The Toxaway River Shuttle

NOTE: This is one of the most dangerous hikes on my website. The terrain is steep and rocky, the current swift in places and the potential for a serious injury high. There are some deep water crossings, like chin deep. This is not a hike to do alone and not the kind of hike you want to tackle unless you are comfortable hopping boulders and traversing steep exposed rocks. There is some bushwhacking and after all of it, there is a 3 mile hike up a logging road to get out. You need two cars to complete this hike the way my friend Ryan and I completed it.

One more tidbit before we get to the hike: As The 500 List was winding down I had a plan for everything I had left, the final 20 but this was the one that worried me the most. I needed four waterfalls on the Tox: Upper Wintergreen, Wintergreen, Chub Line and Step Around. This was the group I had been looking at all summer, wondering how I was going to do them. When I reached out to a friend who had done this hike only three weeks before and asked him about it, he said he wanted to do it again. Thank you Ryan. I knew when this hike was over, I was going to finish the list.


Road to Nowhere is my favorite hike but the “complete Toxaway River Shuttle” comes in a close second. I completed this hike on August 30 2019, the day before tackling Road to Nowhere for the first time. Completing these two hikes on consecutive days ranks as the most difficult back-to-back day hiking adventure of my life. The only thing that comes close was Bonas Defeat and the Upper Whitewater Gorge on back to back days in 2016.

I’m going to do my best on this one but this i snot an easy hike to describe since 90% of it is simply follow the river downstream and when it’s too hard or dangerous to remain in the river bed, bushwhack around. There is no trail other than the exposed bedrock of the Toxaway river. You will need to do this on a day when there is no rain it the forecast and after it has not rained for several days. The Toxaway is dam controlled river but after a heavy rain, the water level will be up and completing this hike will be more dangerous than in already is. I would say, if there is rain forecast, do not do this hike.

Leave a car at the Frozen Creek Access is Gorges State Park before starting since this is where you are going to end up when all is said and done. You will see eight waterfalls on this list and with a slight detour you can see three more. I didn’t the day I completed this hike but I had more than enough time if I wanted to see them.

The Hike: The hike starts at the dam on US64 where the highway crosses the Toxaway River. Leave your second car here and walk US64 heading west to the far side of the dam where a trail heads into the woods behind the condos on the bank. I couldn’t tell is this was private property or not but it was not signed. This trail leads to a path that winds down the hillside to the base of Toxaway Falls. Be sure to stay in the river bed or on the river left side of the Toxaway since everything on the right is private. The biggest problem would be actually crossing the river at this point since it is swift and narrow and a fall would sweep you over the eight drops below the main drop.

Below the final drop of Toxaway Falls there is enough open rock and a faint trail that you can use to make your way downstream. Take your time after Toxaway Falls and use your head. I can’t tell you which way to approach this since river walking is all about feel. You need to pick the best route for you. It is 0.6 of a mile from Toxaway Falls to Twin Falls. At Twin Falls you want to be on river right to get to the base, although I have gone down to the base of Twin Falls on river left as well. I also fell into the Toxaway River on this side trying to get to the base of the falls!

Up until Twin Falls, it was pretty obvious the way others have gone but from this point, it is not as apparent. From Twin Falls to The Energizer is 1.3 miles of bedrock with minimal time spent in the woods. For the most part this is a deep canyon so there is no getting out of the river since the sides are almost vertical. The Narrows is the name for most of this stretch, as one chute after another feed a series of pools. The geology is without equal as colored bedrock and encroaching cliffs frame steep chutes and sloping rock. When you get here you will understand why this has to be done in low water.

While not the only water feature in the Narrows, The Energizer was the one that stood out the most. The canyon walls go straight up and the chute is more than 100 feet long with a chest deep wade waiting at the bottom to continue the trek. You are deep in the wilds now and this is not the kind of place to take chances. There is no right or wrong way to reach this point, only safe and unsafe. Error on the side of caution.

The long stretch of chutes and pools above The Energizer continue on the downstream side but the nature of the river is changing by the time. It is dropping off more unevenly. The gradual slopes are being replaced by vertical drops, the first of which will be the uppermost drop of Upper Wintergreen Falls. It looks a lot like Twin Falls and although part of Upper Wintergreen, it is isolated from the three main drops downstream. Getting below this orphaned drop wasn’t too difficult and once past it, we were soon at the brink of Upper Wintergreen Falls.

The highest of the three drops shows the power of the Toxaway River even though it is dammed upstream and each of the next two drops are unique. Put together the three segments comprise the nicest of the falls on the river. What they don’t offer is a way to capture all three effectively. By the time to get to the lowest drop, the upper is obscured by the rock and too far away. At the base of the falls, a narrow water slide diverts the river to the right and provides a hell of a ride.

Next up on the trek is Land Bridge Falls which shows off more of the unique geology in this area. The river is forced into another narrow chute while it runs down a steep rock face. In the middle of the rock face a spit of rock spans the river, making a bridge over the rushing water. It was a great place to hang out for a short time after the hike to this point but there was a lot more to see on this hike so we didn’t have time to stay on the bridge.

About equidistant between Upper Wintergreen and Wintergreen, Land Bridge is located on a huge bend in the river. This was some of the steepest terrain on the hike and the part that took the longest to negotiate. The river right is a vertical wall so the only option to get downstream is in the river or close to the river on the left side. The going will be slow and when the river curves around a high to the left, this was the point we got out and pushed through the overgrowth on the bank. It was the longest bushwhack on the hike and with it pushing ninety degrees, it was a welcome relief to get back into the river below Land Bridge Falls.

There was one more bushwhack to get to the brink of Wintergreen Falls and some rock hopping and a steep slope to get to the point where we could swim across the pool to the get to the flat land below. Wintergreen Falls is comprised of three drops but unlike the upper falls, this one can be enjoyed from the base.

After the steep terrain above Wintergreen the land below moderates. This makes the going easier in places but it also allows the river to widen out and pool. forcing more time in the woods. The next landmark to seek out is Panther Branch, which comes in on river left. If you can find this feeder stream, there is a logging road that parallels the Toxaway from here to Auger Hole Road. Our pace picked up on this stretch as the river that had been our path was now at our side. The logging road is mostly open with the amount of downfall you would expect on a road that isn’t maintained by Gorges.

It is open enough and faster than walking the river. From Panther Branch to Auger Hole Road is 2.5 miles relatively easy miles and after making a left onto Auger Hole Road it is 0.25 of a mile until you can see Chub Line Falls down and to the left. There is no trail down but the bank is easily negotiated. From the road to the base of the falls is 0.1 of a mile and it drops 200 feet. You will come out below the falls and have to make your way upstream to the base. When we first reached the falls it was in direct sun and looked bad but after going to Step Around and coming back, Chub Line Falls looked awesome.

From the base of Chub Line Falls the quickest way to Step Around Falls is to walk in the river. At this point the river is wide and shallow, the swift chutes that make up the higher parts of the river long gone. It is 0.75 of a mile from Chub Line Falls to Step Around Falls. The creek walk can be divided into three sections. After 0.25 of a mile an unnamed trib comes in on river left and 0.25 of a mile after this Auger Fork Creek also enters the Toxaway on river left. At 0.25 below Auger Fork Creek, you will reach Step Around Falls. We we down the sloped on river left to the base of the falls, cutting under the step which was higher up.

To resume the hike, follow the river back to where you came down the bank and climb back to Auger Hole Road. You can follow Auger Fork Creek up as well but I can’t speak to this route. We passed on this, favoring the devil we knew. Once on Auger Fork Road, make a right. It will be 3.2 mostly uphill miles to the parking area at Frozen Creek where the second car is waiting. Along the way you can stop at Auger Fork Falls and Maple Springs Branch Falls not to mention Double Drop Falls.

If you made it to the end with only a few bumps and bruises, you have done well. I was pretty beat up after this hike and knowing the next day I was taking on Road to Nowhere only made those aches and pains more apparent.

 

 

 

 

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