8-10-15 High Falls is a 15' waterfall on the south fork of Mills River. Even though it's not very big, it's a nice destination and has a big swimming hole at the base. To get to it requires a 4 mile round trip easy to moderate hike and a water crossing where you will have to get your feet wet. Water levels in the area were very low on my last visit (above picture) and I still had to wade the river at that point along the trail. If water levels are very high, you won't be able to cross safely. The waterfall is down river from the parking area, so if the river looks unsafe there, it will be even higher at the crossing.
Directions: From the intersection of NC 280 / US64 / US276 near Brevard, drive north on Hwy 276 north 11.6 miles and turn right on the gravel FR1206 - aka Yellow Gap Rd. If you are coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway, head south on Hwy 276 for 3.2 miles and turn left on FR1206. Drive 3.3 miles up FR1206 and turn right on FR476, then drive another 1.3 miles until the road ends at the parking area. You will pass several primitive camping sites along both roads that are first come - no reservations.
The South Mills River Trail begins at the far end of the parking area just beyond the gate. It begins as an easy hike along the river and you'll pass some swimming holes and places to get out on the rocks if water levels aren't too high. At 0.6 miles from the parking area, the trail heads to the left and you'll notice a side trail that leads to the right and down to a larger swimming hole called the Otter Hole. Expect company here on a hot summer week end. After a mile, the South Mills River Trail heads to the right and crosses a concrete bridge. Don't take this! Look for and take a narrower unmarked trail to the left that follows the river down it's left side. There is no sign here indicating that this is the trail to High Falls. After a short distance down this trail, you'll cross a creek called Billy Branch. Look for a narrower foot path heading off to the left before you cross. Take it for less than 5 minutes to a 20' waterfall on Billy Branch, 'discovered' by KT and Cathy - thanks guys! You'll see the waterfall from the trail, but you'll have to scramble down the bank for a closer look. The picture below is from a few years ago when water levels were higher. I did check it out on my most recent visit during low flow. It only had maybe 1/4 of the volume below.
waterfall on Billy Branch
Back to High Falls directions - after crossing Billy Branch, the trail continues to follow the river and becomes more moderate in difficulty. The trail is very narrow in places and you have to watch where you step. There are some places that look like they stay wet from seepage and would be icy in cold weather. It wetter weather, parts of this section of the trail will be mucky. You'll come to a campsite on the left at the next creek crossing and after about 1.75 miles into the hike, you'll come to the river crossing and will have passed another camp site on the left. There's now a rope strung across the river to assist in the wade. If you can't see the bottom, be really careful. The bedrock just below the surface is very slippery and there are some deeper holes you could step in. Once across, the trail continues down the right side of the river. It's narrow and rocky in this section and gets overgrown with dog hobble during the summer. It's another 1/4 mile to the top of High Falls after the river crossing. Along this stretch, another creek feeds in to the river on the opposite side with a taller waterfall, but the trees obscure the view in the summer. It looks like it could be a nice one! You'll also pass a couple of smaller cascades. Once at High Falls, look for a scramble path that will take you to the base of the waterfall. The picture below is from a visit when water levels were more normal - the video is from my most recent visit in August 2015.
High Falls - Pisgah National Forest
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