289 – Middle Creek Falls

Accessibility – Hard

Height – 65″ for this drop. Lots more below

Distance – 0.5 (Rough trail and Bushwhack)

Beauty – 7

Photo rating – 5

Solitude – 9

GPS Info: LAT 35.0116 LONG -83.3318

Last Updated – 08-27-2018

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Middle Creek Falls is a 65 foot high waterfall located off NC106 about a tenth of a mile before the parking area for Highlands Aerial Park on the right. The trailhead is on NC106 very close to a School Bus Sign. The trailhead parking is 9.25 miles from the intersection of US64 and NC106 is Highlands. There is room to park on the shoulder at the trailhead.

The trail enters the woods at a National Forest Boundary sign and descends from the road on a moderate grade while paralleling a white fence. After passing a gate in the fence the trail splits. The right branch leads upstream to Upper Middle Creek Falls while the left branch heads downstream toward Middle Creek Falls. At the top of the hill the trail will split with a trail turning left and a trail descending steeply toward the creek. Another boundary sign is posted at the intersection. The trail down the hill leads to the creek and a lot of downfall. The one to the left leads to Highlands Aerial Park. Take neither but instead walk through the intersection past a log lying along the way. If you are here for the full adventure, which includes Dome Falls, the next named waterfall on Middle Creek, you are in for a wicked hike through some of the thickest rhodo tangles I have seen so far. There is a lot of downfall on the way to Middle Creek Falls and even more on the way to Dome Falls. If you are looking for the full experience, you can also include the recently discovered Spicoli Falls. This was a two-tiered waterfall my friend Justin and I discovered along the way.

When the trail enters the woods it will become more evident but you do have to pay close attention as it peters out and then picks up. Once you’re off the trail it is very hard to find again in the tangle of rhodos. If you take your time the path is obvious but this part of the forest is in pretty bad shape with a lot of blowdown to force you off the path. As long as you keep heading downstream you’ll be fine. I highly recommend using a waypoint manager to pinpoint the base of the falls. It was invaluable on my trek. The forest is very thick and if you’re not careful you’ll end up too far downstream where every move toward the river leads to towering cliffs.

When you can see the fall through the trees, angle toward it, aiming for the river left side. The trail that leads to the open area at the base of the falls was pretty evident once we were on it. Finding it is the hard part. There was a lot of flagging tape that can help point you in the right direction. The best view is from the grassy area on river left or you can scale down to the area below the pool for a different view. The sun was awful on my visit but some blur and white wildflowers added to the scene.

These directions leave much to be desired but this is one of those hikes. I was able to spend most of the time on the faint path but even so there was a lot of buswhacking and backtracking. A GPS is invaluable for this kind of hike. I can tell you that before you get to the trail to the viewing area you will skirt three prominent rocky outcrops, one of which also has you crawling under a fallen hemlock. The final one is a massive rock house. Take your time and don’t hike this one alone. The reward is awesome but this is not the kind of place where you want to get lost.

Depending on how you feel after the trek to Middle Creek Falls and your degree of off-trail experience, Dome Falls is less than half a mile downstream but it will be the most unpleasant half-mile hike you can undertake to reach a waterfall that the average tourist will not like. This one is more about the accomplishment as much as the beauty of the falls.

If you’re going back to your car you  can climb out the same way you came in. If you want to go to Dome Falls, you can start the hike here.


There are some seriously terrifying cliffs downstream of the viewing area that you do not want to approach. You need to approach the creek as close to the base of the falls as possible. On the way back the most obvious trail will lead to a logging grade and after the ordeal the logging road may seem the way to go but it leads to private property. You’ll know you’re on the wrong path if you see one of the sky towers for the canopy tour on your right. Good luck on this one!

Wildflowers and waterfall at Middle Creek Falls – August 2018
A different perspective on Middle Creek Falls – August 2018

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