328 – Upper Thompson Ridge Falls

Accessibility – Difficult+

Height – 40′ (upper drop)

Distance – 1.75 (out and back)

Beauty – 5

Photo rating – 5

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.39178 LONG -82.74766

Last Updated – 09-30-2018

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NOTE: Please use commonsense when it comes to embarking on this hike. If you know how to off-trail hike, creek-walk and side-hill scramble you’ll probably survive but there are spots on the way to the upper falls that one misstep is going to mean big trouble. Getting to the base of the upper portion of the Upper Falls is going to tax you. It’s one of those hikes where I went what I felt was the easiest (safest) way but this might not be the way for you. I made it no worse for the wear but there were several places where my day could have gone sideways in a hurry. Below is the route I took but I am by no means recommending this route to anyone. Use it as a guide, a reference point or a warning. If you’re not sure, don’t try it. 

If you’ve been to my site, you know that there are few waterfalls that come with dire warnings and disclaimers. I don’t like to overuse warnings and when I do feel the need to caution people, I do so because I don’t want anyone to get hurt or embark on a hike they aren’t up to completing. These waterfalls are not unknown and I found them with little more than their elevations and my topo App. If you’re going to visit them you’re going to do so whether I tell you how I went or not. If my journey can help you, use it is a reference but not a definitive route. Do your homework and know where your going. My GPS coordinates will get you close but they can also get you in trouble if you don’t watch every step. These waterfalls are not easy to reach and I would venture to say that on most days they look nothing like they did on my visit. Take this for what it is and make your own decision.

It was with mixed emotions that I undertook the hike to Lower and Upper Thompson Ridge Falls with my friend Steph. We had just hiked to Cherry Cove Falls in a light rain and by the time we got to the trailhead for our second hike of the day the rain was coming down. We waited for about twenty minutes, just long enough for the rain to start pouring down even harder before realizing that we were going to get wet, there was no way around it. Standing under the tailgate of my Xterra, using it as a shelter from the rain, I wanted to say “the hell with it.” We probably both did but we were here. Off into the rain we marched, having no idea how incredible these waterfalls were going to be.

We didn’t have any pictures to go on and little in the way of a hike description. Most of this one was based off of a pair of GPS coordinates I plotted from elevation information on these two falls.

To get to the trailhead  start from the convergence of US64/NC280/US276 in Brevard and head North on US276 for 11.7 miles to FR 1206, Yellow Gap Rd. The turn is on the right. If you’re coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway the left hand turn onto FR1206 is 3.3 miles from the stop sign at the base of the ramp. FR1206 is a single lane gravel road that sees a lot of traffic in the summer months so watch your speed and don’t be surprised if you have to make use of the turn outs to allow approaching vehicles to pass. It is also popular among mountain bikers so stay alert. Remain on FR1206 for 3.2 miles to where the Thompson Ridge Trail crosses the road. There is a open area on the right just past the trail where you can park.

The trailhead is on the uphill side of the road (the left side as you’re driving to the parking area). The trail is rated as most difficult but the portion that is used for this hike doesn’t get to the difficult part. However on my hike, the rains were coming down so the walk up the trail was akin to a creek walk. Water was running down the trail and many areas were muddy and slick. Stay with the trail for 0.75 of a mile until the trail reaches a creek crossing. It was blatantly obvious but in case this creek dries to a trickle, if you start up the rough steps, you went too far. Just before the creek crossing another trail turns left and passes under a fallen tree. At this point, the rest of the hike is going to be a mix of a creek walk and a bushwhack with several dicey spots that will test your nerve.

Getting to the lower falls isn’t terribly challenging. Take the easiest route you can heading upstream. At no point did we venture to river left and is you look at the terrain on that side you’ll understand why. Keep the creek on your right and try and stay close to it. We hiked some in the creek and other times we did a side-hill bushwhack. Even with the leaves on it wasn’t long before we saw the falls in the distance and when we saw how high it went, we were surprised. It wasn’t what we expected. I expected something like No-Name Cove Falls, (low flow, lots of clutter and nowhere to take a decent picture).

A steep scramble leads to the base of the falls downstream of the pool. The vantage is on river right but the best photographic angle is on river left. I climbed the bank and set up above the creek but it is going to look good no matter where you shoot. The lower falls is easily 40 feet high over a pair of drops, separated by a rock shelf. After a heavy rain, it was flowing like crazy and looked amazing. I don’t know what it looks like in regular conditions but on this dreary rainy day, it was easily the best waterfall in this part of Pisgah. See for yourself how amazing Lower Thompson Ridge Falls looked.

After you’re done taking pictures it’s time to get to the difficult part. If you thought that getting to the lower falls was hard, the way to the upper falls is not for you. There is no trail, only the way to go. From where you emerged at the base of the lower falls, head up the ridge on river left, angling up and toward the top of the falls. It is steep and slippery and covered in downfall, briers and open rock sections. Once you get to the top, head into the rhodos following the creek upstream. The way is thick and overgrown, covered in long-dead hemlocks covered in moss lying perpendicular to the route ahead. The trees that fell years ago line the steep bank and the only way forward is along a difficult sidehill trek, pausing to climb over each. The hike from the lower to the upper falls is less than a tenth of a mile but it is perilous since you need to stay near the top of the ridge to avoid the steep drops next to the creek. By the time you see the falls through the trees, you’ll be high on the ridge and faced with crossing a wet-weather drainage. Once across the land will feed you toward the creek. There are several drops but the upper one is the biggest and the one you’ll want to photograph.

Sadly getting to it will involve getting across a steep sloping rock where a tree fell, leaving the underlying rock exposed. The root ball made for a way to keep yourself from sliding off the rock and down the lower section of the falls but nonetheless is wasn’t my favorite experience. Once you traverse the sloped rock you have to scale a large boulder, walk along it and head under the trees. More crawling than walking, this section is thick and confined. The edge of the boulder leaves you with a choice. You wan balance beam across a fallen tree or shimmy under it to get to the base. If you walk the beam and fall, you’re going to get swept down the lower drop., slammed against boulders and likely do mo more hiking (ever). There is only one vantage to shoot a pic and with two of us, we had to take turns shooting in the pouring rain. The upper drop is 40 feet of sloping rock but there is some clutter (boulders, downfall and whatnot) that takes away from the setting. Even so, for a relatively unknown waterfall, it is huge.

Boulders, downfall and whatnot – September 2018
Upper Thompson Ridge Falls – September 2018


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