kayakers on Wilson Creek
The Wilson Creek area is part of the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest. Looking at a map, the area is just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain and east of NC 181, north of Morganton. Wilson Creek was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System on August 18, 2000. The headwaters are below Calloway Peak and the creek stretches over 23 miles before emptying into John's River. The designations are as follows - Wild - 4.6 miles; Scenic - 2.9 miles; Recreational - 15.8 miles, but I don't know which sections are which designation. Activities in the area include hiking, car camping, backpacking, fly fishing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and swimming. More info can be found at the Friends of Wilson Creek web site.
lower waterfall on Gragg Prong
There aren't any significant waterfalls on Wilson Creek, they are on the creeks and streams that feed into Wilson Creek. There are at least a couple of ways to access the area. The way I am most familiar with is from the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile post 311.1. If you are heading south on the BRP from Grandfather Mountain, turn left on SR1518 which is Old Jonas Ridge Rd, 6 miles south of the intersection of Hwy 221 and the BRP. The road is dirt/gravel to begin with, then turns to pavement after a short distance. Follow it for a little less than 2 miles, past a Christmas tree farm on the right and to the Long Ridge Baptist church on the left. The main paved road curves to the right just past the church, but continue straight past the church on the narrower gravel FR464 to get to the waterfalls and other hiking trails. Once on FR464, it's about 2.5 miles to a right hand turn on to FR58 and I'll use this intersection as a reference point for some of the directions.
The other way is as follows - from Morganton, traveling north on NC 181, reset your mileage where the 4 lanes goes to 2 lane and go 10.3 miles to Brown Mountain Beach Road. Turn right (just before a church) and continue for 5 miles to SR1328 which is just past a concrete bridge. Turn left at the brown and white Pisgah Forest sign (the last time I was here in 2016 the sign also said Mortimer Campground). The road sign also indicates that this is still Brown Mountain Beach Road (SR1328). Reset your mileage here. Pass what used to be a commercial campground on the left and at 0.9 miles, the road turns to gravel as you enter the Wilson Creek gorge. There are quite a few places to park and head down to the creek and this stretch is a popular swimming and fly fishing area. Parts of this road narrow to one lane between some rocks, so drive slowly and watch out for idiots driving too fast from the other direction. At 4.5 miles, cross a bridge and pass the left turn for FR982. (Turning here and driving several miles will reconnect you with NC181.) At 5.4 miles, the log Wilson Creek Visitor's Center will be on your left. At 6.6 miles is the trail head for the Phillips Branch Trail and waterfall. Parking is across the bridge on the left. The parking for the Harper Creek Trail is at 7.1 miles on the left. SR1328 dead ends into the gravel NC90 at 8.6 miles at Betsey's Ole Country Store. You could also come in from either end of NC90, so check a map if you happen to be in those areas. If you turn left on NC90, the seasonal Mortimer Campground will be about 0.1 miles up on the right. This is a first come only campground, but it has hot showers! We stayed here in October 2015 and again in April 2016 while hiking in this area. There are 15 sites and one of them is for a small group camp site. Sites are $10 per night - $20 per night for the group camp site. There are 2 small buildings for the bathroom and showers. Each has 1 men's and 1 women's stall with flush toilet and sink with running water and 1 men's and 1 women's stall for the shower. We got there on a Monday and had no problem getting a site, but the camp host said they generally fill up on the week ends. Continue on NC 90 for about 2 miles and on the left will be the other end of FR464 (Pineola Rd).
That last way above follows a lot of gravel road - if you would rather be on paved, keep going up 181 to the Parkway, then head north on the Parkway to MP 311.1. There are a lot of trails in this area and if you've never been, you will need a compass and the Wilson Creek Area Trail Map available at many NC outdoors/gear stores or at the visitor's center. Also look for Kevin Knight's guide book to the Wilson Creek area. It's $10 and is also available at Brown Mountain Beach Resort, Walkers store and Betsey's store which is at the end of Brown Mountain Beach Rd and NC90. Wayman Benton also has an excellent book Discovering North Carolina's Wilson Creek Area that is available on Amazon at this link. Here are the waterfalls I have seen so far in this area...
Bard Falls - easy to moderate hike of 1.75 miles to the 30' waterfall with a swimming hole - bigger kid friendly
waterfalls on Gragg Prong - 1.5 mile moderate hike with wet creek crossings to a couple of very interesting waterfalls - can also be combined with Hunt Fish Falls for a 6-7 mile round trip hike - both are bigger kid friendly for the most part and have swimming holes
Harper Creek Falls -
Hunt Fish Falls
Little Lost Cove Creek Falls
North Harper Creek Falls and Chestnut Cove Branch Falls
waterfall on Phillips Branch
South Harper Creek Falls - 2 mile moderate hike to a cliff overlook of the waterfall
waterfall on Steels Creek
waterfall on Thorps Creek
Upper Creek Falls