Accessibility – Difficult+
Height: 70′ main drop
Distance – 1.0 Miles (from Chestnut Mountain Road) 1.6 from Rainbow Falls Parking area
Beauty – 10
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 8
GPS Info: LAT 35.07520 LONG -82.95911
Last Updated: 06-30-2019
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For a long time Windy Falls has been on my to-do list but it wasn’t until June of 2019 that I finally got a chance to make the trek to Windy and beyond. Windy Falls has a mystique about it, putting it up there with Sam Branch Falls, Big Falls, Flat Creek and a few others. It was one I had been dying to do and if you’re not careful it is one where you could easily die doing. I’m going to recount the way I went but you need to know what I went with someone intimately familiar with this hike and with his guidance, the difficulty was mitigated. This is one you probably want to do with someone who has been here before.
To reach the trailhead, head to Gorges State Park and pass the visitors center. Make a right to pass around in front of the center and follow this road to the parking area for Rainbow Falls. The parking lot will likely be full if you show up later in the day but don’t worry, you aren’t going to see any of these people where you’re going. The kiosks to the right mark the way to Rainbow Falls and other such tourist infested falls.
The Hike: At the upper end of the parking area you will see a gravel road heading up hill. This is Chestnut Mountain Road. The first 0.6 of a mile follows Chestnut Mountain Road and all but those first few feet are downhill. At 0.6 of a mile from the parking area there is a pile of gravel on the right and a pullout on the left. There is an obvious trail into the woods on the right before you get to the pile of gravel. Enter the woods here and follow the worn road as it descends.
Less than 0.25 of a mile from Chestnut Mountain Road another old road comes in on the left. You may or may not notice it. There is a log across the end of it. You will want to make sure you don’t end up on this one when hiking out. If you were going to Sidepocket Falls, this is the point where you would leave the road. Since we’re going to Windy, stay on the road heading downhill. For the next a 0.4 of mile the grade will stay about the same as you descend but the final 0.3 of a mile it gets a lot steeper as you near the Horsepasture River. When the trail comes to the river it will do so at a large campsite. Beyond the campsite is Campsite Falls.
The trail turns downstream at this point, paralleling the river. As you move away from the campsite some downfall is going to force you up the bank toward the cliffs to skirt it. You will be coming up a small drainage and once you get to the cliff the route will resume downstream toward Windy Falls. Around a 0.2 of a mile downstream from Campsite falls you will come to an open rock area. Use caution here as a fall off the rock will be the end of you. Upstream from where you emerge onto the rock you will see Bear Rock Falls.
From here the route continues downstream and gets steeper before getting to a tricky rock area where you have to traverse a narrow ledge and climb down onto another rock to get around it. The trail is still obvious at this point and Windy is near. The trail will go from dirt to working your way over and around boulders until you reach the sloping rock that sits beside the main drop of Windy Falls. The rock slopes down toward the plunge pool which is 40 feet below. This is where you need someone with experience to guide you rest of the way. Off the upstream edge of the rock there is a narrow opening known as the keyhole. One way down is to shimmy through the keyhole and use a rope to make your way down the crevasse. You could also string a rope and repel down the downstream side I suppose. No matter how you go about it, you’re going to need rope and you need to know what the hell you’re doing. It might be best to take a profile pic of the falls from the boulder and leave while you can.
Accompanied by someone with experience , I wiggled through the keyhole and made my way down the 30 foot descent with a rope and using my own experience. Once at the bottom a sloped rock heads toward the river. However to get to the base of the falls you don’t have to wade the river. Instead you go behind the massive boulder you repelled down and into a 30 foot long cave that goes behind it. When you reach the river you can’t see the falls but once you climb onto the rocks you can see it. You have reached the base of Windy Falls!
The power of the river is displayed here as the entire Horsepasture River is jammed into narrow opening in the rock before plunging over Windy Falls. Having finally gotten here it definitely belongs with Big Falls, Yellowstone, Flat Creek and Sam branch on the bucket list waterfalls.