Accessibility – Difficult+
Height – 25′
Distance – 8.7 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 8
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.08008 LONG -82.91251
Last Updated – 08-02-2018
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Over the years I’ve had people ask me what has been the hardest hike I’ve done. For a time I felt it was the Upper Whitewater Gorge, then more recently Black Mountain Falls. Now I think this is it. It’s not that Bear Canyon Falls is the hardest but the total hike we undertook this day takes the top spot. It was 2.0 miles on logging roads, a steep bushwhack down to Bearwallow Creek, a 2.5 mile creekwalk to Auger Hole Road, a 1 mile uphill hike on Auger Hole Road to Chestnut Mountain Road and a brutally steep 3.3 mile trek up Chestnut Mountain Road to close the loop. The 8.7 mile loop took about 11 hours and this included making it from the end of the creekwalk to the truck, about 4.3 miles in an hour and twenty minutes.
To reach the trailhead: Make your way to Gorges State Park and drive to the Grassy Ridge Parking area as if you’re going to Rainbow Falls. Gorges State Park is a mile South of US64 on NC281. Follow the entrance road to the visitor’s center and make a left and then an immediate right. This will lead to the parking lot. If you come on a weekend or any nice day the lot will be full, which is OK. If the gate is open at the top end of the parking area park along the side of the road here. You see all those people heading to Rainbow Falls? None of them are heading where you’re going and if you undertake this hike, all of them will be long gone before yo get back.
From the top end of the parking lot, walk along the road away from the parking area, past the gravel Chestnut Mountain Road and around the bend. The road will descend and you will come to a gated road on the right. Go around the gate on the old road and follow it into the woods, just like you’re going to Paw Paw Falls. In about 0.2 of a mile the road will split with one branch veering right. Stay to the left. In less than 0.4 of a mile from the first split the road will come to an intersection. Stay to the left to continue going around the ridge. From here it is another quarter of a mile until the road splits. Stay to the left at this junction again, heading down hill.
Ok, you got your GPS handy? When you get to this point, 35.08720, -82.94101 you want to leave the right side of the trail heading downhill. It isn’t overly thick but the going will be slow on the way down to the base of Paw Paw Falls. Stay as close to the ridge spine as you can. If you go too far left it gets unwieldy thick and steep and you will come out at Chute Falls. If you aim for this point, 35.08780, -82.93750, you will come out below Paw Paw Falls. If you want to go to Chute it is easier to come up from Paw Paw on river left than try and drop into the opening between the two on river right. Trust me on this.
If this was too challenging, then it’s time to climb out the same way you came in because it gets really intense from the this point forward. Part of the problem is I can’t give you an accounting of how to approach the hike. We walked the creek from Paw Paw to the top of Indian Creek Falls. If the woods opened up we left the creek but for the most part it was a long slog through the creek, climbing down cascades and small waterfalls. It is 1.2 mile from the base of Paw Paw Falls to the top of Indian Creek Falls. Once you get there you need to leave the creek and enter the woods on river left to bushwhack to the base. It is steep and overgrown. I popped out of the woods above the lowest drop to take some pictures before butt-sliding down the final section and wading the pool.
All done at Indian Creek Falls? Resume the hike downstream using the creek when the woods are too thick for you. We hiked almost exclusively in the creek. It seemed that if we did find an opening in the woods it soon petered out and forced us back into the creek anyway. From Indian Creek Falls to the top of Bluff Falls is about 0.75 of a mile. It will likely take about 2 hours. At the top of Bluff Falls you need to get out of the creek and make your way down on river left to the base. For me this was the last time I set foot in the woods since the bushwhack had just begun when I got lit up by a bunch of angry yellow jackets. I managed my way to the creek with a few bites as remembrances of the hike. Once I got back in the creek I crossed to the large boulder in the middle that gave a great vantage of the falls and the huge bluff on river left that gives the falls its name.
By this point we were exhausted and I was sore as hell from my multiple stings but we had to press on. After my recent experience in the woods, I decided that I was not going back in the woods again. That wasn’t my first run in with a next in the ground but it was the only time I got stung. I wasn’t going to chance it. Following the creek from Bluff to Bear Canyon wasn’t terrible but when we got to Bear Canyon we had a huge decision to make. There were two ways around the falls, a bushwhack up the ridge, over the spine and down the other side or a perilous descent of the falls itself. It was an easy decision as getting to the base of the falls wasn’t difficult. The problem was getting across the base of the falls. The canyon portion was easily ten feet deep so as Justin swam the canyon, I made my way across to river right, followed the steep rock along the side of the canyon and crossed. It was super sketchy and not recommended.
In the picture you can see the open rock to the right of the falls. That’s where we came down. I crossed the two parts of the falls and climbed into the rock to the left while Justin swam the canyon. This shot is from a bluff about 8 feet above the creek.
From here Auger Hole Road is about 0.25 of a mile downstream. There are three 10 foot waterfalls you’re going to have to deal with passing in the way as well as “7 foot falls.” One of the three ten footers is named Ted’s Falls. This is it.
After Ted’s Falls, Auger Hole Road is very close. Once there, exit the creek on river right and head up hill toward Chestnut Mountain Road. It is one mile to the gate where the two roads meet. Make a right on Chestnut Mountain Road and follow it steeply back to the Grassy Ridge Parking area 3.3 miles away.
Hardest hike yet.