Seven reasons we love Wilson Creek (though there are a lot more)
We’ve been visiting the Wilson Creek area for more than two decades, and every time we return it’s like visiting an old friend who has, somehow, become an even better old friend. Why, you’re even more adventurous than we remember you! How is that possible!?
We last wrote about our love for Wilson Creek in 2017 (find that blog here). We’re revisiting that post today, with added insights and photos from the past couple of years. If you’re a fan of either Type 1 Fun or Type 2 Fun, you’ll find both versions in Wilson Creek, the 49,000-acre drainage at the base of Grandfather Mountain. Pull over on the Wilson Creek Overlook (Milepost 303.6) on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the entire barely inhabited area cascades down the Blue Ridge Escarpment before you. And don’t be deceived by its apparent lack of elevation: though the overlook is at 4,356 feet, much of Wilson Creek is between 2,000 and 3,900 feet. But that’s 1,900 feet of quick, steep ups-and-downs, spread maze-like through this rugged tumble. The runoff that escapes Grandfather’s vast southeast flank must first sieve through Wilson Creek before reaching the Catawba River (and eventually the Atlantic Ocean). Runoff pools, it drops. It pools, it drops. So many falls to gape at, so many pools to ease the heat of summer.
Here are our favorite spots to explore and experience the cool awe of Wilson Creek:
***If you’re thinking of going make sure to check in with the ranger station’s alerts and updates. Recently, many of the roads near Wilson Creek were severely damaged from heavy rains.***
1. Hunt-fish Falls. Want immediate gratification? Hunt-fish Falls is just 0.7 miles down from gravel FR 464 (look for the Hunt-fish Falls Trail marker in the gravel roadside lot). As falls in the Wilson Creek area go, this one is modest, with a pair of 8-foot drops on Lost Cove Creek. At the base, though is municipal park-size pool, the near side of which is met by a gently sloping rock slab that’s perfect for sunning after repeated cold immersions. A note about the 0.7-mile hike in: it’s steep heading in, steeper (somehow) going back up.
2. Gragg Prong. Say you get to Hunt-fish Falls and it’s packed, a not-unlikely scenario on a hot summer’s day. Simply keep on trucking down Lost Cove Trail along Cove Creek to Gragg Prong, then continue up the trail to Gragg Prong to a series of swimming holes and drops. Gragg Prong Falls is the most notable, but the tight, steep canyon is peppered with pools, at least one of which should have the vacancy sign flashing. Again, an abundance of smooth stone for post-dip sunbathing.
3. Lost Cove Loop Hike. Like to mix some hiking in with your water play? One of our favorite circuits in Wilson Creek is the 7-mile Timber Ridge Lollipop Loop, starting from the Hunt-fish Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead off FR 464, hike down to Hunt-fish Falls, then continue on Lost Cove Creek Trail downstream, then upstream along Gragg Prong. Lost Cove piggybacks a short distance on FR 981, then climbs up to Timber Ridge. There’s a sharp descent, then a water crossing-filled return along Lost Cove Creek. Work up a sweat, cool off in the creek.
4. Big Lost Cove Cliffs. There’s no water on this hike, not a drop: just the best panoramic view in Wilson Creek. It’s a relatively easy 1.7-mile hike in to Big Lost Cove Cliffs, a multi-tiered rock outcrop where you can contemplate Sassafras Knob and Timber Ridge across the valley, Grandfather Mountain to the northwest, and ranges into Virginia to the north. The only folks who venture here are photographers, who either come early or late. Expect to have the perch to yourself.
5. South Harper Creek Falls. This is a look-but-don’t touch waterfall. From NC 58 (don’t let the fancy title fool you; it’s gravel) it’s less than two miles on the Harper Creek Trail down to the falls. Word has it that this is a 200-foot waterfall, but we’ll have to assume that’s true: from the closest vantage point the trail can reach, the falls drops about 30 feet from above, pools briefly, then disappears into the abyss. Dogs, children and inattentive adults should be leashed at this drop. The hike in is pretty easy.
6. Harper Creek Falls. This is the Disney version of what a mountain-waterfall-resulting-in-classic-swimming-hole would be. After a dramatic 40-foot drop, North Harper Creek lolls about in a 50-foot-wide pool befor eventually continuing downstream. The pool is deep and cool, and can be accessed from a prolonged approach from downstream (safer) or quickly via a rope that descends from the trail above (a bit dicey).
7. North Harper Creek. Like a bit more hiking — and a few fewer people — with your wet adventure? From FR 464, you can drop down the North Harper Shortcut Trail to North Harper Creek, hike upstream for about 3 miles and catch Bard Falls, Chestnut Cove Branch Falls and Harper Creek Falls (and assorted smaller drops and pools along the way). Exit via the surprisingly mellow (for Wilson Creek) North Harper Creek Falls Trail for a short hike down FR 464 back to your car.
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For more information, visit ExploreCaldwell.com
Join us at Wilson Creek!
Our GetBackpacking! group is visiting Wilson Creek the weekend of Aug. 2-4, with a basecamp trip that will visit Gragg Prong, Hunt-fish Falls, Big Lost Cliff, South Harper Creek Falls. Learn more and sign up to join us, here.