652 – Raven Cliff Falls

Accessibility – Hard

Height – 150-175′ (multiple drops)

Distance – 5.2 (out and back)

Beauty – 7

Photo rating – 4

Solitude – 7

GPS Info: LAT 35.94781 LONG -81.82048

First Visit: 09-02-2019

Most Recent visit: 05-04-2020


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Raven Cliff Falls is a multi-level waterfall on Upper Creek just below where Burnthouse Branch enters the creek. The distinct levels can not be seen from one vantage since as the creek drops is also curves around Raven Cliff, hiding the upper drops from the base of the lower. My experience with this waterfall came through a different approach on my two visits. On one trip the water was low enough that I could get to the base by making my way down the creek. On my my recent visit the water was too high, forcing a climb up the side of the mountain on river left (not recommended). This is not an ease place to reach. Other than the base of the bottom drop, much of this waterfall will rarely be seen.

Trailhead directions: FR982 is accessed off NC181. The intersection around 11 miles from the parkway, heading south and the turn will be on the left. Coming from the other direction the turn is on the right 16 miles from US64. FR982 is unpaved but in decent shape and easy to drive in most vehicles. From NC181, follow the meandering FR982 for 1.3 miles and make a left onto FR97. You can get to the intersection of FR982 and FR97 from the other direction as well, coming in from Brown Mountain Beach Road. You will want to verify the roads are open. On my visit in May of 2020, FR982 was closed heading toward Brown Mountain Beach Road.

Make a left onto FR97 and follow it to the end at a large turn around and park here. This road is seasonally gated and provides access to numerous back-country campsites. The turn around is in an open area right before the road starts to climb into the woods. Park here.

The Hike: The hike follows the Greentown Shortcut Trail up the hill into the woods. There are a row of jeep mounds at the outset before the trail levels off. The trail is very easy to hike for the first mile and half but at this point the old roadbed ends the trail starts to climb more steeply. The first climb is next to a high rock wall on the right and it is what this trail is going to be like for the remainder of the hike. The trail is narrow in places and the left side is nearly a vertical drop. The trail will cross two open rock areas high above the creek, giving open views out across the gorge.

The trail will turn away from Upper Creek and follow the curve of the hillside past a few small drainage channels, one with a very nice waterfall below the trail. In places the climb is steep and at other times it moderates. Just over two miles from the start, the trail crosses the top of the ridge and begins to descent toward the Burnthouse Drainage. There is a flagged trail that drops off to the left that I have never followed but instead I keep on the same contour, following a different path. This path takes you below two large rocky outcrops before ending.

The trail is about 20 feet further down the mountain. There is no right or wrong place to drop down. Just pick an open spot. When you intersect the trail, make a right and follow it to a crossing of Burnthouse Branch close to the confluence with Upper Creek. The trail crosses Burthhouse Branch. Once across the creek continue on the trail for a few paces until you see a large campsite on the right. A trail leads through the campsite and toward Burnthouse Branch Falls, which you can see clearly. The easiest way to reach the base of the falls is to get into the creek and climb the boulders.

To get to Raven Cliff Falls, I have hiked back down to the Greentown Shortcut Trail, entered the creek and followed it down to Upper Creek. Once at Upper Creek I began the creekwalk downstream. I have only done this in low water and I don’t think it can be done safely in anything but lower summer flows. Even then there are some deep crossings and steep slides. This section of creek offers multiple locations where you can get hurt so be very careful and keep away if the rocks are wet.

In a few places you may have to get out of the creek to get around some cascades before reaching the brink of the upper drop. This section is a steep slide and on both visits I have been able to easily make my way down the river left side of the falls. The rock is open and flat on the other side, giving a good place to view the upper drop. Getting further downstream from this point is extremely difficult and not recommended.

If you want to see the lower drop and work your way up from below, you can split off the Greentown Shortcut Trail at an obvious fork before the trail starts to get really steep. I have never gone this way so I don’t have a good reference point for the split but looking at my first track it is right around 35.94628 -81.71719 give or take. The trail drops off to the left and leads down to the creek. From where it ends at the creek you have to make you way to the falls in the creek and over the boulders.

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