the real Dismal Falls
upper section of Dismal Falls

7-29-09  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 a few years back, the trail was almost non-existent. 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. If you have the time, you could see 5 waterfalls on this hike.

Directions: From the intersection of Hwys 64 and 281 North in Lake Toxaway, drive north on Hwy 281 for 1.3 miles and bear left on Slick Fisher Rd. There is a small cafe on the left just before the turn. Drive about 4.5 miles on Slick Fisher Rd until it ends. You will be back at Hwy 281. Turn left and drive about 1/4 mile passing the trout farm on the left, then turn left on an unnamed road that leads down to a camp. It used to be called Camp Winding Gap, but I believe is now called Trails Carolina. On my last visit to this area, there was a small hand made sign that said 'Trails' at the turn. Drive a short distance on this road, pass the camp entrance, and park where the road ends. This used to be part of Hwy 281, but 281 was rerouted around this area. The hike begins at the gated old road on the left. If you try to see everything, the hike will be between 4-5 miles round trip.

The old road (trail) crosses a low flow creek several times. You should be able to cross without getting your feet wet, but the crossings might be muddy in these areas. At about 1/2 mile from the parking or 10-15 minutes into the hike, the trail crosses a creek again. Up this creek a few minutes is the 40' Aunt Sally's Falls. There used to be a fairly obvious path up the right side of the creek, but on my last visit it wasn't visible and was overgrown with briars and other vegetation. We skipped it on my last visit, but here's a picture from a previous trip.

Aunt Sally's Falls

If you don't go to this waterfall, cross the creek, go a short distance and bear to the right. Keep going up this trail and make a couple more creek crossings in less than 1/2 mile. A large tree has fallen across the trail in this stretch, but enough people have gone to the right and around the tree that a trail is fairly obvious. The trail passes under some power lines after the 2 creek crossings and you are now about 1 mile from the parking area. After the power lines, cross a creek again then climb over a fallen tree a couple of minutes later. Continue on the trail through a rhododendron tunnel and cross another small creek. The trail then 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 a couple of hundred yards to the 20-30' waterfall pictured below. There is now a dead tree across the waterfall - this shot is from several years ago. This creek is on the right and is not Dismal Creek as I thought when I first found it. It actually doesn't even have a name and isn't 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 waterfall on unnamed creek

 Anyhow, you have 2 choices to proceed from this waterfall. The waterfall I have been calling Rhapsodie Falls is up stream from this waterfall. If you cross the creek at the base of this lower waterfall, a lesser used trail heads up the right side of the creek to the base of Rhapsodie Falls. If you've made it this far without getting lost, you shouldn't have any problems following it. You can also go back to the trail on the left side of the creek and continue up the left side. The trail up the left side gets very steep past the lower waterfall. It's only a couple of hundred more yards up this steep part to Rhapsodie Falls. The trail will level out a bit and you should hear the waterfall to the right. A false side trail heads to the right, but go just a little farther to the better side trail to the right that leads to the base of Rhapsodie Falls.

Rhapsodie Falls

Rhapsodie Falls

Rhapsodie Falls is a beautiful 70' waterfall that will give you the feeling you are in a tropical rainforest - unless you go in the winter. When I first found this waterfall 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 I was wrong, dammit. Jay asked if I would name the waterfall after his wife, thus the name Rhapsodie Falls. If you have Kevin Adams' newest waterfall book, this waterfall is on page 317. Please tread lightly around this waterfall. Delicate vegetation grows in the spray zone behind the falls!

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 has been doing some exploring in this area recently and discovered an excellent area of Dismal Creek and another waterfall. Figure in at least an hour for this side trip. Not too far up the trail from Rhapsodie, a very faint side trail leads off to the left and over to Dismal Creek. The path was marked with flagging tape which may or may not still be there. Once at the brink of 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 - the creek is on your left. The wall stretches for maybe 100 yards - there's Bernie and I in the picture below.

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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