Like its partner, Little Bradley Falls, this hike is found in a remote corner of the Green River Game Lands near Saluda, NC that enables you to enjoy beautiful waterfalls. Big Bradley Trail follows Cove Creek along its path to an eventual meeting with Green River, but before it gets there, it free-falls 75 feet over the stone precipice at Big Bradley Falls. Bring your water shoes for this hike for the wet crossing of Cove Creek. I visited this area on Thursday, April 21, 2016 beginning at 10:30AM and ending about 12:00PM. My plan was to take the Big Bradley Trail to Big Bradley Falls, then return.
Hike Length: 2.2 miles Hike Duration: 1.5 hours Blaze: Blue
Hike Rating: Easy, but you will get your feet wet. Hike Configuration: Out and back
Elevation Change: 195 feet Elevation Start: 1,575 feet
Trail Condition: Very Good. Some erosion, and a brief, steep descent to the overlook. Otherwise, this is a nice gentle trail through hardwood forest.
Starting Point: Parking area along Holbert Cove Road.
Trail Traffic: I encountered six other hikers on this beautiful Spring day.
How to Get There: Take I-26 to the Saluda, NC exit. Turn north (away from Saluda) on Holbert Cove Road and go 3.3 miles. At the bottom of the hill, there is a pullout on the left with enough room for 8-10 cars. The trailhead is also on the left.
If you’ve been to Little Bradley Falls before, the trailhead for Big Bradley is right across Holbert Cove Road. It opens up into a multi-acre meadow with a couple of heirloom apple trees. After the first hundred feet or so, the trail splits into left and straight ahead forks. Either will eventually get you to the same place.
I prefer going straight ahead first because it follows along closer to Cove Creek, and offers some nice creekside views, whereas the alternative route just winds through the woods. They rejoin perhaps an eighth of a mile later. There are signs throughout warning to be careful around wet rocks and ledges, posted by a company or organization called Avisco. A rudimentary Google search comes up empty, but at least that is more information than is found over on the Little Bradley side. I don’t know if Avisco is affiliated in any way with Green River Game Lands.
You pass a small four-ledge waterfall that was just barely trickling on the day I was there. We definitely need more rain around here. About a quarter mile from the trailhead you reach a wet crossing of Cove Creek. In true Meanderthals fashion, I came prepared with water shoes, so the 10″ deep water was a piece of cake. There are no rocks to hop here, so you must plunge right in. Think of it as refreshment for your toes.
Almost as soon as I was safely on the other side, the trail was lined with beautiful white rhododendron carolinianum in full blossom… a nice surprise. I had kinda forgotten how early this particular variety of the ubiquitous rhodos arrives. It was definitely a nice treat. Other wildflower delights included crested dwarf iris, daisies, wild geranium, and various colors of violets.
The trail makes a short uphill climb for a few hundred yards, but for the most part it is level. Cove Creek itself enters a gnarly gorge, so that is the reason for the ascent to a ridge above.
You will begin noticing volunteer trails heading down into the gorge every couple hundred yards, each accompanied by one of those Avisco warning signs. Ostensibly, these trails go to the base of the falls, but not really. They go to a point on a ledge high above the creek. The bottom is only accessible by rope. Perhaps when I was younger and braver I might give it a shot. I am adventurous, but no. I’m enjoying retirement too much to do something stupid.
So resist the temptation to explore these spur trails. Stay up on the ridge until later. There is a nice overlook just a little ways further. Occasionally the trees will open up just enough to offer outstanding views of the mountains that surround this rugged gorge.
Just after climbing a small hill at the one-mile mark, there is a larger, more obviously apparent spur trail that dives off to the left. It is wider than the others and nearly all dirt. This is the one to the overlook. It’s pretty darn steep, so watch your step, but within 60-70 feet you will be at the rock outcropping that peers down into the gorge and surveys Big Bradley Falls.
The last 10 feet I had to scooch down on my butt because of the steepness. The outcrop overlook itself is reasonably level and perhaps 10 feet by 10 feet in size, enough for perhaps 3-4 concurrent people. There is a natural bench in the rock facing the waterfall that makes an excellent seat. I setup my tripod for pictures, pulled out a sandwich, and enjoyed the moment.
Unfortunately on this day, Big Bradley Falls was only half of its normal water flow because of the dry conditions this spring. The free-fall cascade was nearly hidden behind a dead hemlock tree because of this, but the roar of the plunge was quite evident. I made a mental note to make my next visit after a few days of hard rain.
Still, it’s quite a lovely spot, and the view of the gorge downstream is reminiscent of a miniature version of Linville Gorge. Just a warning here: the rim of the overlook is straight down at least 50 feet, so please be careful as you’re moving about.
I stayed for 20-30 minutes and had it all to myself. I saw other hikers on the way there, and on the way back, but for those few minutes I was fortunate enough to experience Big Bradley Falls in solitude. I have seen photos of more daring folks than I rappelling over the waterfall’s precipice. I have also seen photos of a slack line setup across the plunge basin. So if you’re bold and fearless there is definitely more to try here.
On the way back I didn’t stop for nearly as many flower pictures, so I was back to the car within a half hour. This is a great hike if you want to get out there for a couple hours or less, perhaps after work some day. I think I would leave the little kids at home for this one. There is definite exposure at the overlook. You would hate to lose a frolicking toddler over the edge. If you suffer vertigo or acrophobia you may want to skip this one too.
If you want to make a longer venture of it, combine both Little Bradley Falls and Big Bradley on the same day. For that matter, the Big Bradley Trail even continues beyond the overlook. Having not yet tried that, I don’t know what’s out there. Perhaps some kind reader will leave a comment below and fill us all in.