Accessibility – Moderate
Height: Approx 350′ (over numerous drops)
Distance – 4.0 (out and back)
Beauty – 6
Photo rating – 5
Solitude – 5
GPS Info: LAT 35.3247 LONG -82.8969
Last updated – 10-26-2016
The waterfall on Flat Laurel Creek is actually more of a series of waterfalls very close together. There are different access points for the different drops. Some are easy and others are not. Approach each with your skills in mind. Flat Laurel Creek runs past Sam Knob and is accessed from the Black Balsam parking area a mile past Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge parkway. The waterfall is comprised of different kinds of drops. The total drop over the multitude of drops is in excess of 300 feet. Black Balsam Road (FR816) provides access to some of the most popular hiking in the area with the Art Loeb Trail (ALT), Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), and the Ivestor Gap Trail all converging in the area. This area is also popular for camping so if you don’t arrive early, there is a good chance you will be parked somewhere along Black Balsam Road.
The waterfall on Flat Laurel Creek can be accessed from several different starting points. I am recounting the route from Black Balsam Road since this is the route I took. You can also come at the falls from NC215 by hiking to Wildcat Falls and following that trail to the intersection with the Flat Laurel Creek Trail. Black Balsam Road intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile 420, 1.2 miles south of Graveyard Fields. There is a parking area at the end of Black Balsam Road as well as roadside parking. Coming from NC215, Black Balsam Road is 3.2 miles North of the intersection. Black Balsam Road was paved and widened two years ago, making for a more pleasant drive.
There are numerous trails intersecting in the area so make sure you have your trail map just in case. The Flat Laurel Creek Trail is at the end of the paved parking area furthest from where you entered to park. When we did this hike in March of 2015, it turned out to be a very informative hike for my daughter. The hike begins on dry ground but before long the trail is going to get soggy. Numerous small water flows cross the trail and at times they run down the trail. As you progress along the hike the small creek that began as a dribble at the outset continues to grow. This is Flat Laurel Creek! The upper section of the trail passes through the headwaters for the creek so as you follow the trail, you are seeing where the creek gets started.
The hike to the main section of the falls is 1.9 miles and varies between easy to moderate. There are numerous creek views and campsites as you make your way downstream. The most difficult part of the hike are the various scrambles to see the different segments of the falls. The hike is one of my favorites. As you progress you will make several creek crossings and most of the time you will see Sam Knob off to the right. The Flat Laurel Creek Trail intersects the Little Sam Trail on the left after about a mile and around 1.5 miles from the trailhead, the Sam Knob Trail crosses the creek on the right. Around 0.25 of a mile past the intersection with the Sam Knob Trail you will encounter the first of the scramble paths to the cascades. You can do as many or as few of these scrambles as you choose.
The hike is kid friendly while the scrambles down to the cascades are not. My six-year-old daughter, who is an experienced off-trail hiker did two of the scrambles but was not allowed to do the others. I still hear about this almost a year later. The scramble path to the lower section (the one below the huge boulder) is steep and slippery. You can get as adventurous as you want but use caution, the rocks are slippery and if you start sliding the only thing that’s going to stop you is the boulders along the way.