Exploring a pool on North Harper Creek

When it comes down to it, what you really seek in an adventure is fun. A bit of a challenge, sure. A story of adventure or two to tell around the office Keurig is nice. And lots of memorable (for the right reasons) moments as well.

But at the top of the list comes fun. And in summer, that fun demands that water play a key role. When we think of wet summer fun — with a dash of challenge, a pinch of adventure, and a healthy dose of memories — our thoughts immediately go to one place:

Wilson Creek.

Wilson Creek is 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 enchilada (more of a tostada, piled high with ingredients) spreads before you. The area is less-known for its elevation — though the overlook is at 4,356 feet, much of Wilson Creek is between 2,000 and 3,900 feet — more for its quick and steep ups-and-downs, spread maze-like across Grandfather’s vast base. The runoff that escapes Grandfather’s vast southeast flank sieves through Wilson Creek before reaching the Catawba River (and eventually the Atlantic Ocean). It’s one rollercoaster of a trip.

Here are our favorite spots to experience and explore this rollercoaster:

The more challenging access to the pool at the base of North Harper Creek Falls

Hunt-fish Falls. Want immediate gratification? Hunt-fish Falls is just 0.8 miles down from FR 4646 (look for the Hunt-fish Falls Trail). As falls in the Wilson Creek area go, this one is modest, with a pair of 8-foot drops on Cove Creek. At the base: an ample pool, the near side of which is met by a gently sloping rock slab that’s perfect for sunning after repeated cold immersions.

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 valley is peppered with pools, at least one of which should have the vacancy sign flashing.

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).

On the trail, in North Harper Creek

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 North 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