Accessibility – Difficult
Height – 30-35′
Distance – 2.4 (out and back)
Beauty – 8
Photo rating – 9
Solitude – 7
GPS Info: LAT 35.32015 LONG -83.02324
Last Updated – 09-29-2018
Of the waterfalls I’ve seen so far in the Cullowhee area, Rough Butt Creek Falls is the nicest as well as the most difficult to access. Most of the hike is along a logging road but the last tenth of a mile when the route heads up the creek the trail is narrow and there are several sloped rock sections that are extremely dicey. This is why the hike rates as difficult. The falls itself is awesome and the way the water comes down the rock forms an X, adding to the awesomeness.
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 you will pass Sugar Creek Road, which accesses the trailhead for Sugar Creek Falls, Dryland Laurel Branch and Upper Sugar Creek Falls. At 9.4 miles Rough Butt Road heads off to the right from the outside of a sharp left turn. You can park up Rough Butt Road or on Caney Fork Road just past the turn.
The hike begins by passing the Hardscrabble Farm on the left, where we encountered a very friendly horse who followed us along the fence on our return. After entering the woods the road crosses the creek just above a scenic cascade. It was a knee deep wade on our visit. From there the road heads uphill for most of the next 0.9 miles until it merges with the creek at the top of the hill. Cross the creek, which was only a few inches deep and look for a steep path heading up the bank on the right side of the road about 25-30 feet past the crossing. Once up the ten foot incline, the trail swings into the drainage. The grade is modest but this is made up for by the difficult sections you have to negotiate. There was a steep climb up a muddy slope to bypass a tree, two slick, sloping rock areas that were soaking wet and covered in mud with limited handholds. Once past those, if you make it, you have to crawl through the exposed roots of a tree before the trail stops testing your nerve.
When the trail ends at the creek you can’t see crap so you have to climb down the bank and cross the creek to take it in. The way the water forms an X and the giant Wile E Coyote boulder balanced on the top of the falls make this one amazing. The last part of the hike is dangerous and one slip and you’re going to slide down the bank and likely get hurt. The fall probably won’t kill you but I doubt you’d emerge unscathed. Take that for what its worth. On our visit, an older couple was following us but as we were crossing the more awful of the open rock sections they called it and headed back to their car. The highlight of my hike was on the way back when we got to the dicey rock crossing. I was keeping a close eye on Alana and about to offer advice on how to get across when she spoke up.
“Daddy, I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to do this since we left the falls. I know how I want to cross it.”
She made it look easy!