Accessibility – Hard+
Height – 100′
Distance – 4.8 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 8
Photo rating – 5
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.89515 LONG -81.92400
First Visit: 10-06-2019
Most recent visit: 02-23-2020
First Visit: 09-07-2019
NOTE: While this isn’t the most difficult hike I’ve done it is in the conversation. This is an off-trail hike that I would rate as one of the most exhausting because of the climb out and the terrain. The waterfall is amazing but it needs good water flow to look its best. The first time I was here it was little more than a trickle and not worth the effort required to reach it.
Laurel Leap Falls is a 100 foot high waterfall on Laurel Branch below Kissler Memorial Highway. There is no trail to speak of to reach the base of the falls and no matter the route you take, the hike out will be long and tiring. The elevation drop from where I parked to the base of the falls was 1400 feet over about 2.4 miles. On the way out you will be feeling it. Since there is no trail to this one, people come at it from different starting points and the route I am describing is by no means the definitive route. I gleaned this route from studying a topo map. If you use this route and don’t like it, feel free to make up your own route in the future.
Trailhead Directions: The trailhed I used is on old NC105 (Kissler Memorial Highway) at an arbitrary point near an old logging grade that descends from the southbound side of the road. From the intersection of US221 and NC183, take NC183 South for 0.75 of a mile to where NC183 veers left and old NC105 continues straight. Get onto old NC105 and follow it for 3.2 miles. The road is hilly and steep, rough and curvy. If you have a low clearance vehicle this road could present a problem. The coordinates of where I parked are 35.91225 -81.91775.
The Hike: An old road angles off of NC105 and heads downhill on an easily followed grade to a gate. It turns to the left and enters an open area and a campsite. Stay with the worn road through the open area where it reenters the woods. The hike will be more uphill than down at first but not noticeably so. The road is easily discerned at first but it is overgrown and there is some downfall to negotiate. Half a mile from the trailhead the road will be barely discernible.
At this point you want to leave the road anyway since it doubles back to the top of the knoll. The point where i left the road was 35.90893 -81.92020. There is no right or wrong place only what route has the least amount of stuff in the way. There is nothing to follow at this point so I made a straight line for 0.2 of a mile to this point 35.90751 -81.91653. This is where the downhill starts and I picked up an old trail complete with flagging tape. You may find the orange tape or you may not. The way down is to follow the ridge spine.
The woods are mostly open and easy to hike through. The exact line you take doesn’t matter as long as you stay on the center of the ridge. The woods tend to be more open to the left than the right but the further left you go, the further from the falls you get. At the same time, you do not want to get too far to the right, especially when you near the falls, There is a 100 foot high cliff near the falls that prevents access from this side near the drop. It is important you know how to read the land or you are going to get way off track or fall off a cliff.
At 1.3 miles from the point where I began down the hill I reached the property line, which is well marked and had been recently cleared and flagged. I hot the property line at 35.89517 -81.92586 but you may reach this divide at a different point. The key here is to follow the property line as closely as possible to get down below the falls. It will be steep and rocky in places and the terrain will continually force you downstream to get around cliff areas. It was probably the hardest part of the hike in.
From where I hit the property boundary to when I reached the old road below the falls was slightly less than a third of a mile and it dropped off about 300 feet. The old road heads up and downstream with the former leading to the falls and the latter leading into someone’s backyard. Head upstream for less than 0.3 of a mile to the base of the falls. When you get close you can either follow the creek to the base on river left or work up toward the cliff on river right. On my first visit I stayed with the creek but on my recent trip I ventured up toward the cliff.