Upper Creek Falls
Upper Creek Falls

4-22-16  There are 2 waterfalls on this section of Upper Creek that can be done either separately or as a loop hike. The 1.7 mile loop hike is moderate to difficult with a loss, then gain, of about 500' in elevation. Part of the hike takes you to the bedrock area at the top of the 50' Upper Creek Falls. There's plenty of room to safely enjoy the view, but if you get too close to the edge and fall here - and people have - you will die. Part of the enjoyment of the lower falls area is walking along the bedrock, so I don't recommend going on a rainy day when the rock will be slippery. There's also some rock hopping involved and if the water levels are up, you will have to get your feet wet. During the summer months, the area can get crowded with people wanting to swim and rock slide, so go early if you want shots without people.

Directions:  From the intersection of US64 by-pass and NC181 in Morganton, drive north on NC181. (I'm sorry I don't have the exact mileage, but this will be very close.) At about 11 miles, pass the right hand turn at a church for Brown Mountain Beach Rd which will take you towards the Wilson Creek gorge. Continue on NC181 north for about 7 more miles and look for the Brown Mountain Lights overlook on the right just after mile marker 20. Continue past this overlook for about 2 more miles and look for the right hand turn up a narrow gravel drive to the parking area. You'll know you are getting close when the road heading north splits to 2 lanes going north for a slow vehicle passing area and I believe it's just past mile marker 22. If you are coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway, drive south on NC181 for a little over 5.5 miles and look for the drive on the left. There's some type of Pisgah NF sign here also.

Once in the parking area, the yellow blazed trail heads off from either side. The trail to the left goes to the upper falls and the trail to the right goes to the lower cascades. The area where people slide is at the lower falls and cascades. The trail to that area switchbacks down the mountain to the creek and if I'm doing the loop, I find it easier to come up that way, so I begin by heading to the left towards Upper Creek Falls. The trail begins by paralleling 181 for the first 1/4 mile and is fairly level, but then bends to the right and descends sharply before reaching a set of steps that take you down to creek level. During this descent, you should catch a glimpse of a smaller waterfall just up creek from the main falls. When you arrive at creek level, you are about 0.4 miles into the hike and are at the top of Upper Creek Falls. On a dry day, you can safely get out on the bedrock and enjoy the view from the top of the falls. Do not get too close and do not for any reason get in the creek right above the waterfall!

top of Upper Creek Falls
top of Upper Creek Falls

Back at the steps, look to the left to see a part of the smaller waterfall you saw from the trail. You can rock hop up to it and during normal water flow, safely swim without fear of being washed over the main waterfall. To continue the loop, you have to rock hop - or wade - across the creek in the area of the steps to the overused camp site. Pass through the camp site and continue down the trail. This trail was reworked several years ago and is in a lot better shape than it used to be. To get to the view of Upper Creek Falls, you used to have to scramble down steeply to the viewing rock. Now, pass that scramble area and continue down the trail for about 0.1 miles to a switchback to the right. This section of trail comes back to the viewing area where you can easily get out on the exposed rock for a better view. You can see all of this in the above video which begins near the bottom of the steps. You'll see me climbing up a big rock for a view down the waterfall - do not let children or uncoordinated adults go up here! If you fall from here you will die.

Upper Creek Falls
Upper Creek Falls

Be very careful at this viewing area also. You can scoot down the rock for different views as you see in the above video, but the rock is steeper than it looks. Stay on the dry part only! Remember that rock is harder than bone and fleshy tissue. Once you've soaked in this beautiful spot, go back out to the trail and continue following it down to where it meets the creek again and the lower falls. You are now about 1 mile into the hike. On the way down, you may notice other side trails that lead down to other sections of the creek you might find interesting.

The area of the lower falls and cascades is really beautiful. To really appreciate all of it, bring sandals or plan to get your feet wet. The trail comes out right at the base of the small waterfall in the next shot. There's a lot of bedrock here on this side of the creek where you can wander down along side of the creek as it flows over this beautifully colored rock.

lower falls on Upper Creek


lower cascades on Upper Creek

Before you go anywhere, look straight across. The path back up to the parking area continues across the creek and this is where you will have to cross. You can either hop across, wade across, or you'll have to go back the same way you came. From here the trail switchbacks steeply back up the mountain and to the parking area. Please stay on the trails and don't take the shortcuts that by-pass the switchbacks.

As you walk down the bedrock from the first cascade at the trail crossing, the next cascade you come to is where people slide down the wet rock into the shallow pool. Fun times!

sliding at lower cascades of Upper Creek
sliding at lower cascades of Upper Creek 

Once you walk the bedrock down to the pool, you'll have to wade across to continue (which I didn't in the above video). There's another cascade and more area to hang out, then the creek enters back into the forest and continues down the mountain. You can also access Upper Creek from farther down 181 south. If you come back out of the parking area for Upper Creek Falls, turn left, head down 181 south for just over 5 miles and turn left on to FR982. This gravel forest road cuts hard to the left, then heads down. (FYI - you can take FR982 for about 10 miles and it will dead end into the gravel road SR1328 that runs through Wilson Creek Gorge.) From 181, drive 1.3 miles on FR982 and turn left on to FR197. This road parallels Upper Creek and ends at about a mile at a parking area and some dispersed camping sites. A trail leads up creek from here and the more adventurous of you may be able to find more swimming spots along the creek. There are also more dispersed camping sites along FR197 and quite a few along FR982 as it continues towards Wilson Creek. These sites are free with NO facilities. If you use them, please pack out ALL of your trash!

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