Accessibility – Difficult+
Height – 20′
Distance – 2.6 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 8
Photo rating – 10
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.12711 LONG -83.77990
Last Updated – 02-02-2019
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NOTE: There is a lot of off-trail hiking in this one but I’m going to provide as much detail as I can because people have been emailing for directions to some of these remote hikes. Like any off-trail hike, I’m going to describe this as best I can but you need to plan this out in advance. I employ two invaluable apps when I hike, Waypoint Manager and All-Trails. I suggest using something similar. I’ll tell you what I did and saw but the rest is us to you and as always, error on the side of caution.
Rain Forest Falls is the uppermost of three significant waterfalls on Bald Springs Branch and by far the most scenic and difficult to access. Just over 20 feet high it isn’t the tallest of the waterfalls on this hike but the setting makes it the best. The waterfall is deep i a narrow valley, giving it a far-away feel and the green moss hint at the limited sun. This made for great photography. Reaching this destination required a creek wade, some thick bushwhacking and a really steep scramble. I’m going to recap the hike with the two lower falls included since it is unlikely that you would come all this way and bypass the other two. If you elect to do so, you can remain on the logging road as opposed to dropping down to visit Lower Bald Springs Falls and Bald Springs Falls.
To reach the trailhead for the hike, begin at the intersection of US64 and NC69 in Hayesville (There is a Walgreens on the corner), head west on US64 4.75 miles and make a right onto Fires Creek Road. There is a Nantahala Forest Sign at the intersection. In 3.8 miles turn left onto Fires Creek Wildlife Road. At 1.7 miles the road turns to gravel and becomes FR340. Less than a quarter mile after the change to gravel you will pass the picnic area parking for Leatherwood Falls. Remain on FR340 for another 4.4 miles to where the road splits. FR340 continues up the hill and FR340B goes right and descends to a bridge. You want to head down to the bridge and park without blocking the gate.
The hike starts by passing the gate and following FR340B as it follows Fires Creek upstream. The road climbs moderately for most of the walk but the grade never gets too steep. There are some wet areas along the road but otherwise it is an easy 0.9 mile walk to where the fun begins. At around 0.9 miles the FR340B makes a hard left around a ridge. The GPS for this location is 35.12781, -83.78317. You want to leave the road at this point and head down toward the creek. On my February visit we could see Lower Bald Springs Falls through the trees, which made it easy to figure out where we wanted to end up. The easiest way down the grade almost funneled us to the side of Fires Creek directly across from where Bald Springs Branch emptied into the larger creek.
Getting across Fires Creek required getting our feet wet but it wasn’t too difficult. Just downstream from the confluence of the two creeks there was a shallow area that made for an easy wade to the other side. Once across the creek head to Bald Springs Branch. When you reach the merger, from the river left side of Bald Springs Branch, you will see where an old logging grade climbs up and away from the creek. This is where we came out on the way back. This logging road, as overgrown as it was, provided a route all the way to Rain Forest Falls. From the confluence you have two choices to get to Lower Bald Springs Falls. You can follow the road up until you draw even with the falls. From this point you can bushwhack back to the creek, angling downstream to avoid the cliffs on river left. I didn’t take this route but my hiking partners did. The other option is to follow the creek to the base of the falls. I went this route even though the rocks were covered in ice. There is a large pile of logs at the base of the falls that made a nice platform to stand on to take pictures. If you would like to see Lower Bald Springs Falls, go HERE.
From Lower Bald Springs Falls, head downstream to where the bank on river left moderates and return to the logging road. This section was pretty easy to follow and as the grade carries you above the lower falls you will soon see and hear the Bald Springs Falls. With the leaves off it was easy to spot the hundred foot high falls through the trees. I didn’t approach the falls from the logging road but this would be the easier way as my friends Stephanie and Tracy demonstrated, versus my side-hill bushwhack and creekwalk. You can go either route but the route I took was much harder but quicker. There is a nice open area at the base of Bald Springs Falls where you can take pictures. If you come in from the road you want to make sure you don’t go too far downstream or you will have to contend with a 10 foot lower section of falls. Where I was taking my pics was right at the top of this drop. There is a large tree on rover left that you will have to get over to reach the creek. I happened to get very lucky as while I was waiting for the rest of the team, a cloud blotted out the sun, giving me very nice lighting. You can see Bald Springs Falls HERE.
From the base of Bald Springs Falls head away from the creek and go up the ridge. You will soon start climbing over a lot of mossy rocks. These are always a good indicator that a road is above. When they built these old roads and blasted out the rock they allowed it to fall down the mountainside. Many times you can use these collections of rocks to locate old roads. The grade gets very steep when you get close to the road but my route was more of less a straight line from the falls to the road. Once on the logging road it will head steeply uphill to reach the top of Bald Springs Falls. There is some downfall along the way but for an overgrown road that hasn’t seen a logging truck in over 100 years, it is surprisingly open. Stay with the road on this part until you come to an area where it is blocked by a large amount of downfall. If you listen you can hear the falls ahead and below. Taking a few steps off the side of the trail I could see the falls through the trees but from here it don’t look like much.
At this point, the difficulty is going to increase dramatically. The hillside leading down to the falls is about as steep a scramble as I’ve done. There may be an easier place to make your way down, possibly further downstream but this is where we made the descent. A few paces past the downfall is where we came up. It was slightly easier but still nothing to take lightly. If you start sliding down the embankment you’re not going to stop until you hit a tree or boulder. It is about 40-50 feet down to creek level. You’re going to have to feel this part out and determine the best and safest route. You could even string a rope if you were so inclined. I did ask if anyone had rope, more in jest than anything, before I led the way to the base.
I’m not going to tell you the best place to take a picture because you can take an amazing shot from anywhere. I took shots after I crossed the creek and after I crawled under the log balanced against the falls. I snapped a few from above the log and a bunch from in front of the falls. It is about a scenic little waterfall and the lighting was perfect. The fact there was still some ice on the falls only added to this experience.
To get out, climb the bank at the easiest place you can find. I picked a spot and went straight up the side but I’m like a monkey when it comes to these climbs so you need to scope out the best route for your ability. Once you get to the logging road follow it back to the confluence of Bald Springs Branch and Fires Creek. At a moderate pace it didn’t take but 15 minutes to walk the old road. If you stay with the road you will end up right at the confluence. Cross the creek and climb the bank to the logging road. Your car is less than a mile away.