Update 6-10-16 - FR140 (Courthouse Creek Rd) reopen today after a lengthy closing. The road was closed August 10, 2015 for a bridge replacement and a combination of wet weather and other issues delayed the completion. Two friends and I were the first ones in today and immediately headed for Red Rock Falls, then followed that up with a hike/bushwhack to Kiesee and Upper Kiesee Falls. The road is in decent shape with new gravel in places, but none in others which will make for a muddy mess in rainy weather. Two wheel drive is still OK, but everybody still drive slowly! There are some very narrow spots along the road. This area has been selected for a big restoration project which will include timber harvesting, road and trail improvement and wildlife habitat improvement. 3 plans were presented (one plan being to do nothing) to the public for discussion and the final decision was announced in September 2013. Here it is. The plans can be read in detail from links on this page. It's a long read, but very interesting. 2 items that really stood out for me are (1) the Summey Cove Trail will be decommissioned and (2) FR140 will become a seasonal forest road meaning it will be closed from Jan 1 through some time in March. From that same link, be sure to look at the Courthouse Decision Map to see where the timber harvesting will occur along with where all of the other activities will be taking place. You can see there won't be any logging along the steep slopes towards NC215 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it will be interesting to see what cutting will be visible from the Parkway. Also be prepared for FR140 to be closed more in the years ahead as this plan unfolds.
Courthouse Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls and I never get tired of going back. It is set in a beautiful small cove and is fairly easy to get to once you make it up the gravel road to the trail head. The hike is less than 1/2 mile and the area can be popular on a warm summer day. Go early if you want good photos. The pool at the base of the falls is deep and the water is clear and very cold. If you like primitive camping, there are a few dispersed campsites along FR140, a few more walk in sites at the end of FR140 and other primitive back country sites scattered about, but no camping right at the waterfall.
Directions: From the Blue Ridge Parkway, head south down Hwy 215 for 6.5 miles. Look for the 2nd sign indicting 'narrow bridge ahead', and turn left on FR140 just after the bridge. From Hwy 64, turn north on NC215 at Headwaters Outfitters. Drive 10.2 miles up 215 (passing the waterfalls at Living Waters) and turn right on FR140 just before the bridge. Drive up the gravel road for 3.0 miles - crossing 4 bridges along the way - and park in the wider area just after the bridge across Courthouse Creek. The Summey Cove Trail is on the left and is the trail head for Courthouse Falls. (The other end of the Summey Cove Trail is on NC215.) FR140 isn't always in the best of shape, so drive slowly.
The hike to the 45 ft falls is easy and follows Courthouse Creek down to the waterfall. Hike the Summey Cove Trail for about 5-7 minutes to the top of the waterfall. You'll notice a steep trail down to the creek, but there's nothing to see and only Death awaits you down there. Keep going until you see glimpses of the falls down through the trees. You'll soon notice another steep trail going straight down with maybe some debris to block it. Don't take it either, but keep going a short distance farther to a wider area in the trail and an obvious blue blaze on a tree. The trail cuts back down to the left towards the waterfall and you'll have a view of the waterfall through the trees as shown in the next photo. Be careful farther down this trail as there are some slippery areas from seepage. The trail ends at a set of steep wooden steps that take you down to creek level. The second photo below is the view from the top of the steps.
Courthouse Falls from the trail
If FR140 happens to be closed, another option for hiking to the falls is to take the Summey Cove Trail from NC215. The Summey Cove Trail is on the Pisgah Forest trail map - trail #125 - and is 2 miles one way. The new forest plan calls for this trail to be decommissioned, so the trail won't be maintained once that happens. The trail head is at the bridge a little over a mile past the one at FR140 if you are heading north on Hwy 215. Park on the wide grassy shoulder on the left. If you are coming from the Parkway, the bridge is the 1st one you come to - about 5.25 miles down. Look for a yellow sign indicating 'narrow bridge ahead'. Cross the bridge and park on the right. The trail forks almost immediately from the start - stay to the right - and begins by heading slightly up hill. It then crosses a wet weather area, which can be confusing, but becomes more obvious after this point. It then starts heading more up hill with an elevation gain of 500'+ in less than 1/2 mile from the trail head. The trail then descends some 400' in the next 1/4 mile towards Summey Cove Creek. Before the creek, there are a few wooden 4x4 steps that end at an overgrown logging road. The trail crosses the road and continues down towards the creek. At another point past the steps, the trail comes to a fork. Take the blue blazed trail to the right - the one to the left is fainter.
From the creek, the trail is more or less level as far as mountain trails go. It follows a ridge line with Courthouse Creek 200' somewhere down below to the right. The trail then crosses Mill Station Creek on a foot bridge and comes out to a nice campsite. Keep heading up the trail and you'll soon come to a side trail to the right and will spot a small cascade on Mill Station Creek. Pass this and in a short distance will be the side trail to the right that takes you down to Courthouse Falls. If you continue on Summey Cove Trail for another 1/4 mile, you'll come out at FR140 at the point where you would have parked if the road were open.
If you are adventurous and like creek walking, there's another waterfall very near Courthouse Falls - the creek is your trail to this one. Cody Harris emailed me about it in 2004. I tried once to find it, but apparently didn't give it a very good effort. Didn't find it, but on my July '05 trip to Courthouse I gave it another shot and I did find it - right where Cody said it was. It's a nice little 15-20' falls! Check your map and find where Mill Station Creek flows into Courthouse Creek. Notice that it's very close to Courthouse Creek. Follow Courthouse Creek down the best way you can to where Mill Station Creek comes in from the right. Creek walk up Mill Station Creek a short ways to the base of the waterfall. Very simple if you know how to read a map. I was fairly certain that this waterfall didn't have a name, so I'm calling it Cody Falls - thanks Cody!
There's also an Upper Courthouse Falls. To get here, keep going on FR140 past the parking area for Courthouse Falls for 0.2 miles. There's a gated (most of the time) road straight ahead which is the one to the waterfall - park here without blocking the gates. There's also a gated road to the left that will take you to Mill Station Creek if you like exploring. The road (trail) to Upper Courthouse Falls follows the creek passing a few back country camp sites (if they haven't been closed by the FS) and ends at 0.7 miles back at another camp site. The trail to the top of the falls is dead ahead. Cross the creek to the right to the island to get to the base. The creek here takes a hard left here up a long length of sloping bedrock which is beautifully colored when wet. If you are really adventurous and have some experience creek walking and following faint trails, you can continue up Courthouse Creek to Red Rock Falls. This section of Courthouse Creek is really spectacular.
Upper Courthouse Falls
If you are really adventurous and have some experience creek walking and following faint trails, you can continue up Courthouse Creek to Red Rock Falls. This section of Courthouse Creek is really spectacular...
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