Accessibility – Moderate
Height: Approx 100′ (above and below trail)
Distance – 4.0 or 3.6 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 3
Photo rating – 1
Solitude – 5
GPS Info: LAT 35.71306 LONG -82.37204
First Visit: 07-20-19
Most Recent Visit: 04-05-2020
The Cascades Waterfall is not a waterfall you’re going to hike to for no reason. It is not something you can see very well. You can see pieces but most is mired under downfall and not easy to access. The hike itself is nice, if not somewhat mundane. I’ve come at this one from both directions and while the hike from The Parkway is shorter, it is uphill on the way back. Coming in from Douglas Falls you get to see Douglas Falls. Take your pick.
Getting to the lower trailhead at Douglas Falls requires what feels like a hundred mile drive along Big Ivy Road. The upper trailhead starts at an unmarked strip of grass on the parkway. I’ll give you both. You could do it as a thru hike but it would take you longer to get from the Big Ivy Trailhead to the parkway driving than hiking.
Lower Trailhead: From NC197 in Barnardsville, take Dillingham Road. If you’re heading East you will be making a left. At 3.5 miles you’ll pass FR63, which was also gated on the lower end on my visit and at 4.8 miles you’ll cross a small bridge. Once across the road turns to gravel. It is 4.2 miles along FR74 before you reach Walker Falls, which will be on the left. From Walker Falls it is another 4.7 miles until the road ends at the trailhead.
Upper Trailhead: Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway North of the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center for 0.7 of a mile to this point 35.70628 -82.37101. and park on the grass on the Southbound side of the parkway. It don’t matter where you park on this stretch as long as you are off the pavement.
The Hike (Lower TH): Hike following the yellow-blazed trail past the carsonite sign at the upper end of the parking area like you are going to Douglas Falls, which you will be. The route follows a gently undulating course over rocky terrain. With the storm run-off lingering, there were numerous wet areas where small drainage channels flowing over the trail. The total hike to Douglas Falls is just under 0.6 miles where the trail does a hard left switchback and starts to climb. This part is steep.
The trail will switchback up the mountain, picking up about 350 feet over the next third of a mile before leveling out above Douglas Falls. There are some unique rock formations along this stretch and two nice campsites. At the top of the ridge the trail will go into a hard right hand switchback and moderate. At about 0.6 of a mile from Douglas Falls the trail passes over the creek that forms the falls down below. You are a decent ways upstream and this is for the best. There is no view form the top of Douglas Falls and the terrain is steep. Just keep hiking. There is no reason to take a chance.
The trail continues for another 0.7 of a mile to where the unnamed stream that forms the Cascades waterfall runs over the trail. At one time there was a chainlink barrier to keep you from falling down the lower part of the falls but it long gone, remembered only by three pipes set into the stone and bent over. From the trail you can’t see anything. This drainage is a collection point for fallen hemlocks and even climbing above most of them you will be left with a poor view of a cluttered waterfall. It’s a nice hike.
The Hike (Upper TH): Like any fun hike, this one is going to start with a plunge down the side of the mountain below the parkway. I’m going to leave it up to you to figure which side of the parkway to begin the plunge DOWN (hint). If you get this wrong, I can’t help you. The hillside is steep but if you pick the right place the woods are open and east to navigate. It doesn’t much matter where you start. The key is to maintain as straight a line as possible. The MST is only 500 feet from the parkway. When you get to it, make a left and start heading down.
It will do a sharp switchback to the right followed by one to the left. After the second switchback the trail levels out some. At 0.9 miles from where this began, the Douglas Falls Trail cuts back sharply to the right. This junction is signed. Take the Douglas Falls Trail and enjoy the switchbacks as it heads down the mountain. Over the next half a mile the trail gives up 500 feet in elevation, which isn’t apparent until it’s time to leave. The switchbacks end when the trail crosses a tributary with a very nice cascades on it. This is not the waterfall you’ve come to see. The trib you want it another half a mile ahead.
At one time there was a chainlink barrier to keep you from falling down the lower part of the falls but it long gone, remembered only by three pipes set into the stone and bent over. From the trail you can’t see anything. This drainage is a collection point for fallen hemlocks and even climbing above most of them you will be left with a poor view of a cluttered waterfall. The hike out isn’t my favorite.
NOTE: Don’t let the pictures fool you. I can make a crappy waterfall look good. That said, when I went back in April of 2020 there was a tree lying across the falls. It isn’t a huge tree but it would right through the middle of these pictures.