Thursday, April 7, 2016

April 1, 2016 - Little Bearwallow Falls, Hickory Nut Gorge

This was my first visit to Little Bearwallow Falls. I've been meaning to check it out since the
Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy opened it to the public a few years ago. I have directions to the trailhead and a description of the trail on my web site here. The last half of this trail is also an excellent spring wildflower hike and I would highly recommend going in early April. Below is some video I shot along the trail and at the waterfall, some which shows the wildflowers.

In 2013, the conservancy acquired what's known as the Wildcat Rock tract on the north slopes of Little Bearwallow Mountain. The beginning of the trail needed to be across private property, so a permanent public trail easement was purchased from the property owners. Eventually, a 15 mile trail known as the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail will be completed which will feature waterfalls, rock outcroppings, and expansive mountain summit views. The trail to Little Beawallow Falls is a part of this trail and when Cindy and I were there, construction of the trail beyond the waterfall was in progress. This will be one jewel of a trail once it is completed. The other end of the trail features hikes to Bearwallow Mountain and the Blue Ridge Pastures via the Trombatore Trail. These sections of the trail are already completed and open to the public, so be sure to do a search for more info and photos. Parking for Little Bearwallow Falls is the same as for the trails in the Florence Nature Preserve - another CMLC land save. Click here for more info from their site.

parking for Little Bearwallow Falls and Florence Nature Preserve

The first part of the trail to Little Bearwallow Falls passes through private property. The trail is well marked, so please stay on it out of respect to the nice landowners who allowed the easement. Just before this short section of trail descends to cross Hickory Creek is this sign with trails on it.

For those who don't know, the kind folks at the Hickory Nut Forest community provided a small parking area for the public to hike the trails on their land. (I think I have that info correct.) I had seen the map online years ago, but never attempted to hike the trails. Now with the new public parking area, there's no need to park on their property. If you look at the map, you should be parked at the 'P' on the right at the stone chimney. The black trail on the map goes through the orchard, to this sign, down to cross Hickory Creek on a footbridge, then left and up to a split. The obvious trail to the left is the correct trail to take and is orange on the map. We spotted a very few orange diamond trail blazes at the beginning, but no blazes at all on this trail. My guess is that they will be added later.

The trail ascends at a moderate rate and crosses an unnamed creek at 0.7 miles from the parking area. The area right around the creek had quite a few wildflowers also, so we took a break here to shoot a few. I also spotted a salamander on some moss, but couldn't get in position to get a good shot.

Sweet Betsy Trillium - Trillium cuneatum
Dutchmans's Breeches - Dicentra cucullaria

This creek is the same one that the waterfall is on and the remainder of the trail switchbacks up the mountain to the base of the huge rock wall that the waterfall flows over. The creek is a low volume creek and I've read that in drier times there is no flow at all. The flow today wasn't bad, but I'd like to see it with a lot of water. When we got to the base of the falls, there was a steel cable with a pulley hook on it strung between some trees. A new section of the trail is under construction up the right side of the rock wall and I'm assuming the hook is being used to move the large rocks used for the steps in to place. Some of the larger rocks are split into several pieces for the steps.

I'm sure I'll be making more trips to see this waterfall and to hike the rest of the trail as it is completed. For now, here are some shots of Little Bearwallow Falls as seen on this day.