South Harper Creek Falls - cliff view
10-21-15 South Harper Creek Falls is the highest waterfall in the Wilson Creek area. It's about 120' high and can be enjoyed from several vantage points. You can't see the entire waterfall from any one place, but you can come close by viewing it from a high cliff along the Raider Camp Trail. Getting to this point is a 2 mile moderate hike, but if you are frightened of heights, stay away. You have to get right to the edge to get the entire view and there's nothing between you and a long way down if you fall. Getting to the base of the waterfall is a different story. There's no trail that leads directly to the base, but the Harper Creek Trail comes close. I'll discuss that below. The directions below are to the 2 mile hike to the overlook.
Directions: There are several ways to get here, so check your maps for the way that is best from the direction you are coming from. I usually come into this area off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile post 311.1 north of Linville Falls which is the intersection of SR1518 (Old Jonas Ridge Rd). Turn right on the gravel road if you are heading north on the BRP from Linville (left turn coming from the Grandfather Mountain area). There may or may not be a green road sign - there wasn't on my last visit to this area. The road begins as gravel, but turns back to pavement. Pass a Christmas tree farm on the right and at 1.7 miles from the Parkway, look for the Long Ridge Baptist church on the right. The main road curves to the right, but continue straight past the church on the narrower gravel FR464. Drive 2.5 miles to FR58 at some primitive car camping sites. Turn right on FR58 and drive 4 miles to the parking area on the right. The hike begins on the orange blazed Harper Creek Trail (#260) which is on the left before the parking area. (I haven't been this way to the waterfall in quite a few years, so I say orange blazed because that's what the trail map says.)
The entire Harper Creek Trail is 6.1 miles and this is one of the ends of the trail. The first mile or so that you'll hike is fairly easy and will bring you to a clearing. There's private property here, so please remain on the trail. The trail then begins to descend and in maybe 15 minutes or so, comes to an intersection with the yellow blazed Raider Camp Trail (#277). Staying on the Harper Creek Trail will take you to the top of South Harper Creek Falls. Go right on the Raider Camp Trail to get to the cliff view. In a short distance the trail crosses Harper Creek and you may have to get your feet wet depending on water levels - and your skill level. You may notice another waterfall up Harper Creek, but you should also see a 'No Trespassing' sign. The sign wasn't there when I took the shot below quite a few years ago. Please respect the property owners wishes and don't trespass.
waterfall on Harper Creek
Once across the creek, the Raider Camp Trail begins a gentle climb towards the rock overlook area. There are 4-5 switchbacks in less than 1/2 mile before you come to a 'T' intersection. Turn left here. Hopefully there are yellow blazes indicating the correct path. In a very short distance, 2 paths turn left off the main trail. Take the second one down a few hundred feet to the camp site at the rock outcropping. It's very safe to be in this area, but to get the full view of the waterfall, you have to get to the edge. In the second shot, I'm zoomed in to the area between the 2 sections of the waterfall and you can see the person out on the rock. If you want to get there, keep reading.
overlook view of South Harper Creek Falls
On my last visit to South Harper Creek Falls, Cindy and I parked for the hike to Harper Creek Falls on the other end of the Harper Creek Trail and did a 10 mile loop. We hit Harper Creek Falls first, then continued up the trail for 3 more miles to South Harper Creek Falls. We continued up the steep section of the trail up next to the creek, then crossed the creek on the trail above the waterfall and to the intersection of the Raider Camp Trail. We turned left and headed up to the above overlook, then continued on the Raider Camp Trail back down to where it crosses Harper Creek and meets back up with the Harper Creek Trail. This made for a very long day with the stops we made for shooting and enjoying the scenery. There are also numerous wet creek crossings, but lots of primitive camp sites if you want to stretch the hike out a bit. We did it counter clockwise which I think is the easier way, but that saves the deepest and widest creek crossing until about mile 8.5. That's the point where the Raider Camp Trail crosses Harper Creek at the camp sites near the junction of the 2 trails. It might be worth checking out when you are near that point earlier in the hike to make sure you can do that crossing.
top of South Harper Creek Falls
Getting back to the hike in from FR58, if you want to see more of South Harper Creek Falls close up, continue on the Harper Creek Trail at the junction of the Raider Camp Trail and soon arrive at the creek above the waterfall. Cross here and continue down to where you can get out on the bedrock at the top of the falls. You'll have the view in the photo above which looks down the slope and across the gorge towards the upper overlook. Make your own determination as to how far down the rock you can safely go. Keep small children away from this area! People have died here when they misjudged just how steep this gets. To get to the base of the waterfall, go back out to the trail and continue down a very steep section. The trail and the creek bend to the left near the bottom. There's no trail to the base, so you'll have to look for the best place to scramble down to the creek and rock hop and/or wade back up to the base. Below is the view you'll have of the very bottom of the falls and it's here where you'll appreciate just how amazing this place really is. We didn't do this part in 2015, so this is the only picture I have of this area. You can see that Harper Creek makes an abrupt left turn at the base of the falls in this stadium like setting. You are surrounded on 3 sides with rock wall and waterfall with the overlook being 200' above on the left wall. The Harper Creek Trail continues down the creek from where you left it and in about 3 miles and numerous creek crossings, you'll come to Harper Creek Falls.
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