6-10-16 - I hadn't been to Kiesee and Upper Kiesee Falls since 2005, so I put them high on my list of waterfalls I needed to return to for better pictures and better directions. FR140 (Courthouse Rd) has been closed since August of 2015, so when the forest service announced that it would reopen today, I was there with a couple of friends waiting. The 2 waterfalls are really close to one another, but Upper Kiesee Falls is the easier one to get to. You might think 'well, I'll just go to the upper and follow the creek down to the lower.' Sound like a plan, but it's not! The top of Kiesee falls is within view from the upper falls, but there is no safe way down. The rock surrounding the lower falls is shear cliff with nothing to hold on to. In Kevin Adams' new book, there are updated directions to Kiesee Falls - and I was hoping to use those to update my directions here, but that didn't work out. More on that below. Before I ramble on too much, I'll say that the average hiker can get to Upper Kiesee Falls, but the last 20' or so is a steep sloping rock that you will have to negotiate. If it's wet, it will be very slippery. The lower waterfall - Kiesee Falls - is very difficult to get to and I would suggest that only seasoned off trail boulder-hopping creek walkers attempt this one. So at least give the upper waterfall a try, then backtrack and see if the lower waterfall is something you want to attempt. Be prepared to turn around when you get to the cliff area and do not bring children on this hike. Both waterfalls are less than 20' high in 2 sections and the hike in is about 3/4 of a mile.
Directions: From the Blue Ridge Parkway, head south down NC215 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 2.3 miles to where the road cuts to the left. Park along the road here and look for a small yellow 'Closed to Vehicles' sign on a tree on the right side of the road. The hike begins on the old overgrown logging road. You may have to park either up or down the road a bit and walk back to this point. There used to be a primitive camp site on the right in the bend at 2.1 miles up the road and you could always park here and walk up. Parking here will also give you easy access to Kiesee Creek.
Since the upper waterfall is easier to get to, I'll give directions to it first. From that small yellow sign, follow the old logging road for about 1/4 mile to an obvious split. Take the right fork (the more worn trail) heading down and along the creek and continue another 1/4 mile. At this point, look for a more heavily overgrown old road to the right. Don't take it, but this is the way Kevin says to get to Kiesee Falls. Continue on the trail, cross a gully that may or may not have water in it, then a wet area. At 3/4 of a mile from the parking, cross through another wet area and immediately begin looking for a distinct smaller path heading to the right. It was marked by a small piece of flagging tape on this last trip, but don't count on that. This path leads down a couple of hundred feet to the pool below Upper Kiesee Falls. As I stated above, the hardest part is at the very end and you might consider bring a 25' section of rope to tie to a tree to help you get down. Just take it with you when you leave!
This is the slightly smaller waterfall of the 2, but it has the better swimming hole. The water is clear and cold. Look down stream and you'll see the top of Kiesee Falls. If you get close to the edge, you'll see why I said there's no safe way down. Don't try to be a hero and end up being the next dead body the search and rescue people have to recover.
Upper Kiesee Falls
Upper Kiesee Falls
Now back to Kiesee Falls. At 1/2 mile from the trail head is the overgrown old logging road Kevin mentions in the book. We took it but noticed it cut hard right and down hill away from the waterfall. Straight ahead didn't look like road, but lead to a more open ferny area. We took the hard right, but part way down decided this didn't look right and decided to just bushwhack through the thick dog hobble down to the creek and take our chances walking the creek up. According to the GPS, we were 0.3 miles from the waterfall when we got to the creek. Rock hopping and wading up the creek started out fairly easy, but got more difficult as we got closer to the waterfall. If at any point the 'this doesn't look safe' thought enters your mind - turn around! We got to the small falls with a deep pool in Kevin's directions and it now has a lot of tree parts in it that will probably be there a while. From here, look up and to the right for the extremely steep exposed rock wall. You have to climb up there, shimmy across that without falling to your death, then drop down through more fallen trees to get to the pool in front of Kiesee Falls. Just remember - you have to go back this same way.
Kiesee falls is a real beauty when you include the remote setting. The swimming hole is smaller then the upper falls, but it's still very deep. What the pictures don't show is the tall rock wall on the right side of where I'm standing for those shots above. There's also a very tall rock wall on the left side that has vegetation on it, but it stays very wet from seepage and any soil up there is very unstable. This is an area where you don't want to make a bad decision on what you can and can't do. Stay safe out there!
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