Accessibility – Difficult+
Height – 65′
Distance – 1.6 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 10
Photo rating – 9
Solitude – 9
GPS Info: LAT 35.42842 LONG -83.15662
Last Updated – 02-10-2019
Buff Falls is a 70 foot waterfall on Buff Creek a short distance, as the crow flies from Lower Buff Falls but the roughly 0.2 miles between the two waterfalls is anything but a walk in the park. The 70 foot high waterfall is something to see with a upper section that is a freefall and a colored rock at the base than in pictures has lines in it that look like the contour lines of a topo map.
The hike starts at Buff Creek Road and will head to Lower Buff Falls before continuing on to Buff Falls. Accessing Lower Buff Falls is a matter of a short trip on the river left side of Buff Creek. The route is mostly a mix of climbing boulders and walking along the bank. I didn’t see any signs indicating this was private property but there are houses on the other side of the creek. Don’t let the ease of accessing this lower falls fool you. If you intend to get to the upper waterfall, you will be in for a difficult climb to get above Lower Buff Falls.
To get to the trailhead, start at the McDonald’s on Skyland Drive in Sylva turn right onto old US19/23 and follow this for 2.7 miles to Buff Creek Road and make a left. Buff Creek Road will follow Buff Creek upstream from this point. At 1.6 miles, the road makes a hard left where an old overgrown road branches off to the right. This is where we parked.
The hike begins on the logging road and follows Buff Creek up on river left. Pretty much from the moment we crested the first hill we could see Lower Buff Falls, it was just a matter of climbing over the rocks in the creek to make our way to the base. The total hike was less than 0.3 of a mile with minimal elevation gain. As I said, this was the easy part of what is a very hard hike.
As you’re standing at Lower Buff Falls you will see that the entire valley is hemmed in by steep hillsides and cliffs. Close to the waterfall the steep hillsides are capped with vertical cliffs that need to be bypassed. The easier route is on river right, so from the base of Lower Buff Falls you will need to cross the creek to river right and head downstream. I can’t give you an exact place where to start the ascent but I can sat that no matter where you start climbing, you will need to angle up and to your left to avoid the cliffs. There are numerous small rocky outcrops on the ascent, some of which you can climb over and others you will have to detour around. The hillside itself is very steep and there aren’t a lot of handholds. I spotted some flagging tape near the top of the ascent and it led me between two high cliffs to a mostly flat area. I marked it at 35.42715, -83.15858.
From this point the trek follows the top of the ridge through a sea of briers to a large flat area. Keep heading parallel to the creek, staying toward the right side to avoid climbing higher. This area is at the same elevation as Buff Falls but there is still much work to do. As you stay toward the right, the slope is going to head down toward a small tributary. Once you can see the trib you are close. Buff Falls is on the other side of the steep bank bordering the tributary. Getting down and crossing the trib is a matter of following the easiest route to the bottom and hopping across the narrow creek. Once across head downstream toward two large fallen trees. Go under them and head up about 10-15 feet before following the curving ridge around into the Buff Creek drainage. As you enter the drainage you will be able to see the upper part of the falls.
I found an old path closer to the creek that led the final distance to a shadowy rock area on river right. Climb the rocks and you will be standing at the base of one of the most amazing waterfalls in the area. As far as leaving, the only way to do so without trespassing is to reverse course and leave the way you came in. The way we left was by following a maze of old logging roads that eventually led us back to Buff Creek Road just above where we parked but as for exactly which roads we took, I can’ say for certain. I just know that right before we reached Buff Creek Road we came to a bonus waterfall, which you can see HERE.