169 – Bernie’s Falls

Accessibility – Moderate+

Height: Approx 55′-60′

Distance – 5.5 (out and back)

Beauty – 9

Photo rating – 7

Solitude – 9

GPS Info: LAT 35.1975 LONG -82.9298

Last updated – 03-19-2017

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Note: This hike includes a tricky rock crossing to get to the far side of the falls and down to the base. The rock ledge will likely be wet and slippery and the scramble path down to the crossing is also challenging. You do not want to fall off this ledge. This is not a place for kids or dogs. If you’re not good with heights (like me), the rock crossing might present a problem. Use your best judgment. If you do make it to the other side, you will be treated to an amazing scene.

Bernie’ Falls, also known as the Waterfall on Miser Creek, requires a roughly 5.5 mile round trip hike to reach. To access the base there is also a tricky rock crossing that takes you along one of the waterfalls drops and behind the main drop. On my visit the rocks were icy so I didn’t make it to the far side or to the base. All of my pictures are from the river right vantage under the overhanging cliff. The waterfall is a geologic masterpiece with a tall freefall section you can pass behind while high overhanging rocks blanket the river right side of the falls. There are two ways to get to the falls, the one we took started on Tanasee Gap Road and followed FR9999. I haven’t come in from the other route that starts on NC281N and follows FR5077.

To access the trailhead, follow NC215N from the intersection with US64 approximately 8.5 miles to the left turn on Tanasee Gap Road. If you’re coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway the turn will be on the right. FR9999 is 4.55 miles from NC215. There is enough room to park without blocking the gate which is on the opposite side of the road. FR9999 begins after the gate and slowly rises for a short time before coming to a wide area. If you walked through the back of the wide area to the left and struck out through the weeds and downfall, made a right a the large boulder and followed an overgrown wash downstream you would get to the Falls on Double Branch, but that’s an adventure for another day!

Continue on FR9999 past the wide area as it begins to descend. Before long, maybe five minutes or so there is a split. FR9999 goes straight and does a switchback. You can follow this or you can bear to the left and take the trail down and rejoin FR9999. It’s steep but it is doable without much effort. Again on FR9999 the trail will level off for a time until it intersects Parker Creek. Cross the creek and head up the other side. The trail will be steep as it climbs and for most of this section you will be going over and around Jeep mounds, intended but not succeeding in keeping vehicles out. It seems to be keeping the Jeeps out but not the ATV’s and dirt bikes! The trail will ascend steeply before reaching a large open wildlife clearing on the right. Walk through the clearing and pick up the logging grade on the other side.

The path will moderate for a time as it snakes through the woods. The trail will descend for the next ten minutes or so until you see a large clearing in the left. The logging road goes straight. Make a left, cross the small creek and strike out across the open field toward the large Walnut Tree. The Walnut Tree is pretty obvious in the otherwise open field. Head toward the tree and re-enter the woods behind it.

The Walnut Tree

The area near the Walnut Tree was once a homestead site and on my early March visit some daffodils and the quince were blooming.

Shortly after re-entering the woods the trail will begin to parallel Miser Creek on river left. It’s not going to look like much so it’s hard to believe that this is what creates Bernie’s Falls. You will soon have to leave the wider trail in favor of a smaller path into the woods. This is going to be very close to where another creek joins into Miser Creek. There are several places to cross. We crossed the tributary and then Miser Creek after the confluence on the way in. On the way back we stayed on the river right of Miser Creek and crossed it without having to deal with the tributary. Take your pick. The trail on river right will take you right to the top of the falls. There is a great view of the brink of Bernie’s Falls. At this point the trail veers away from the creek. Push your way through the downfall to the steep (STEEP!) trail heading down and to the left. There is a large tree marking where the trails come together. On future visits I will be attaching a climbing rope to this tree to aid in getting down and especially back up! You’ll see.

The steep scramble trail leads to the river right side of the falls below a large overhanging rock section draped in rhodos and vines. At this point you can continue along the rock ledge above the 20 drop to the right and make your way behind the main drop and across to the other side. With the rock being icy, I elected to forego the crossing. I’ll get to it next time. My advice on this one is to use some kind of GPS to track yourself hiking in. It’s gonna make it easier getting back out.

Up to the point where you have to get down to the falls the hike is easy enough, albeit a little confusing in places. Once you get to the descent, it gets a little hairy and the crossing to the far side of the creek is a bit intimidating. It intimidated me this time but without the ice, I don’t expect to have an issue.

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