Accessibility – Hard+
Height – 40′
Distance – 5.4 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 7
Photo rating – 6
Solitude – 8
GPS Info: LAT 35.00391 LONG -83.10623
Last Updated – 12-23-2018
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NOTE: While not the hardest hike I’ve done, it ranks right up there. The scramble from the Ellicott Rock Trail down to the base of the falls is about as challenging as a scramble can get. The fact you have to hike more than 2.5 miles before you get to the hard part only adds to it. The scramble is wicked steep and almost a tenth of a mile. The trail conditions are as of 12-23-2018. They may improve in time.
Fowler Creek Falls is very close to the popular Ellicott Rock Trail but it is not a regular stop since there is no trail to get to it. You can hear it from almost half a mile before you have to leave the trail but even so most walk on past. This is for the best. There is no easy way to get to the base and missing the target area by a few feet in either direction will leave you on a high cliff. The goal is to hit the opening between the two cliffs where a rock drainage leads to the creek. You can head further downstream but this will leave you with a creek-walk to reach the falls. You’re going to have to pick your poison on this one.
To get to the trailhead, from Cashiers, take NC107 South to Bull Pen Road and make a right. This is 6.8 miles from the intersection with US64. Bull Pen Road starts paved but changes to gravel less than a mile into the drive. At 2.6 miles you will cross Fowler Creek and come to a large parking area on the right. Park here without blocking the gate. if you’re coming from Highlands, take Main Street South from the middle of town. It will turn into Horse Cove Road. At 4.5 miles from the light at US64 the road splits with Bull Pen Road heading to the right and Whiteside Cove Road going straight. Turn onto the unpaved Bull Pen Road. At 3 miles the road passes over the Chatooga River. At 4.7 miles from the split, McCall Road goes left. Stay right and in just under a mile you will come to the parking area on the left. If you cross the creek you will come to the trailhead but there is little room to park there.
From the parking area walk the road, crossing over Fowler Creek to the kiosk for the Ellicott Rock Trail. The majority of the hike is going to be on the Ellicott Rock Trail. Early on. about a third of a mile into it, you will have to cross a small creek. It was an easy rock hop on my visit and the water was up. Once across the road will split. Head to the right, going up hill. This section of the trail was littered with rhodos that were flattened by the recent heavy snows so there was a lot of crawling under and pushing through things that normally wouldn’t be there. Since this is a popular trail I’m sure it will get cleared in time but for now, expect a little added work to reach the falls. From the split its going to be a mile of mostly uphill hiking on a varying grade.
Once the trail levels out the worst of the downfall will be behind you. This relatively flat section leads to another split in the trail. This split is about half a mile from where you have to leave the trail. Stay to the right. The left fork leads to the Sloan Bridge Trailhead on NC107 about 6.3 miles away. Till this point the trail had been a logging grade but after the split is a real trail. It was in very good condition. For the next half a mile the trail is going to follow the contour of the hillside as it switchbacks down toward the Chatooga River. Half a mile from the split with the Sloan Bridge Trail the Ellicott ROck Trail will go into a second hard left switchback. Going down to the falls we left the trail here but soon found that a huge swath of forest had been pancaked by the heavy snow, flattening every rhodo in the area, turning this into a belly crawl. If you walk about thirty feet past the switchback and drop off the right side of the trail you will avoid most of the obstacles.
As soon as you leave the trail it will get steep and then steeper. Just when you think it can’t get any steeper, it will. You’re going to have to use commonsense on this part and you have to listen. There is no way to see the falls but you need to come out right at the base so you have to listen and make sure the sound of the falls stays on your right. This is harder than you think but if you do it right you will skirt most of the small cliff areas on the hillside and you won’t end up on top of the cliffs at the falls. I don’t know if it was luck or skill that left me standing at the top of the rock drainage but this was the easy way down to the base of the falls. Once there you’re going to have to negotiate the rocks on river right to get into position to take a picture.
On my visit the creek was raging and the only decent photo vantage was in the middle of the creek. Due to the swift current getting to the middle of the creek was asking for trouble since one misstep was going to get me swept over the lower section. Also the best vantage was in the middle of the spray coming off the falls. I’m going to have to come back in the summer for a more in depth visit.
When it’s time to leave, I recommend you don’t try and aim for the switchback. If you veer too far to the left you will never know you passed it. Error to the right and you’re sure to hit the trail. This was my approach and we hit the trail about 30 feet from the switchback. If you use a GPS, you should mark the point where you leave the trail. If you don’t use a GPS, you should for this hike.