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 – 09-29-2018

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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.

Once you’re done at Sugar Creek Falls, head up the tributary on the river left side of Sugar Creek into the drainage for Dryland Laurel Branch Falls. There is a 20 foot high slide less than 50 feet up this creek. With better lighting this would have been a far nicer falls but as it stood, the harsh light made for a miserable photo session.

The hike to this point hasn’t been awful but getting to the upper falls requires a little more effort. We accessed it by climbing the steep bank on river right. The trail will head away from the creek and switchback before entering the rhodos near the top of Sugar Creek falls. From there it heads upstream paralleling the creek and climbing higher. By the time you see Upper Sugar Creek Falls you will be high above the creek. The path will head inland again and climb higher past a drainage on the right and meet a logging grade. This is Sugar Creek Road. Make a right and take it up the hill to a trail into the woods on the right. It was marked with tape (which I attached to a limb near Sugar Creek Road).

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. As for the morons that dump their crap in the woods…

To get back to where you parked you can take the steep trail down or you can follow Sugar Creek Road high above the creek and the trail to Sugar Creek Falls. The road does a sharp left switchback downstream of Sugar Creek Falls, passes the biggest damn bees nest I’ve ever seen hanging from a tree over the road. After heading back upstream the road does another switchback to the right and heads downstream.

Pretty even with the tree across the falls – September 2018


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