Height – 60′ (three distinct drops each 15-20 feet)
Distance – 3.14 miles (out and back) 4.72 (thru-hike)
Beauty – 8
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 9
GPS Info: LAT 35.32655 LONG -82.94203
First visit: 03-15-2019
Most recent visit: 09-14-2019
If you want hike options Buckeye Falls offers plenty, none of them easy. This hike does involve creek-walking and potentially hazardous creek crossings so if the water is up this is not a good choice. Of the three hiking options I know for this one, I have done two. One of them was awful and the other pleasant. The weather played a role in this too and after my first trip to Buckeye, I said “Never again! Never!” I went back again six months later on a nicer day and with a different hiking plan. I came away with a different feeling. In spite of the difficulty of the hike, Buckeye Falls is amazing. The three drops are all very nice and all covered in the same lush green moss. The upper drop is my favorite of the three but all are worthy of some pictures.
Trailhead directions: If you are skipping Upper Buckeye Falls and Sheephead Falls, which most people will omit, the best place to park is on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Haywood Gap, milepost 426.5. This pullout is 3.25 miles from Beech Gap (NC215) heading toward Cherokee. There is a gravel pullout on the Southbound side of the road. This is also a trailhead for the MST.
The hike: The first very short segment of the hike is going to be on the white blazed MST but this will only be for a short time before the trail splits. Maybe 150 feet. At this point the MST goes right and the Haywood Gap Trail to the left. The Haywood Gap trail is quite a piece of work. Over the next 1.3 miles it will drop about 1100 feet. AT times the trail is very nice and at others it is washed out, torn up and covered in fallen trees. There are sections that were once old wooden walkways that have since rotted away, leaving slick exposed rock.
At 0.5 of a mile Haywood Gap Creek will come in from the right and parallel the trail for the rest of the hike. At just over 1.2 miles Buckeye Creek joins with Haywood Gap Creek to Form Middle Prong. If the leaves are on the trees, you will not see this confluence. Stay on the Haywood Gap Trail for another 150 feet until it meets Middle Prong. The trail will resume on the other side but we’re done with this trail for now. Follow Middle Prong up to the confluence either by walking in the creek or hopping boulders.
If the water is up, like it was on my first visit, you can forget about going this way. You will have to plunge into the thick hillside downstream of the confluence and bushwhack to the falls. It was one of the thickest and most unruly bushwhacks I’ve done. There are downed trees and dense tangles of underbrush. It can take an hour to cover the tenth of the mile to the falls.
Following the creek, when you get to the confluence, head up Buckeye Creek (make a left where the creeks come together). The first drop is less that 0.1 of a mile up the creek and the upper drop is just over 0.2 of a mile from Middle Prong. As far as creek-walks go, this one is not so bad if the water is low.
To get back reverse the route you took to get here and hike back up to the parkway or…if you planned it ahead of time and FR97 is open, you can park a second vehicle on FR97 at the trailhead for Middle Prong Falls and make this into a thru-hike. If you elect to make it a one-way hike and you have a car waiting at the lower end, it is 4.75 miles, almost all of which is downhill and you can make a stop at Middle Prong Falls, since you are going to pass right by it. You can also hit Little Beartrap Falls and Berry Branch Falls, which you have yo walk right past as well. Making this a shuttle does add about 1.6 miles but you get 3 more waterfalls and a very enjoyable hike. FR97 is only open from September 1st to January 1st so plan ahead.
As for the thru hike, stay on the Haywood Gap Trail. It crosses over several side streams and makes a couple of crossings of Middle Prong. The trail is really nice compared to the upper end. At 3.6 miles from the trailhead you will make a crossing of Middle Prong at a great cascade on both Middle Prong and Big Beartrap Creek. The trailhead to Middle Prong Falls is half a mile further and the car is 0.6 of a mile past that. If you are going to Middle Prong Falls, use caution. It is a short trek off the main trail but the potential for tragedy is high.