Accessibility – Difficult+
Height: Approx 80′
Distance – 2.0 miles (out and back) Gemini Falls Only
Beauty – 7
Photo rating – 4
Solitude – 8
GPS Info: LAT 35.28184 LONG -82.85354
Last updated – 10/21/2018
Before we jump right in, consider your fitness for this hike, you off-trail prowess, your ability to make it up as you go, your ability to negotiate dangerous rock areas where a fall will likely be fatal and to find your way by reading the terrain around you. If you’re going to do these two in the same day, expect a long. exhausting day in the forest with some bump, bruises and scrapes to go along with some awesome pictures of waterfalls most don’t ever see.
Also consider this. The confluence of Laurel Fork (Laurel Fork Falls) and the tributary (Gemini Falls) is around 3325 feet above sea-level. To get to Gemini Falls, the far easier of the two waterfalls, you will gain about 500 feet in less than a third of a mile. Once you start up the tributary there isn’t a trail only a route of least resistance. From the confluence to Laurel Fork Falls you will gain more than 600 feet of elevation in 0.387 of a mile. This is on top of the steady 0.6 of a mile climb the trail to the confluence makes. This not a place to learn your way. If you aren’t adept at off-trail hiking you’re going to likely get yourself in trouble. There are a lot of great hikes in Pisgah, you don’t need to risk your life hiking this one. Also, if you stop into the ranger station and ask about either of these falls, don’t be surprised if they have no idea what you’re talking about.
To get to the trailhead, from the intersection of US64/US276/NC280 in Brevard, follow US276 5.3 miles to the split with FR475. Make the left onto FR475 and follow it 4.8 miles. The final 1.6 miles will be past where the pavement ends. At 3.9 miles you will pass the parking area for Twin Boulder Falls and less than half a mile later you will pass FR5095, where the hike to the Waterfall on Long Branch begins. After crossing the creek on a narrow bridge there is a parking area on the left large enough to accommodate 3-4 cars if everyone parks intelligently.
Hiking to the Confluence
The trail is on the other side of the bridge and the other side of the road. The trail is about 10-15 feet down the road from the end of the guardrail and as you start the hike the creek will be on your LEFT. At the outset the trail will ascend steeply then moderate as it heads up the Laurel Fork Drainage. The first section is going to feel like you’re running the hurdles as you are seemingly climbing over one fallen tree after another and some of these trees are massive. The condition of the trail is decent and in a very short time you will be following the creek from high above. You’ll be able to see and hear it down there as it tumbles over small falls and cascades.
The trail start gaining elevation at the outset and it really won’t let up as you make your way to the first real test, an open rock area with a constant seepage keeping it wet. Now on my visit (10-21-2108) there was an added challenge as in the middle of an area where you have to go over or under three fallen trees, yellow-jackets have made a nest in the ground. It is in a place where you can not move quickly as you are going over awkwardly lying trees. The nest was on the left side of the trail and on my return I elected to wade down the bank to avoid the area.
Once past this the cliff awaits. This is not a place where you want to make a mistake because if you slide off the rock you will not only slide off the rock but you will also slide off the side of the mountain. I don’t know how far you’ll fall but you’re going down a nearly vertical drop or easily 30-40 feet. It would not be good. It isn’t that the ledge is high but it is slippery and there is a dead tree lying on it that can both be a help and a hnderance. The same goes for the loosely attached rhodos growing out of the bank. DO NOT trust your weight to them. They are not deeply rooted and the ground is moist.
Once across the rock, pass behind the large tree and continue up the trail to where it makes an obvious fork. The trail to the confluence heads up and to the left while a short side spur leads to a very pretty but Unnamed Waterfall on Laurel Fork. Take a deep breath and enjoy the next 0.2 of a mile to the confluence. This is not at east spot to pick out but if you keep your eye on the other side of the creek you will be able to tell by the changing terrain. The land across the creek is dominated by two nearly vertical slopes. When you see the break in the vertical slopes, this is where Laurel Fork meets the tributary. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m going to do you a solid. The point where I left the trail to hike to Laurel Fork Falls is 35.27980 by -82.85091. If you don’t know what those numbers mean or you don’t have a device to put them in before you start the hike, you don’t need to be doing this hike.
To Laurel Fork Falls
So you’ve either just returned from Gemini Falls and you’re ready for part two of the adventure or you are just now getting ready to embark on the harder of the two falls on this hike. In either case, the point where you leave the trail and head to the crossing of the tributary is 35.27980 by -82.85091. I determined this spot by studying the valley walls across the creek. You don’t have to cross at this point but I recommend you do. The crossing isn’t hard and once you make your way across the tributary you will pass thru a rocky area then cross another creek. Once across this one you will see a hill sloping down from right to left. Climb up this, go over the fallen trees at the top and under the huge tree on the other side.
For the entirety of this hike the creek is going to be on your left, a.k.a. river right. Once past the massive tree you will realize you are on a logging grade, one that has seen better days. It follows an uphill grade. Sometimes it is relatively open and other times it it all but overgrown. Early on it hugs the edge of a steep drop before moving from the edge. The grade is easy to follow and easy to wander off of since the woods are open after you get higher above the creek. We followed it as needed and ignored it at other times. The remnants of the road will get you to within 0.2 of the falls before it veers toward the creek and ends abruptly.
When the road veers left and ends at a large rock wall, head to the right and away from tho creek until you pick up a faint trail. Follow this as best you can until it fades away and you’re left to side-hill up the ridge. The creek is far below again and as you make your way up the ridge there are downed trees to contend with. It was about 800 feet from the falls when we reached the first of the boulders. The initial wave was easy to pass but eventually two massive blocks barred our advance, forcing us up and away from the creek to get around them. It was a steep ascent along the flank of a fallen tree before the trail got even steeper. It was rhodo and root grab to get up the nearly vertical section before the trail swung back toward the creek. For a second time the rocks forced us away but after another steep ascent we were left at the base of a sloping rock. There was no way to surmount this rock. My GPS said 200 feet to go.
The way forward paralleled the sloping rock as it became more vertical as we neared the falls. The trail made a final steep descent to the side of the creek at a precarious point. It was just above a steep drop below the main section of the falls. If you fell here, I’m not sure where you would end up but it would be well downstream. There was barely enough handholds to get into the creek below the falls and to the large boulder in the middle to take a few pictures. Thankfully the lighting was better than at Gemini Falls.
Laurel Fork Falls reminded me of the nearby Twin Boulder Falls, including the way the water flowed over the log lying in the falls. Kid friendly, absolutely not! Pet Friendly, absolutely not! Am I ever going to hike this one again, yeah, sure you betcha!
If you’re off to Gemini Falls, head back to the confluence and read on or if you’re done for the day, retrace the route back to your car.
To Gemini Falls
If you’re going to Gemini Falls, ignore the confluence marker and keep following the trail upstream. Since Laurel Fork makes it’s entrance less than dramatically you will have no idea you’re following a different creek at this point. The trail remains easy to follow as it swings away from the creek and becomes overgrown. At this point the best route is up the hill through the woods. From the confluence to the base of the falls is around 0.3 of a mile with an elevation gain of 450 feet, most of which occurs after the nice walk through the open woods. As the way ahead becomes more overgrown, it’s going to get steep and rocky as well. There are a lot of downed trees and briers. For once I was thankful I was forced to wear jeans and a sweatshirt. In my usual shorts and a tanktop I would have gotten shredded. I was also thankful I opted for hiking boots today as once the steep part set in, there was a lot of side-hilling to contend with.
The creek followed a gentle curve to the right so as we made our way up the ridge we would get close to the creek then get forced higher up the bank. At a few random points I felt like I was the first person to ever take this route and on two of those occasions I spotted tattered pink ribbons on the ground nearby. The increased slope made for a slow climb but as my GPS said 250 feet to go I remember looking up into the canopy and seeing the water shimmering as it came down the rock-face high above. It was the motivation I needed to keep going. Eventually the ascent came to the foot of the high cliff that made up the falls and at this point we were forced back to the creek. There is ample room to shoot the falls but there is also a steep drop downstream of the vantage. On our visit the sun was hitting the falls in places, making for very unimpressive pictures of this 80 foot high waterfall.
For a low-flow creek the falls were surprisingly free of clutter and taking a look around I didn’t see a ton of dead hemlocks ready to come crashing onto this one. Due to the height of the falls and the limited vantage, the photo opportunities are going to be limited. As much as I hate to go ‘point and click’ when shooting waterfalls, I didn’t have much of a choice because of the lighting.
Kid friendly, absolutely not! Pet Friendly, absolutely not! Am I ever going to hike this one again, yeah, sure you betcha!
If you’re going to Laurel Fork head back to the confluence coordinates or if you’re done for the day head back the way you came.