324 – Upper Sugar Creek Falls

Accessibility – Moderate

Height – 25-30′

Distance – 1.4 (out and back)

Beauty – 6 (higher if the tree were gone)

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 7

GPS Info: LAT 35.30935 LONG -83.03417

Last Updated – 02-26-2022


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Upper Sugar Creek falls is the most distant of the three waterfalls on this hike but if you have the time and the inclination, you might want to exert the effort required to see it. A large fallen tree is obstructing the top of the falls but even so I liked the setting a lot and the waterfall was also very nice. The cascades below make for a nice foreground and the high rock walls make for better lighting.

To get to the trailhead from US74, exit the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway at Exit 85 and make a slight left onto Beta Circle Rd/Steeple Rd. Follow Beta Circle Road and make an almost immediate left onto Cope Creek Road. Remain on Cope Creek Road for 2.3 miles until it dead-ends into NC107 just North of Western Carolina University. Take NC107 South for 8.4 miles and make a left onto Caney Fork Road. For most of the falls in this area, Caney Fork Road will get you to the trailhead. At 1.9 miles you will pass the turn for Moses Creek Falls. At 8.7 miles from NC107 make a right onto Sugar Creek Road. Sugar Creek Road is paved for more than half a mile before it turns to gravel for a short run to a bridge over Sugar Creek.

If you have a vehicle with decent ground clearance you can make it to the bridge. Depending on your vehicle you can drive to a ford of the creek or even cross the creek and drive to the top of the hill and park where the road makes a hard left. I managed my Xterra about 0.2 of a mile past the end of the pavement before I parked. I have no doubt I could have gotten it to the ford of the creek and beyond but my passengers weren’t caring too much for the rough ride.

Begin the hike by heading up Sugar Creek Road from wherever you parked until it makes a hard left. At this point, head upstream on a narrower path. The path is the route to the falls and for all of it the creek will be on your right. As you near the falls you can see Dryland Laurel Branch Falls on the right. There is a small scramble from the path down to the base of the falls, dropping you on river right. You can move freely in the creek to get the best vantage. A mossy log is suspended over the creek and made a nice foreground object for me. My pics of Sugar Creek Falls.

The hike to this point hasn’t been awful but getting to the upper falls requires a little more effort. Once you climb back to the old road bed, follow it above Sugar Creek Falls, and keep your eyes open. You will see the upper falls from the road, at which point you have two options. The first is to drop off the right side of the road, cross a small drainage, and duck under the rhodos to reach the base. I prefer this route, You can also stay on the road through a switchback before entering the woods near the top of Upper Sugar Creek falls. It is marked with tape.

As you enter the woods the trail will veer right and head downhill to the top of a steep grade. You will know what you’re in the right place if you look down and see a discarded water heater, metal headboard and rotted box-spring that have been decomposing for easily 20-30 years. A little further down there is a dented up range that I initially mistook for a washing machine. Once you pass the junkyard the trail descends steeply to the river right side of the falls. Except for the trek through the city dump and the fallen tree, I really liked this waterfall. We won’t discuss the morons that dump their crap in the woods…

Took me 4 visits before I had decent light, good water and the tree lying on the falls has broken up enough not to be a complete eye-sore.

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