306 – Upper Falls (Snowbird Creek)

Accessibility – Difficult+

Height – 15′

Distance – 14.6 w/3 deep creek wades

Beauty – 3

Photo rating – 4

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.2710 LONG -83.9929

Last Updated – 09-08-2018

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Upper Falls on Snowbird Creek is the fourth waterfall you can see on this hike and if you do visit all 4, expect a total hike in the 14-15 mile range. I completed the hike on 9-8-18, logged 14.68 miles (Alltrails) and 35,242 steps according to my Fitbit Ionic. I got on the trail at around 8:30 a.m. and returned to my truck at 3:20 p.m., totaling 6 hours and 50 minutes to knock out all four with time to take pictures, chat with friends I met on the trail and to eat my lunch. With an impending thunderstorm brewing, I trail ran the section from Sassafras Creek to the parking area, about 2.5 miles.

You could obviously bypass the other falls on this hike and lower the round trip to Upper Falls to around 12 miles but this would be pointless. It is the least appealing of the four falls and as it stands, it is barely worth the 0.8 miles each way to reach it from the Middle Falls trail. Hiking almost 12 to see it is a waste of a day. Do it if you’re going to Middle Falls or forget it.

Regardless of how you get to Robbinsvile, the directions are going to start at the traffic light where NC143 and NC129 meet in the middle of town. I came in on NC143 from NC28. Take NC143/NC129 North from the center of town for one mile and make a left onto NC143, when it splits from NC129. NC143 will meander along for just over 3.25 miles before coming to a T. Business NC143 goes left, make a right and follow NW143 for 2.1 miles and make a left on Snowbird Road. Follow this also for 2.1 miles and make a sharp left onto Little Snowbird Road. The drive down Little Snowbird Road is only a mile before you make a right onto Big Snowbird Road. Follow this for 6 miles total. The first 2 miles are paved, the last 4, after it changes names to FR75 are unpaved. The road is lined with campsites and at the end there is a large area where you can turn around and park.

The trail is a continuation of the road. Two trails leave from the end of the parking area. Take the one on the left, The Big Snowbird Trail (#64). The other trail is the King Meadows Trail. The trail passes over a few mounds before embarking on a gradual 2.5 mile ascent toward a meeting with Sassafras Creek. Along the way you will pass through numerous small drainage areas on the trail and some soggy areas. Just as you’re about to head down to cross the creek if you look to your right, you’ll see an old car rusting quietly.

Seemed the proper way to show a car from the 1930’s

Once across Sassafras Creek there is a trail that heads upstream. I have no idea where it goes so don’t take it unless you want to go exploring. Stay on the Big Snowbird Trail for another 0.3 of a mile until it ascends to a meeting with the Sassafras Creek Trail (#65). If you’re going to Sassafras Falls (which you want to do), make a left onto the Sassafras Creek Trail as it ascends steeply from the intersection. It will moderate and for most of the next 0.8 of a mile it will gradually ascend. As you hear a falls, look for a path on the left that leads to the base. The trail was easy to spot and so was the wooden sign with an arrow pointing toward Sassafras Falls. The scramble is modest and once you get to the base, you’re going to have to move into the creek to get this view. Head back the way you came when you’re done, returning to The Big Snowbird Trail.

If you didn’t go to Sassafras Falls you’re now 2.8 miles from the trailhead and if you did you’re 4.6 miles into your adventure. The hike resumes on The Big Snowbird Trail, heading upstream. As it was on the first part of the hike, Snowbird Creek is down below churning over cascades and small waterfalls for most of the hike. From the Sassafras Creek Trail to the first of the scramble paths to Big Falls is about 0.75 of a mile. I saw 5 different access points to the falls dropping off the right side of the Big Snowbird Trail. I explored only three. If you want to go down to Big Falls, take any of these short paths down to the creek. The three I did all came out to various drops. I posted a pic of my fav here.

So if you bypassed Sassafras Falls you’re now 3.6 miles into your day and if you did visit Sassafras Falls you’re 5.4 miles along. The trial will continue on a modest grade toward a sharp left following the creek. A campsite is dead ahead. The trail climbs steeply on the left as it heads for a robust wooden bridge over the creek. The bridge looks and smells new. If you’re not familiar with new bridge smell, pay a visit to Log Hollow Falls to familiarize yourself. Once across the bridge the trail passes through two campsites that were sadly cluttered with trash and camping junk that was left behind. From the second campsite, head up the steep grade to the right and get ready. The next 0.4 of a mile is the steepest section of the trail as it gets away from the creek and switchbacks up the ridge. I had a brief Dismal Falls moment as it headed up but before I knew it I was at the top.

At the top of the ridge you get your first taste of downhill on this hike as the trial follows a modest up and down grade as it heads to a meeting with the Middle Falls Trail. Along the way you’re going to pass a side trail (Big Snowbird Trail Alt) 64A. Didn’t take it so I can’t tell you where it goes but I know people do this hike as a loop. After about a mile from the top of the ridge, the Big Snowbird Trail comes to a T. If you make a left, a spur path will take you down to the base of Middle Falls. It is barely a third of a mile to get from the intersection to the base of the falls. Middle Falls was the nicest of the four falls and except for a tree lying in front of the falls, forcing you to scramble to the left side of the pool to get a picture, it is a great setting as conveyed in this picture of Middle Falls. Take some pics and have your lunch. We’re almost there.

If you went to Sassafras Falls, as you hike back to where the spur trail split from #64, you’re 6.9 miles into the hike or if you skipped it, you’re at 5.1. Obviously if you’ve come all this way to see Upper Falls, we should get to it. Bypass the trail leading back to the parking area and continue upstream on the Big Snowbird Trail. From the junction with Middle Falls access trail, the main trail begins descending before abruptly making a left that leaves you on the bank of the creek. There is no rock-hopping this one. It was a knee-deep wade to get across and after a brief period of following the creek upstream on river right, you come to another knee-deep crossing on slippery river rocks. Once across, the trail resumes upstream on river left. The trail stays close to the creek and remains only a few feet above the water as it follows a nearly level grade. Good times! It stays this way for 0.7 of a mile before the trail heads up and follows a precarious path higher up on the side of the steep grade. After the ease of the hike to this point, this somewhat unsettling section was a bit of a surprise.

When the trail returns to creek level. it will bring you to a third crossing in knee-deep water. You don’t have to cross but if you want a picture, you’re going to have to get to the far side or you can’t see nothing. You made it! If you did all 4 you’re now 7.8 miles into the hike. Now on the way back you don’t have to visit Sassafras Falls again, so the return hike is about 6 miles or so. If you did any kind of exploration, especially at Big Falls, you’re probably closer to 8.5 miles in at this point.

I hiked 14 miles for this? – September 2018

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