Green River Game Lands is a 10,000 acre tract in Henderson and Polk Counties owned by the state of North Carolina and maintained by ECO, the Environmental and Conservation Organization, a non-profit group in Hendersonville, NC. There are 16 miles of hiking trails available within the boundary of the Game Lands. The Green River Narrows is a haven for extreme kayaking, known as one of the best runs in all of the Southeast. There is a kayak race held there in November every year. Hikers can enjoy this wild and crazy stretch as well, where the whitewater roars and the Green River tumbles more than 340 feet in just 1/2 mile. This hike took place on Tuesday, May 3, 2011. We started at 9:50AM and finished about 2:20PM with a lunch break at the Green River Narrows. The goal was to descend the Pulliam Creek Trail, then the steep unnamed trail to the Green River Narrows at the bottom of the canyon, hike a ways up the Narrows, then return the way we came.
Hike Length: 8.2 miles Hike Duration: 4.5 hours Hike Rating: Difficult, strenuous
Blaze: None, some colored ribbons Elevation Gain: 2270 feet
Elevation Change: 920 feet Hike Configuration: Down and back up
Trail Condition: Pulliam Creek Trail is good. Green River Narrows extremely treacherous.
Starting Point: On Big Hungry Road (NC 1802).
Trail Traffic: We did not encounter any other hikers on this day.
How to Get There: From Hendersonville, NC Upward Rd. exit I-26 go east 1.8 miles. Turn right on Big Hungry Road. Go 0.5 mile on Big Hungry Road and bear left on Big Hungry, then another 0.3 mile and bear right on Big Hungry. It is 1.7 miles to the bridge crossing Big Hungry River. Watch for English Heifer Cove Rd. on the right, but stay on Big Hungry Road. The trail marker is not far past English Heifer on the right. There is a green ribbon tied around a pole and a Wild Trout Waters sign [beware, easy to miss]. There is a modest pullout for parking your car. The trailhead is down on the right.
The Pulliam Creek trailhead is one of those kind that is tucked away in the woods and is very easy to miss. Fortunately my hiking buddy for the day had been there before and knew what to look for. Being a Meanderthal, I probably would still be looking for it. There is a green ribbon tied around a telephone pole next to a very narrow pullout on Big Hungry Road that is just barely big enough for one car. There isn’t much traffic on Big Hungry, so no worries about your car being in the way. The trail drops down off the road to the right, crosses a small log bridge, and then you see the trail marker. The ECO folks do a nice job maintaining this trail. It is almost wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side for quite a bit of its length. Like any trail in the forest, there are some roots and rocks that kept me on my toes, but overall the trail is in good shape.
The trail has a modest descent and follows Pulliam Creek as it makes a beeline for the Green River below. Occasionally the trail is right next to the creek, but is generally about 50 feet up the hillside and overlooks the creek from the right. After 1/2 mile the Rock Hop Trail drops down to the left to the creek and beyond. I keep wanting to call is the Sock Hop Trail. I guess I’m showing my age a bit. Another 1/4 mile beyond that, there is an excellent campground that is accessible via Rock Hop that sits right alongside a waterfall in Pulliam Creek. It looks like it would make a nice, private site for a few days in the woods. I commented that the white noise from the falls probably made it very easy to sleep.
Not far beyond the campground, the trail got suddenly steeper, then came right up to Pulliam Creek for a crossing. There looked to be two ways to cross the creek by hopping across rocks, neither of them particularly inviting. I don’t mind getting my feet wet, I always carry a dry pair of socks, but we had only been on the trail for 25 minutes and the water was very cold. I’ve been dumped in a creek before and I don’t especially relish it. Maybe this was Sock Hop. My friend tried the right-side rocks and slipped on the moss-covered stone on his first step. No harm done. So I gave it a go on the left side. The moss was quite slippery, but I managed to stay upright as I made four hops across the creek. My friend also navigated this left-side crossing without further incident. The trail then climbed steeply to a mid-ridge now overlooking Pulliam Creek from the left.
WARNING DANGER!1.25 miles in, there is another of those ribbon-like trail markers, this time pink. It designates where an unnamed trail drops steeply down to the right to the Green River Narrows. This is very chancy. If you are concerned about an extremely steep drop to the river, you can continue on Pulliam Creek Trail for another 3/4 mile to the Green River Cove Trail, where you will meet the river further downstream from the Narrows. Otherwise, if you are a Meanderthal like us, you proceed with cautious abandon. The roar from below told me there was something special down there. This trail drops 400 feet in just 2/10 of a mile. The dirt is loose, the roots are thick and clinging to the hillside for dear life, and the descent required all my wits and strength. And remember… if you go down, you have to climb back up. Occasionally I was on all fours. At one very rooty and dangerous spot, there was a climbing rope tied to a tree to help with backing down… very handy. Thank you whoever left it there. Finally at the bottom, I had to leap about four feet across Pulliam Creek from boulder to boulder that signals the entry to the Green River Narrows.
The air was suddenly fresh with the smell of rushing water. The first thing I noticed after the awesome rapids was the blue kayak paddle wedged in the river rocks. I thought of the poor kayaker who had to finish their run without a paddle… up the creek, and all that. The bright green of the new spring leaves made this area an appealing scene. A short hike on the boulders upriver led us to the previous rapid, known as Gorilla Falls. This one was even more severe than the one at the base of Pulliam Creek. I don’t know anything about river rapid rating, but this is seriously fast water that weaves a circuitous route in and around the boulders. I definitely have respect for the brave kayakers who challenge this river, and themselves.
There is one of those sorta trails following the north side of the river. Sometimes it is sorta on the boulders along the bank of the rapids. Sometimes it sorta climbs up the canyon wall 20-30 feet, then drops back down like a horseshoe. We managed to scramble probably 1/3 mile upriver and saw an endless series of severe whitewater rapids. I’ve read that the Green River drops more than 400 feet through these narrows in little more than a mile. We did some pretty good upward scrambling, that’s for sure. I’m glad my muscles and joints were stretched and flexible. I couldn’t hear anything in the canyon but the roar of the water, so I couldn’t communicate with my hiking partner with anything more than a big grin. He returned the same message. We came upon a plaque for Jerry Beckwith, and queried each other if we recognized the name. Shrugs meant we would research him when we got back home. Jerry was an exceptional local athlete who introduced many to kayaking on the Green River. Jerry unfortunately succumbed to ALS in 2006. They have named an annual dual sport race that includes bicycling and kayaking Jerry’s Baddle.
Eventually we reached a spot where we would have to climb up the canyon-side probably 100 feet to be able to continue upriver, so we turned around. When we got back to the place where Pulliam Creek entered the river, we pulled up a piece of rock and enjoyed lunch. The sun even peeked out a bit on what had otherwise been an overcast day. I knew I would need the nourishment to negotiate the climb back up the pink ribbon trail to Pulliam Creek Trail. The climb was a lung, thigh, and calf burner. The 15 foot section of rope we used before to get down was also very useful for pulling myself up and over the gnarly roots. It is so steep, there isn’t really anywhere to sit and rest, so I would stand and rest. I stopped three times on the way up for about a minute of heavy panting before pressing forward. The good news when you get back to the top is the first 1/4 mile of Pulliam Creek Trail is pretty flat.
The last mile back up Pulliam Creek is a bit of a slog. It’s not steep, it is uphill mostly the whole way, but it is a nice cool-down before getting back to the car. Even though I’ve lived in Hendersonville off and on for eight years, I didn’t know anything about the Green River Narrows. Now that I’ve been there, I’m sorry I missed out all these years. Apparently on weekends, the likelihood of seeing kayakers navigating the rapids is pretty good, so I will plan to go back sometime. The hike to the Narrows is not a long one and is well worth the effort.
Update On December 29, 2011 we revisited this hike, and added more to it. We went beyond the Green River Narrows, the full length of the Pulliam Creek Trail, to its junction with the Green River Cove Trail. From there, we followed the cove trail down to the Green River, then back up to the Narrows. This added a total of about three additional miles roundtrip to the hike.
On this visit both the green and the pink trail ribbons were gone, so keep your eyes peeled.
Going in winter as we did, the leaves were all off the trees and we were better able to see the surrounding topography. We could clearly distinguish the various small waterfalls along Pulliam Creek, as well as the mountains that surround the Green River Gorge. It really enhanced the impression of the massive carving done by Green River through the gorge.
Green River Cove offered a nice close-up view of the river downstream from the narrows in a more calm and serene setting. The river was about 30 yards wide at the cove. We discovered a few additional trails off Pulliam Creek that go up to the ridges above the gorge. They will be on our list for spring and summer hiking as we learn more about the Green River Game Lands.
I have added a few new photos to the end of the gallery below.