Accessibility – Hard
Height – 80′ (maybe 200)
Distance – 1.0 mile (out and back)
Beauty – 4
Photo rating – 3
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.28324 LONG -82.76318
First visit: 11-29-2019
Unless you’re an avid waterfall enthusiast with extra time on your hands, Stillwater Branch Falls is not something you will enjoy. I didn’t know what to expect but armed with only the GPS coordinates of the falls, I set off about a month after completing The 500 List, eager to start exploring again. It was a cold day and the hike began with a crossing of the Davidson River. from there it was an off-trail adventure up the side of a mountain to a really high waterfall mostly obscured by everything the forest has thrown on it over the last 40 years. After that commentary you should be lacing up the boots.
Trailhead Directions: From the intersection of US64/NC280/US276 take US276 North into Pisgah Forest for 4.4 miles to a pullout on the left side (southbound side) of US276 and park here (35.28457 -82.75931). You can also park at the Stillwater parking area depending on where you want to cross the creek.
The hike: Stillwater Branch enters the Davidson River at 35.28408 -82.7593, which is a short distance below the Stillwater Parking area. While the parking and trailhead are on one side of the river, Stillwater Branch is on the other so crossing the river will be the first. In summer flows, probably not a problem but if the water is up, this one is not recommended. It is up to you where you cross but trying to do so right at the confluence isn’t necessary. There is a nice open area at 35.28439 -82.76026.
If you didn’t like this, you will really not like the rest. Angle toward the creek but do not go all the way to the creek. As you angle toward Stillwater Branch you will see a ridge spine coming down the mountain on your right. If you don’t know what his means, you might want to turn around now. You can pick up the ridge spine at 35.28419, -82.76051. The ridge spine is mostly open and easy to traverse. The grade is moderate but when you start getting close to the falls it gets steep and the side-hill is brutal.
From that GPS coordinate it is 0.25 of a mile to the falls where the real scrambling starts. Along the way you need to stay close to the center of the ridge. On the creek side it is really overgrown and on the other side you will likely cliff out near the falls. On the way back you may be tempted to take a shortcut and drop off the ridge toward the Davidson but you will come to a high cliff.
The lower section is covered in hemlocks and rhodos but with some careful climbing you can get a really nice picture of the middle section. It looks really nice but I was here in great lighting and decent water flow. I also don’t mind wandering in the forest without a trail. Use your best judgment on this. Probably not worth it for most. That said, I did this one, including the river crossing in less than an hour.