149 – Lower Wildcat Falls

Accessibility – Difficult

Height – 30′

Distance – 0.5 mile out and back

Beauty – 6

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 7

GPS Info: LAT 35.31542 LONG -82.90796

Last updated: 09/05/2016

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NOTE: Most of these pictures were taken after hours of heavy downpours. On most days the falls will look nothing like this. The last picture shows normal flow. I have seen pics from friends where this waterfall has dried to a trickle. Plan accordingly.

The evening I hiked to Lower Wildcat Falls was the same day I hiked Dismal Falls. In the four hours between the end of the Dismal Hike and the start of the Lower Wildcat Falls hike, it rained. Not just a little but a lot. It was so frustrating. I was ready to go after my trip to Dismal Falls but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. Four hours of hiking time lost and only two hours of daylight remaining. I was so close to calling it a day but not just yet. I wasn’t even planning on going to Lower Wildcat. Truthfully, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I was driving around, seeking inspiration and in the midst of a downpour on the parkway, I pulled into the East Fork Overlook to wait out the deluge. With the rain pounding down, I began flipping through my copy of Kevin Adams book. I found my inspiration on page 195, Lower Wildcat Falls. Right on cue the rain let up and 20 minutes later I was at the pullout on NC215.

Lower Wildcat Falls is a thirty foot high, single drop waterfall very close to NC215 North of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The waterfall is downstream on Silver Mine Branch from the more popular Wildcat Falls, accessed about a mile south on NC215. Tucked into a shaded grove, the waterfall is basically at the confluence of Silver Mine Branch and the West Fork of the Pigeon River. The waterfall tumbles down a sheer rock face and then spreads out across a sloped stone before terminating in a collection pool. The pool then flows over some rocks into the West Fork of the Pigeon River. The waterfall isn’t grand but the location is amazing and if you take the route I did to get there, it makes for an enjoyable, albeit off-trail, expedition.

That said, expect to get dirty and wet on this hike. If you have’t done any creek walking, you might want to reconsider or you may want to bring someone with experience. I did the majority of this trip in water shoes but the ultimate choice in footwear is up to you. There are some deep sections and they will sneak up on you. If you haven’t done this before, the water will go from six inches deep to six feet deep in one step. Make sure your stuff is properly protected from the water. Still want to give this one a go?

To get to Lower Wildcat Falls, take NC215 North from the Blue Ridge Parkway 1.8 miles to the pull out for Bubbling Springs Cascades (Guardrail Falls). There is a pullout for Lower and Middle Wildcat Falls 1.9 miles from the BRP but I didn’t fancy the descent from that point so I elected to take a different approach. My route to the falls is just under 0.3 of a mile and is a mix of scrambling, creek walking, rock-hopping and boulder-climbing.

Head under the guardrail where the ground is eroded and follow the steep scramble path to the flat area below. An obvious trail leads to the confluence of the West Fork of the Pigeon River and Bubbling Springs Branch. Start the downriver journey by crossing the West Fork of the Pigeon River on a downstream angle. A trail leads through the woods to get below the first cascade on the river. There are four more cascades/small waterfalls to navigate before you get to Silver Mine Branch. I can’t give you a boulder by boulder recap but it wasn’t terribly difficult to bypass each obstacle. Of course, difficult to me and difficult to you might be very different things.

If you haven’t hiked off-trail or walked a creek, you need to use extreme caution. NC215 is less than 100 yards away but there is no way to climb up to it, at least not that I could find. I looked for it back in 2015 but couldn’t find it. Also, when I did this the creek level was way up so on most days this would likely be much easier than the conditions present when I made the trip. Expect to take a lot of pictures on your way down the river. This section of the West Fork is incredible. There are several exposed sections of rock along the bank that help provide a path. Just be on the look out for the faint paths leading into the woods and don’t be afraid to backtrack. Without much difficulty I located paths that bypassed some of the more challenging water features. For the most part you will never get too far from the creek.

When I reached Silver Mine Branch, I was on the NC215 side of the West Fork but getting across wasn’t terribly challenging, even with the river raging. There is a collection pool at the base of the falls and to get to the sloping rock at the base of the falls, you will have to wade through it. It was above waist deep on my visit. Once I passed through the pool, I was able to move freely on the exposed rock. I don’t think I’d call this one kid friendly but for someone seeking a little more adventure, especially on a short hike, this one might be for you. You can shoot this waterfall from about anywhere. You can set up across the West Fork or climb up on the ledges below the main drop or anywhere in between. Don’t expect any company down here unless I’m in the area cause I plan to visit again in lower water. I also plan to do some exploring downstream. Little Sam Falls perhaps.

Lower Wildcat Falls – September 2016
The sloping rock below Lower Wildcat Falls – September 2016
Not the normal water flow – September 2016
The view up the West Fork from Silver Mine Branch – September 2016
The main obstacle on the West Fork – I’ve seen this called a waterfall on other creeks – September 2016
A water feature closer to Bubbling Springs Branch – September 2016
Such a magnificent location – September 2016
The water was up at Bubbling Springs Cascades – September 2016

A more realistic expectation of the water flow – August 2017