Little Bearwallow Falls - Hickory Nut Gorge
Little Bearwallow Falls

8-13-18  Many thanks to the Conserving Carolina (formally the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy) for making the hike to this waterfall and beyond possible! In 2013, the conservancy acquired what's known as the Wildcat Rock tract on the north slopes of Little Bearwallow Mountain. This tract was a necessary piece of the larger puzzle for the grand plan for the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail Loop. This 20 mile loop trail will eventually connect the conserved lands of Bearwallow Mountain, Florence Nature Preserve, Blue Ridge Pastures, and Wildcat Rock. The beginning of the trail to the waterfall needed to be across private property, so a permanent public trail easement was purchased from the property owners and this short section of trail passes through their garden and orchard. When I first visited Little Bearwallow Falls in April 2016, the Wildcat Rock Trail ended at Little Bearwallow Falls - 1 mile from the parking area. Since then, 1.5 more miles of trail have been added, so I went back and have added a description of the hike to Wildcat Rock and on up to Little Bearwallow Mountain. More info on the Wildcat Rock Trail can be found here on the Conserving Carolina web site.

The hike to the waterfall is moderately difficult, but the trail is in good shape. There are a lot of switchbacks which help ease the pain of the 700' gain in elevation. In early April, the slopes of the steep sections just before the waterfall are covered in wildflowers which will give you a good excuse to stop and rest if needed. The low volume creek spills over a massive 100' rock wall. During dry times, there may be no flow at all so be sure to go after a period of decent rainfall. Here's some video I shot along the last half of the trail showing some of the wildflowers along the trail and the waterfall.

Directions:  From the intersection of US64 and US74A near Lake Lure, drive west on 74A towards Gerton for 3.8 miles and park on the right where you see a big sign for the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead. There's also an info kiosk and old chimney here. If you are coming from the Asheville area, drive about 14 mile west on US74A from I-40 and look for the parking area on the left. This is also the parking for hiking in the Florence Nature Preserve. The hike to Little Bearwallow Falls begins across the road.

Florence Nature Preserve and Little Bearwallow Falls parking
Little Bearwallow Falls parking area

The trail begins just to the left of the private paved driveway across the road next to another kiosk. Please use the pedestrian crosswalk to safely cross the road. A set of log steps leads down towards the orchard and follows the wooden fence towards Hickory Creek. This section of the trail is through private property, so please show respect and stay on the trail! Just before the trail descends to the creek, an interpretive sign shows trails that were already here plus the new section of trail (in orange) built by CMLC. This is the one you will be taking. The trail is well marked with green carsonite trail signs and round orange tree tags with 'Wildcat Rock Trail' printed on them. Several trails branch off from the Wildcat Rock Trail and go into private property, but these are well marked. Please stay on the main trail. At 0.7 miles from the parking area, the trail crosses a creek. This is the same creek that the waterfall is on, but the waterfall and rock wall are still out of sight. There were a lot of spring wildflowers here on our April 2016 hike, so we took a photo break before continuing up the steepest part of the hike.

From here the trail continues heading up with winter views of the surrounding mountains. In a short distance, the trail switchbacks to the left, heads up some more, then switchbacks to the right. There's a view of the rock wall though the trees here. At the next bend to the left, a less traveled trail comes in from the right and down the mountain from the Hickory Nut Forest eco-community. The spring wildflower blooming really picked up in this area with sections of the slopes next to the trail blanketed with Dutchman's Breeches and different varieties of trillium among others. This section of trail brings you to the base of the rock wall and to Little Bearwallow Falls.

Little Bearwallow Falls

Little Bearwallow Falls
Little Bearwallow Falls

Wildcat Rock is about 1/2 mile from Little Bearwallow Falls - and another 400' gain in elevation. The trail continues up the 130+ rock steps that were added to make this section of the trail possible. As you huff and puff your way up these steps, take the time too look back and enjoy the view of the waterfall and rock wall from this angle. This section of trail was partially completed in 2016 and the above picture was taken part of the way up. Once you complete the steps climb, the trail levels out somewhat and becomes more of a stroll through the woods. There is another tricky part where more steps had to be added to descend down the side of another smaller rock wall covered in moss and other plant life. The photo below was taken from part ways down the steps. The trail continues along the base of the wall.

Wildcat Rock Trail

The trail passes by another rock wall similar to this one and soon passes a private trail to the right. This trail is well marked as private, so there's no excuse for you turning on to it. Instead, continue a short distance to the spur trail on the left for Wildcat Rock. It's less than 0.1 miles up to the view, but it's a bit steep. The trail is well laid out and if you've made it this far without dying, you won't have any problems. When the trail makes a hard right at the rock and carsonite sign pointing to the right, go up the left side and around to the back of the rock to check out the little tunnel.

Back at the carsonite sign, continue up the boulder and under the tree limb to get out onto Wildcat Rock. There's not a lot of room up here and the view is limited, but it's a cool spot. The next 2 shots are from the rock.

view from Wildcat Rock

view from Wildcat Rock
views from Wildcat Rock

Back at the Wildcat Rock Trail, it's another mile - and 200' gain in elevation - to where the trail ends at a small pasture on Little Bearwallow Mountain. I assumed there would be a view from here, but there isn't. The pasture is surrounded by trees. The trail will eventually head over to Bearwallow Mountain where there are views, but that won't be for another couple of years. I figured there had to be some kind of view nearby because I was seeing semi-fresh cow pies and those cows had to come from somewhere. I first headed to the left and up to the far end of the pasture where a cow trail headed into the rhododendron. The trail kind of ended at the highest point on the mountain, but there still were no views. So I then headed back to the official trail end, then down though the trees and to another small pasture where there was a partial view looking south.

back to Chimney Rock State Park page

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