216 – Kiesee Falls

Accessibility – Hard

Height – Approx 22′

Distance – 1.30 miles (out and back)

Beauty – 8

Photo rating – 9

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.2767 LONG -82.8838

Last Updated: 08-22-2017

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Kiesee Falls is an amazing 20 foot high, two drop, waterfall accessed off of FR140 in Pisgah Forest. The upper drop free-falls into a hidden pool. The lower drop flows out of the pool and fills a huge swimming hole. I had no idea what to expect in getting there but after making the hike, I can say this: if you go to Kiesee Falls, you will need to be careful, understand how to navigate down a steep ridge with no or very little trail to guide you, how to creek walk, how to bypass cascades and open rock areas along a creek and how to find your way home again. On my visit, it went like this. The way I went to get to the creek from the main trail and how I got back to that trail look nothing alike on my GPS track. The way down included a switchback and lot more creek-walking. The way back to the main trail was a wild charge straight up the ridge. Do what you have to do but if you’re not comfortable bushwhacking and creek-walking, don’t bother with this waterfall. You’re not going to enjoy the experience and you likely won’t even get to see the falls. If the descent down the ridge doesn’t dissuade you, the open rock areas and steep banks you have to climb to get around the cascades will surely put an end to your day.

That said, for those of you up for the adventure, here’s the way. Like most of my off-trail hikes, once I enter the woods, I stop keeping track of turn by turn directions. I’ll get you to the way down, how you navigate it and deal with the obstacles in the creek is up to you.

The trailhead for Kiesee Falls and Upper Kiesee Falls (not completed at this point) is 2.3 miles down FR140 from the intersection with NC215 on the outside of a hard left hand turn. There is a tree with a yellow “NO VEHICLES” sign right on FR140. FR140 was never the smoothest of logging roads and now that the lower end of FR140, between FR140A and NC215 is being used as a logging road once again and the logging trucks are tearing it up, expect a bumpy ride.Also note that the bridge over Courthouse Creek on NC215 is under construction and is currently reduced to single lane traffic.

Part I: Starting the signed tree, the trail ascends and turns right as is climbs away from FR140. Even through the summer foliage I was able to see FR140 for a short time before the canopy closed in. The initial section of the trail is steep but it quickly moderates to a very easy to manage grade. Despite being the middle of summer, the path was easy enough to follow. At 0.25 of a mile from the trailhead, the logging road splits. Take the right branch as it descends from the junction. The grade is modest for most of the next section. You’re going to be around 0.50 of a mile from the trailhead when the next split comes up. I had it at 0.49 on my GPS. If you can’t find the turn with a ballpark estimate of half a mile, it might be best if you simply miss it and give up.

Part II: Take the trail to the right. If you keep going, you’ll eventually comes to the path for Upper Kiesee Falls or so I’m told. After the right turn, the trail is obvious for about ten feet, then things get dicey. The woods are open at a 90 degree angle from the road you followed but I didn’t see a way down. I elected to descend steeply on a path that was almost parallel to the trail I took to get to this point. There were sections where the trail was obvious and others where I just headed down. The dog hobble was thick near the creek and there are several tree trunks lying on the ground to get over. I arrived at Kiesee Creek well downstream of the falls. There was no way up on river right, so I crossed and followed a faint path on river left for a while until it dumped me into the creek. I walked the creek bed until a steep cascade forced me up the bank on river left. I had to negotiate a second cascade bypass on river left before I got to the third and most difficult cascade. The only way past was on an wet, angled, rock face that was covered in downfall. It was nerve-wracking. Once past, you can walk the creek to the base of the falls.

I worked up a sweat getting there but the pool below the falls was up to the task of taking away the heat of the day. The setting is tranquil and private. I would be amazed if there was anyone here on most days. The fact there wasn’t a recognizable trail down the ridge tells me this isn’t a popular destination. Fine by me. I don’t mind having it to myself! When it comes to kid-friendly, this one is a NO. My little sidekick, Alana (8 years old), can hike with the best of them but this isn’t something I’d expose her to. I have no doubt she could do it but there are too many places along the descent and creek-walk where her short legs would pose a problem. Photographically, there are no limits on this one. The two drops and the pool are great, the rocks are covered in moss and the forest is thick and lush. Kiesee Falls definitely rewards those that make the journey. It will also punish the foolhardy.

Kiesee Falls – August 2017
The upper drop pouring into the hidden pool – August 2017
The swimming hold below the falls – August 2017
A wider view of the pool – August 2017

2 thoughts on “216 – Kiesee Falls

  1. I hope you tell someone where you’re going before leaving on these adventures! I’ve gotten myself into some similarly hairy spots, and if you slipped up, you’d be hard to find. This is a beautiful spot, for sure!


    1. That is a very good point. Whenever I hike alone I do communicate my destination in advance and check in after the fact. For Kiesee Falls, I was dropped off at the trailhead with a two hour window to explore.


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