rock area is very impressive. The first 2 pictures show the waterfall and a very small part of the rock face. A small person can actually get in the crevice behind the waterfall. To the right, the rock wall continues for about 75-100' or so. Towards the end, it becomes an overhang and is big enough for anyone to get under. In the last shot below, I'm under it and shooting towards the waterfall end. If you squint, you can barely see a person standing in front of the waterfall.
From Firewater Falls, it's another 1/2 mile to Rockcliff Falls. Continue up the trail for maybe 0.1 miles and look for a small sign at a trail intersection indicating that turning right on the purple blazed trail will take you back to the parking lot. This is the other end of the loop that you passed earlier in the hike before you got to Cliff Falls and you could take this on the return trip. Look for and take the pink blazed trail bearing to the left. This is the Naturaland Trust Trail and you will stay on it until you reach Rockcliff Falls. In less than 1/4 mile, you'll have to cross US276. Look to the left of where the power lines run to spot a pink blaze on a tree across the road and use caution while crossing - traffic sometimes travels way too fast on this road. Once across, look for the pink blazes as the trail follows close to the road. The trail crosses a private driveway, then heads downhill and bears to the right following a ridgeline. Rockcliff Falls is a short distance ahead on the right.
The waterfall is about 30-40' high and I'm guessing won't have much flow at all during drier weather. There had been a lot of rain previous to my visit and the flow wasn't that great. The trail crosses the creek below the waterfall and continues for several more miles to a bridge above Raven Cliff Falls. Before I visited these waterfalls, I saw several online sources that said to complete a loop hike, walk along the highway for 1/2 mile back to the visitor center. I do not recommend this! There is very little room and this section of road is very curvy. If you want to shorten the return trip, retrace your path back to where the purple blazes turn left at the sign and follow that trail back to the main part of the Frank Coggins Trail. At one point along this cut over trail, you'll come out on what looks like an old trail. Follow the blazes to the right, continue to the intersection of the Frank Coggins Trail, then turn left to get back to the parking area. Below is a video that includes all 3 waterfalls.
back to my SC waterfalls page