Reece Place Falls
11-5-18 - The 60' Reece Place Falls is one of the premier destinations in Headwaters State Forest, but there's some new info you need to be aware of before you grab your packs and head towards Busted Rock Rd. What I can tell you is that the old way in via Busted Rock Rd that you might find elsewhere online has changed. There's now a small sign with 'No State Forest Entry' at the beginning of the road and a new gate with a 'Do Not Enter' sign on it at the end of the road before where folks used to park. There is absolutely no place to park here and no place to turn around. Busted Rock Rd is a private road and my guess is that the residents will be calling the sheriff's department to have cars towed if they find cars parked anywhere around there - even in the cemetery since that's private property also. I checked with Michael Cheek from the NC Forest Service and he also stated that Busted Rock Rd is no longer an access point for the forest and asked that people stop using it as one.
There is some good news, however. I've been to the waterfall 3 times recently via different routes and stayed on public land the entire time. The first way that I discuss below requires off trail travel and navigation skills. My friend Emily and I did this in early September and were able to find our way to the section of the Busted Rock Rd extension that is on Headwaters property, then continued on from there. After I first posted that info, someone emailed me and said someone had been in that same area and had flagged a route through the off trail part. I went back today to check that out and indeed - someone has! The other way in to the waterfall is to access the network of old roads and foot paths in the forest near the Gum Gap access. Gum Gap is a few miles down Happy Acres Rd off of East Fork Rd. This is a gravel road and is usually in decent shape through the residential section. As you get closer and pass through the Watson Cooper Heritage Preserve in SC, the road really narrows and is sometimes not fit for a car. Cindy and I went this way to the waterfall in mid October and were able to stay on a road or trail the entire way. There are 3 wet creek crossings, however. I discuss this route below also.
The first way in to Reece Place Falls that I mention above is about 1.5 miles one way. There is no official trail - or anything that resembles a trail - on the first part of this hike. When we first went this way, we used a GPS, map, and compass to find our way to the part of Busted Rock Rd that is in Headwaters property, then continued on to the waterfall via the old roads from there. As of this date, there is now flagging tape to follow though the woods to the old road. This tape may not be here in the future, so come with a Plan B which could be what we originally did - bushwhack using a GPS, map, and compass. If you are not experienced in bushwhacking, this is not a good place to see if you have what it takes. Keep in mind that if your phone or other navigating device stops working and you don't have a compass and topo map (and know how to use them), you are screwed. Use common sense and good judgment here. The waterfall isn't going anywhere and an official trail will be built at some point down the road. Below is a property boundary map I got from the Transylvania County GIS site that shows the Headwaters SF parcel that you have to hike through. (You are allowed to hike anywhere in the forest that doesn't have a 'Do Not Enter' sign.) It's a narrow piece of land and you need to stay on it and not trespass on the adjoining private property. Once you get in there deep enough, the big parcel of land to the right is also HSF property.
Directions: From the center of town in Brevard at Broad and Main Streets, turn on to East Main St (US276 south). Drive 7.3 miles on 276 and turn right on East Fork Rd. This is also the back entrance for the Connestee Falls development. Drive 3.7 miles on East Fork Rd and pull off on the left where you see a cable across a drive. There's enough room for 3-4 vehicles here and you'll see a Headwaters State Forest diamond on a utility pole.
On the other side of the cable is a nice flat area. There's an old road that goes off to the left, but it almost immediately goes into private property and doesn't go the way you want to go anyway. Walk to the far end of the flat area and look straight ahead for a piece of orange flagging tape. If the tape is gone and you plan to bushwhack, this is what your bushwhack will be for the next 0.6 miles and I describe what you need to do below. Part of the way is a little less shrubby, part of it is more - and with briers. It's not really steep - about a 200' drop in elevation - and I didn't come across any cliff areas on my way down. You'll also probably be getting your feet wet, so plan on that. During warmer weather the person in front will be eating a lot of spider webs. You have to honestly assess your off trail navigation skills and ask yourself if you want to risk other people's lives coming to look for you if you get lost. Remember to mark the spot where you parked on your navigating device if you choose to proceed!
If you are experienced in off trail navigation, this bushwhack shouldn't present any real problems. Load a destination point on Busted Rock Rd (the green line) about mid way between the boundary lines. If you are looking at a topo map, find where Big Branch crosses Busted Rock Rd. That's where you need to end up to continue the hike from the old way in. Big Branch isn't shown on the above map, btw. So basically, you'll be heading SSE from the end of that flat area I mentioned above until you run into Big Branch. Cross Big Branch and begin heading south and you will run into Busted Rock Rd. You'll know it because it's the first gravel/dirt road you come to that you could drive on if you could get your vehicle in there. Now that you found the road, the rest of the hike is a piece of cake. Once on the road, turn left. Depending on where you come out on the road, it's maybe 0.1 miles to a fork. Go left towards the red gate. (If you go straight on Busted Rock Rd, you'll run into East Fork of the French Broad River.) The road past the gate follows East Fork up towards Reece Place Falls.
If the flagging tape is still there when you go, all you have to do is follow it. You may also see yellow and dark pink tape, so be sure to follow the orange! This route begins by heading SE for about 0.2 miles. At that point the tape leads SW, then more south. At 0.33 miles, head back SE once again. At 0.45 miles, cross Bad Branch near a spot where you'll see a bench or 2 and some lawn jewelry type things. You should also see some property boundary markers. On this new flagged route, instead of following Bad Branch down to Busted Rock Rd, the flagged route follows an overgrown logging road heading generally east. This road is easy to follow and the tape becomes more sparse. After another 0.25 miles, this old road ends on the gated road off of Busted Rock Rd that I mention above - about 0.2 miles past the red gate. Turn left here and continue another 0.5 miles or so to the waterfall.
Headwaters State Forest is also gamelands and you'll pass some wildlife clearings on the right. You should be wearing blaze orange during hunting season. You can look up NC hunting seasons here. My advice would be to avoid bushwhacking during hunting season period. This goes back to the common sense rule. Back to the hike, the road continues on and about 0.6 miles past the red gate (if you came that way), a road/path turns to the right. You don't want to take this, but this will lead to the Hickory Flat Creek area and is where you come in if you follow my directions below from Gum Gap Rd. Continue past this path and in a short distance the road will end. You will have begun to hear the waterfall ahead before the road ends. You'll see 2 paths ahead. The one to the right leads to 2 lower waterfalls right next to each other. You'll have to do a bit of scrambling to get over to see them. The left waterfall is smaller and overgrown, but the right side one is really nice! It's maybe 15-20' high and as far as I know it doesn't have a name.
To get to Reece Place Falls, go back out and take the left path up. It's not too far up and you'll begin to see this 60' beauty through the trees before you get to it. The waterfall is in 2 sections and is truly a sight to behold.
Reece Place Falls
If you've searched for images of Reece Place Falls, you've probably seen images of just the top section of the falls - and you'll see another below. I won't lie to you - it's really a magical spot. The main drop alone is beautiful, but there's another waterfall in the background that feeds down into the pool. All I am going to tell you is to look around and see if you see a safe way to get up there. It's not easy and there are a lot of delicate plants and mosses in this area that you shouldn't be trampling. If you fall and get hurt, you'll be spending the night. Somebody has to go for help, then rescue has to risk their lives coming in to get you. If you fall and die, it won't matter about you spending the night, but the recovery team will still have to risk their lives coming in to get you. Please use common sense!
Directions to the Gum Gap Rd access - From the center of town in Brevard at Broad and Main Streets, turn on to East Main St (US276 south). Drive 7.3 miles on 276 and turn right on East Fork Rd. This is also the back entrance for the Connestee Falls development. Drive 1.1 miles on East Fork Rd and turn left on to Happy Acres Rd. From here it's 3.3 miles to the road's end at Gum Gap, but you won't have to drive to the end. Happy Acres Rd is gravel / dirt the entire way and it gradually gets narrower and rougher as you approach Gum Gap. The first part of the road is residential, so be sure you stay on the road and don't veer into someone's driveway. At 1.6 miles, stay straight on Gum Gap Access - don't bear left on Happy Acres. The green road sign indicates that this is private, but it isn't! Stay straight on Gum Gap Rd. At 2.0 miles, cross into SC and enter the Watson Cooper Heritage Preserve. Past this point, there are a very few places to pull over or park. At 2.7 miles, there's a red gate on the right at an old road that leads into Headwaters SF. This is where the hike begins.
If you don't have a high clearance vehicle, you should be able to make it to the red gate without a problem. The rougher stuff is past the red gate. Just past the red gate on the right is a small area where a couple or 3 cars can pull off and park. We did that today. Once you cross into the Watson Cooper HP, you would be wise to keep an eye out for potential parking spots before you get to the red gate - just in case. Then just walk the road up to the gate. The hike to Reece Place Falls is about 3 miles one way with a drop in elevation of about 600'. There are also options for some off trail adventures on the way that I'll also mention. Remember - this isn't an official trail and there are no blazes to follow. Feel free to print these directions with you and bring them along with your map and compass.
Begin the hike on the old road on the other side of the red gate. This is the old road shown on a topo map (if you have one) and you'll be following it for about 2 miles. The problem with the map is that it doesn't show the numerous other roads in here. At .25 miles into the hike, come to a fork. Bear right here and continue another .25 miles to the next fork. Bear left here. At .7 miles into the hike, come to your 3rd fork. (This is why you don't want to go wandering around in here if you don't have any navigational skills.) At this 3rd fork you'll turn sharply to the left (heading south) and begin heading down hill. At about 1 mile into the hike, come to another fork and stay to the right. The road will then begin to turn back to the left and will pick up the headwaters of Hickory Flat Creek which you will hear on your left. The creek is also losing elevation and you'll hear the sound of falling water. I haven't had time to check this section of creek out yet, but there might be some smaller cascades that are worth checking out if you don't mind leaving the trail.
The trail bears to the right, leaving the creek, and comes to the next fork at 1.65 miles into the hike. (Before this fork, a small side road heads sharply down to the left, but quickly ends and one of the old hunting cabins that are still standing.) At this next fork, you'll be near Hickory Flat Creek again. You'll be staying straight on the road to get to Reece Place Falls, but here's where you can really add to the adventure if you have off trail and creek walking skills. Hickory Flat Creek has some nice cascades and an 8-10' really nice small waterfall that make for an excellent addition to the day's activities. Read below or skip to past the photos to continue to Reece Place Falls.
To explore Hickory Flat Creek, leave the road to the left and head towards the sound of the creek. It's not too bad as far as bushwhacks go. There is a faint trail that you might pick up that follows the creek down on the right. We followed it for a short distance, but when the water noise got louder, we got in the creek so we wouldn't miss anything. The first sliding cascade we stopped at was about 0.1 miles from where we left the road and the waterfall is at about .25 miles, with a couple of cascades in between. From here you'll have to decide if you want to retrace your steps back up to the road, or continue down the creek for another .1 to .2 miles, leave the creek heading due north through the thick dog hobble and try to pick up the foot path that you would be on if you hadn't gone off trail. If you do this and find the trail, head to the left and continue reading below the pictures.
top of the waterfall on Hickory Flat Creek - note Emily in the blue shirt
waterfall on Hickory Flat Creek
If you stayed on the road, continue on straight past the last fork where another road turned to the left and down hill. At 2 miles into the hike, you should be in a bend to the left and crossing through the headwaters of an unmarked tributary of Hickory Flat Creek. You'll really want to start paying attention here. At 2.1 miles, look for a larger tree on the left that has a bend in it above head height. Some people might call this one of those Indian marker trees, but it's not. Just before this tree, look on the left for a big log laying next to the road. A small side trail is at the far end of the log and you need to take it. There were rocks stacked on the log indicating this trail when we were here. (The topo map show the main road continuing on, then turning left and down hill next to Reece Place Falls, but a trusted source says it doesn't.) This small side trail heads steeply down hill, then bears right and begins to follow that unmarked tributary. At about 2.3 miles into the hike, the tributary joins with Hickory Flat Creek and you'll be near the point I mention above if you creek walked down. At 2.5 miles into the hike, come to another fork and turn to the right. In a short distance, you'll have to cross though Hickory Flat Creek 2 times in a row. If water levels are normal or above, you'll probably be getting your feet wet. At 2.7 miles, you'll cross through East Fork maybe a tenth of a mile below Reece Place Falls. Stay on the trail and in less than a tenth of a mile, come to the old road that you would have been on if you came in from East Fork Rd. Turn right and continue the short distance to the road's end. The paths ahead will take you to the 2 sections of the waterfall that I talk about in the description coming in from East Fork Rd.
Good luck and stay safe!
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