Transylvania County, NC is known as the “Land of Waterfalls,” and for good reason. There are more than 250 waterfalls in the county, with many of the most spectacular falls in the heart of DuPont State Forest. Included among those are Bridal Veil and Grassy Creek Falls, both classic slide waterfalls that carve their way over large granite slabs. DuPont also has several pristine lakes such as Lake Julia and Lake Imaging. All of the features of DuPont State Forest are connected by a mature trail system that is well maintained and fun to explore. This hike occurred on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 from 10:45am to 3:00pm. The plan was to take Buck Forest Road to Conservation Road, then on to Bridal Veil Falls Road and a view of the falls. On the way back we would go further out Buck Forest Road to Grassy Creek Falls. While there, we discovered a trail that wasn’t on the map and said, “what the heck.”
Hike Length: 7.5 miles Hike Duration: 4.25 hours
Hike Rating: Easy Blaze: No blaze, trails are easily navigable
Elevation Gain: 520 feet Hike Configuration: Out and back
Trail Condition: Excellent, some forest road, some groomed trail.
Starting Point: Trailhead is at the Buck Forest Road parking off Staton Road.
Trail Traffic: We encountered six other hikers, and eight mountain bikers on a Tuesday. These trails are considerably more busy on weekends.
How to Get There: DuPont State Forest can be accessed from Hendersonville via Kanuga/Crab Creek Rd., from Asheville/Brevard via US64 and Little River Rd., or from Greenville, SC via Cedar Mountain and Cascade Lake Rd. Look for printed trail maps at public parking areas.
View Bridal Veil Falls, Grassy Creek Falls, Lake Imaging, DuPont State Forest in a larger map
The central area of DuPont State Forest is all about water. There are several lakes to enjoy, and the Little River drops nearly 1400 feet over a series of spectacular waterfalls. Fortunately for outdoor enthusiasts like us there are plenty of roads and trails to get around from one water feature to another.
Buck Forest Road has a large parking area for access to this central area of the forest. At one time this was going to be a high-dollar real estate development, but the State of NC saw the natural beauty and stepped in to protect the land for the ages. As you start hiking on Buck Forest Rd. you come to a covered bridge over Little River that is a remnant of the aborted development. To the left is the precipice of 150′ High Falls. You can’t see it, but you sure can hear it. Just past the bridge we took Conservation Road to the right. We would be back later to continue on Buck Forest, but for now we headed toward Bridal Veil Falls.
All of these forest roads are smooth; partly gravel, partly dirt. There are gates that prevent vehicles from using the roads, but keep an eye and ear out for bicycles as the roads are equally popular for hikers and bikers alike. Conservation Rd. starts through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen trees as it skirts the boundary of the remaining private property within the forest. Even when the leaves are off in winter you can barely make out what was formerly the buildings of DuPont Corp. when they still operated here. They are/were well hidden.
We passed trailheads along the way to Pitch Pine, Joanna Rd., and Lake Dense. It’s a relatively flat stroll of 3/4 mile to the Lake Julia Spillway, a creek/river that is overflow from the reservoir that is next on the left. Another .3 mile past the reservoir we turned right on Bridal Veil Falls Rd. In addition to hiking and biking, the DuPont trail system is quite popular with equestrians. There is a very nice horse stable on Bridal Veil Falls Rd. that is available to the public in all seasons but winter. Folks will come to the state forest to camp and stable their steeds as well.
After about 1/4 mile Bridal Veil Falls Rd. deadends at a small picnic area, but continues as a pine straw covered trail through the forest. We could hear the prominent sound of water
— a sign the falls was not much further. There’s an observation deck along the trail with a nice view of the lower section of Bridal Veil Falls through the forest. We could tell already that she was roaring from all the recent rain. My friend commented that he has never seen the falls so wide.
In fact, that enhanced water flow made it difficult for us to continue to the upper falls. To reach the upper falls you actually have to hike on the granite that makes up the bed of the lower falls. See the photo at the top of this post. Since the flow was so much wider than normal, the climb up the granite was very slippery. We noticed right away the signs that said, “Danger! Risk of injury or worse!” But what kind of Meanderthals would we be if we didn’t proceed with cautious abandon?
I’m glad that we did. The rushing water has carved pockets in the granite where pools form. These pools make for nice reflective photographs, and even a nice place to cool your feet on a hot summer day. My hiking buddy said you can walk behind the falls when the water flow is down, but that wasn’t in the cards for us on this day. The river takes a bend as it rushes from the upper falls to the lower falls and really kicks up the whitewater.
On the way back on Conservation Rd. we took a trail up on top of the Lake Julia dam. On this near windless day the water was mirror still. The winter weather this year in western NC has been unbelievably mild. I suppose it has been throughout most of the country. It was quite the contrast to what I saw on a different hike to the other side of Lake Julia.
When we reached the junction with Buck Forest Rd. we headed east to Grassy Creek Falls. The road makes a steep climb for about .2 mile, really the most climbing we had to do the whole day. Then, it goes right back down the other side as it follows Grassy Creek on the left. There are several side roads off Buck Forest that would have been the streets for the phantom housing development. I suspect the developers lost out on windfall profits from land sales, but I am very grateful the state stepped up to conserve this wild area for future generations.
At the bottom of the dip, Lake Imaging Rd. takes off to the left and just 50 feet later is the trail to Grassy Creek Falls. From there it’s a short couple hundred yards to the top of the falls. This is another of the slide variety that are so common in western NC. Right at the top of the falls is a bench-type outcrop in the granite that was a perfect spot for lunch and a chance to ponder these marvelous surroundings. I swished my hands in the rushing, refreshing water. It was cold, but nothing like it has been in January’s past.
On our way back up from Grassy Creek Falls, we noticed a trail that was not on the official DuPont State Forest map. It was properly signed, so perhaps it’s brand new. Called the Hilltop Trail, it headed north following the path of Little River to Triple Falls. We thought there may be an overlook on this side of the river from the normal Triple Falls Trail that is on the other side. This is where we said “what the heck,” and gave it a try. We found a Hilltop Loop Trail on our map and figured this Hilltop Trail would join up with that for a nice view.
Hilltop Trail lives up to its name as it follows a ridge on the east side of the river. The forest here is quite beautiful, and there is a healthy covering of ground cedar, moss and ferns to keep this area green year round. After about 20 minutes of hiking we began to hear the sounds of Triple Falls to our left and then just a glimpse through the trees. Just a little farther and there were nice views of the mountains of Pisgah National Forest in the distance to the west.
We came to a trail crossroad sign that said Lake Imaging Rd. one way and Hilltop Loop Trail another. Again, confusion. We took the trail that seemed the correct compass direction hoping to see a clear view of Triple Falls. After a mile of winding through the forest we discovered Lake Imaging. So, it wasn’t where we wanted to go, but a nice destination nonetheless. Really not much bigger than a pond, there were picnic tables around and another chance for still, mirror-like photos. The Lake Imaging Rd. parking and trailhead on Staton Rd. is also a popular place for horse trailers to unload.
We headed back up the hill from Lake Imaging the way we came. When we returned to the Hilltop Trail junction we began watching very closely for indications of a former trail that may have been the Hilltop Loop. Perhaps it had been retired? We never did find another trail, but still enjoyed ourselves as we went back past the obscured sights and sounds of Triple Falls. For a trail that was not on the map, it was surprising how many other hikers and bikers we encountered. It was kinda like 11 Types of People You Meet On a Hike.
The rest of the hike was back over previously covered territory. Back to Grassy Creek and Buck Forest Road. Back to the covered bridge. We stopped for another look into the distance over the edge of High Falls. Lastly, the final stretch from the bridge back to the Buck Forest parking area. At the end of the day we had hiked a rewarding 7.5 miles. No matter the unseasonably mild winter, DuPont State Forest is a great place for winter hiking in western North Carolina. The mountains and water features are just as spectacular as surrounding national forests, but 3000 feet lower in elevation, so you don’t get as much snow and ice.
Update This is such a scenic hike, I will try to give seasonal updates. On Tuesday July 3, 2012 I made another visit to Bridal Veil Falls. Along the way I stopped at Lake Julia and the spillway for some picture taking. If you compare the photos above with the ones below, you will see the water flow was significantly less on this trip. Something for you to consider when you prepare for a winter hike vs. a summer hike. The lower flow makes it quite a bit easier to climb the granite to the upper falls. It was even low enough for me to scoot in behind the falls.
You can only get back there when the water flow is low. It’s only about three feet high, so you have to bend way over. It’s really a pretty uncomfortable place, especially when you consider how slippery the granite is. Despite all that, for some reason I still found the need to give it a go.
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