the real Dismal Falls
upper section of Dismal Falls

8-9-18  If you are into hard core hiking and love places where very few people dare to go, this may be a hike for you. In his book The Land of Waterfalls, Jim Bob Tinsley calls Dismal Creek "one of the most foreboding places in the Southern Appalachian Mountains..." When I first explored this area in 2001-2003, a trail to these waterfalls was almost non-existent - and I didn't even know about Lower Dismal Falls. There have now been enough people going up here that a trail is now fairly obvious and you may find survey tape tied to trees to help you find your way. These trails are not maintained, but were in decent shape up to Rhapsodie Falls on my visit in August 2018. I intend to go back soon and revisit Lower Dismal and Dismal Falls. If you have the time, you could see 5 waterfalls on this 4-5 mile round trip adventure.

Directions: From the intersection of US64 and NC281 North in Lake Toxaway, drive north on NC281 for 6.2 miles and turn left on an unnamed road. At the time of this writing, the road was the access for Trails Carolina and there may be a sign indicating that. Once you turn off of 281, stay to the right on the one lane track that looks like it goes to nowhere. In a very short distance, this old road ends at the parking area and a forest service gate. The trail begins on the other side of the gate.

When I hiked this trail in August 2018, there had been quite a bit of recent rain and the first part of the trail (old road) was rather mucky. There were also a couple of small trees down across that section of trail and I thought we were going to be in for a long day. It turned out that this first part of the trail was in the worst condition and things soon got better. Once on the trail, cross 3 small branches in the first 1/4 mile or so. You should be able to cross without getting your feet wet, but the crossings might be muddy in these areas after a lot of rain. At about 1/2 mile from the parking area, come to the 4th creek crossing. Just before the creek look to the right for an obvious path. Less than 0.1 miles up this path is Aunt Sallys Falls. The path first comes to a camp site, then continues up the creek and ends at the falls. The waterfall is about 30' high in 2 sections, but you can barely see the top section from the base. This creek is a very low flow creek and the falls might only be a trickle during a dry spell. It really isn't worth a trip here just to see this waterfall, but is a nice add on to the hike to Rhapsodie and Dismal.

Aunt Sallys Falls
Aunt Sallys Falls

Back at the main trail, cross the creek, go a short distance and bear to the right. At 0.4 miles from the creek crossing you'll pass under some power lines. You will have made 2 more creek crossings in this stretch and you are now a mile from the parking area. After the power lines, cross a creek again then climb over or go around a fallen tree. Continue on the trail through a rhododendron tunnel and cross another small creek. About 1/4 mile from the power lines, the trail enters a stand of white pines and soon splits. Take the left split, pass the small camp site, and arrive at the West Fork of the French Broad River. Cross the river (more like creek size) on the rocks and pick up the trail on the other side.

That was the easy part of the hike. Once across the river, head up the trail for about 0.1 miles to the 30' Lower Rhapsodie Falls pictured below. This waterfall really has a lot of character with it's shape and many small ledges, but the rhododendron has really grown up around it since my first visit years ago. The creek that this waterfall is on doesn't have a name and isn't even shown on the topo map. Dismal Creek is to your left in the next drainage to the east and is out of sight at this point.  

Lower Rhapsodie Falls
Lower Rhapsodie Falls

Rhapsodie Falls is your next stop and is up stream from this waterfall. It's definitely worth a trip to see even if you don't continue up to Dismal and Lower Dismal Falls. Head back out to the trail and go right. The trail gets really steep here and just heads straight up the mountain. When you get to a very large boulder on the left, the trail you want bears to the left and heads up beside that rock. Continue up to the next rock formation which is a very cool rockhouse, but stay to the right of this. A short distance past this, the land levels out a bit and the trail forks. The right fork will take you to the base of the 70' Rhapsodie Falls. The left fork heads over to Dismal Creek.

Rhapsodie Falls
Rhapsodie Falls

Rhapsodie Falls is another waterfall that looks it's best after some decent rainfall. It's like a tropical hanging garden in the summer time and will be covered in icicles during a stretch of sub-freezing temps in the winter. You can get behind Rhapsodie Falls, but please tread very lightly in you do. The plant community behind the falls is very delicate and can take many years to recover from heavy foot traffic.

When I first visited this waterfall in late 2001, I thought it was Dismal Falls because it matched the picture in Mark Morrison's waterfall guide book. After a long debate with another hiker - Jay - I realized this wasn't Dismal Falls (my pictures didn't match the one in the older Jim Bob Tinsley's book). Jay offered to take me to Dismal Falls and did so in May 2002. He asked if I would start calling the waterfall Rhapsodie Falls on my web site because that was his wife's name. I did and the name seemed to stick. But -  if you have Burt Kornegay's excellent Panthertown Valley (and surrounding area) map, he decided to label it as Grotto Falls. If you have Kevin Adams' newest waterfall book, this waterfall is on page 317 and he has it as Rhapsodie Falls. If you get here mid morning on a sunny day, you might catch the water dancing in the sun beams as it spills over the massive cliff.

Rhapsodie Falls

Cindy at Rhapsodie Falls
Rhapsodie Falls 

The above video is Aunt Sallys, Lower Rhapsodie, and Rhapsodie Falls. When I revisit Dismal Creek, I'll add another video of those 2 waterfalls. To continue up to the 2 waterfalls on Dismal Creek, leave Rhapsodie Falls and get back on the trail up the left side of the unnamed creek. The trail continues to climb up the ridge and away from the Rhapsodie Falls drainage. My pal Bernie had been doing some exploring in this area in 2009 and discovered an excellent area of Dismal Creek and another waterfall. About 0.1 miles up the trail from Rhapsodie Falls, the trail forks again. Take the trail to the left over to Dismal Creek to see Lower Dismal Falls. Once at the brink of the Dismal Creek gorge, look for the steep trail leading down. The trail will bring you out to this amazing rock wall which will be on your right - Dismal Creek is on your left. The wall stretches for almost 200 yards before ending close to the base of the waterfall.

Dismal Creek Wall

Follow the wall up until the creek and wall meet. From here you will have to climb the large boulders up and around the bend to see the waterfall. Just remember, if you get seriously hurt up here, you will probably die before help can get to you. Try to picture what rescue crews will have to go through to get to you. The waterfall is 20-30' high and has fallen logs at the base, but is very pretty. Creek levels were a little low at the time of my visit.

lower waterfall on Dismal Creek

We didn't really see a safe way to continue up creek to Dismal Falls from this point, so the best and safest option is to retrace your steps back to where you left the trail above Rhapsodie Falls. From this point you are less than 1/4 mile from the falls, but it's a difficult less than 1/4 mile. Continue following the trail up the ridge, then look for the trail to head to the left and descend very steeply back down to Dismal Creek and the base of Dismal Falls. It's hard to tell from the picture below, but Dismal Falls is about 150' high. Good luck and stay safe if you decide to go!

Dismal Falls


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