640 – Handpole Branch Falls

Accessibility – Hard+

Height – 200+’ (but you can’t see all of it)

Distance – 2.4

Beauty – 4

Photo rating – 5

Solitude – 10

GPS Info: LAT 35.28106 LONG -83.68211

Last Updated – 01-21-2023

Last Visited – 07-31-2021

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Hnadpole Branch is one of the hardest waterfalls I’ve visited. My visits have some from two approaches and both sucked. On one route, I gor swarmed by yellowjackets. On the other, half of my hiking team got swarmed, forcing the most awkward bushwhack through dried out laurel on the side of a mountain. It was horrific, almost to the point that I would have rather ran through the yellowjackets instead.

The trailhead forHandpole Branch Falls head South on US19 for 6.6 miles to a parking area on the right with several picnic tables. The hike will start by climbing the steps but before you rush up the steps, there is a very neat tunnel where Ledbetter Creek comes under the railroad tracks you might want to check out.

At the top of the hill, cross the tracks and resume on the obvious trail for a very short distance to an intersection. The Bartram Trail goes right and left, while another less obvious trail heads up Ledbetter Creek toward an entirely different adventure. Turn left on the yellow blazed trail. Almost immediately you will cross a nice foot bridge over Ledbetter Creek. The trail will swing to the right and start climbing and climbing and climbing as it zigzags up the side of the mountain. The switchbacks will help moderate the incline but even so it is a workout. At about 0.6 of a mile from the trailhead,jJust when you think it can’t get much worse, you will embark on the steepest 0.25 of the hike. At this point the trail is stuck to the side of the mountain with a steep drop on your right. The worst of the climb will end at 35.28325, -83.67503. This is the point where an old logging road comes in on the left. This road leads to the top of Handpole Branch Falls.

Turn left onto the obvious road. It is about 0.1 to a crossing of Handpole Branch, this is where my hiking friends got swarmed. The road resumes on the other side of the creek. You will need to cross one more time to be on river left for the descent toward the falls. A tributary comes in on river right, and if you get to this, you missed the point where you needed to cross. It is steep and dangerous here, but these one narrow passage to get down to the falls. It is awful getting out of there.

When you look at the topo map you may think this might be easier if you walk the railroad tracks then bushwhacked up from the bottom. I can say that walking the tracks is trespassing, and climbing up from the bottom is even more dangerous. There is one point where you are climbing up the waterfall with a high drop behind you. I don’t recommend it. The one on the right is a close-up of the part you see up at the top on the left pic. I had to climb over that ledge in the forground to get up to it.