Tarklin Branch Trail to Wintergreen Falls and Thomas Cemetery Trail, DuPont State Forest

Located in the Guion Farm region of DuPont State Forest, this hike will take you to one of the lesser known, but equally memorable, of the exciting DuPont waterfalls. You are surrounded by majestic pine forest nearly throughout, with a walk along Grassy Creek for good measure. Most of the way is excellent double track surface, but that means you should listen for the sound of mountain bikes coming up behind you. Keep your eyes on the map and the markers as you will change trails several times to finish this easy loop. My brother and I hiked to Wintergreen Falls on Thursday, January 23, 2020 beginning at 11:00AM and finishing about 1:50PM. Our plan was take Tarklin Branch and Wintergreen Falls trails to the waterfall, then return on Sandy Trail, Thomas Cemetery Trail, and Buckhorn Road.

Total Length: 4.4 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours

Hike Rating: Easy. A nice level stroll through a beautiful forest. Some rock scrambling at Wintergreen Falls.

Hike Configuration: Loop Blaze: None needed

Elevation Start: 2,700 feet Elevation Gain: 235 feet

Trail Condition: Very good. Most of this hike is double track, former road with few roots or rocks.

Starting Point: Guion Farm parking on Sky Valley Road.

Trail Traffic: We saw one hiker couple at Wintergreen Falls, and three bike riders on Thomas Cemetery Trail.

How to Get There: DuPont State Forest can be accessed from Hendersonville, NC 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. Sky Valley Road is in the northeast corner of the forest. Look for printed trail maps at public parking areas.

 

 

 

Start in the south corner of the large Guion Farm parking area and head in a generally south direction on Tarklin Branch Trail, proceeding alongside a large meadow and into a mature pine forest. On sunny days, this transition from wide open spaces to dark canopy may take a moment for your eyes to adjust.

It’s roughly a mile from the trailhead to the next junction with Wintergreen Falls Trail. Along the way you will pass the occasional educational sign explaining the remedial work the State Forest Service has done to improve the pathways and waterways in the area, preventing flooding and washouts.

As DuPont is a working forest, so too will you find evidence of the logging activity that occurs throughout the state forest. You will pass a large clear cut area on your right along Tarklin Branch Trail, and later, as you meander along Thomas Cemetery Trail you will notice the forest thinning that has happened there. The loggers harvest only the most mature of the trees, leaving the younger ones for future use.

I think the forest that surrounds this region is among the most beautiful in DuPont. Another example of a beautiful pine forest hike off of Sky Valley Road is the Plantation Trail, a few miles farther up the road. The aroma of the pine is magnificent, and during warm weather you are treated to the wonderful bird music high above in the tallest boughs.

When you reach the junction, turn left (east) on Wintergreen Falls Trail, then it is an additional half mile to the waterfall. Continuing through the forest, you will notice fields of massive boulders on your left, fallen from the granite plutons high above. As you approach the end you will see horse tie-offs, and safety signs warning of the danger of waterfalls. First, you will reach the rocky whitewater cascades of Grassy Creek on your right, then wind your way northeast through a very thick rhododendron forest that parallels the creek.

As you duck through the rhodo branches, there are many large boulders creekside that are useful for setting up a camera tripod, or just sitting to watch… and listen. Wintergreen Falls is not particularly large, perhaps 15-20 feet tall and of equal width. The largest channel is on the left side of the cascade. During the dry season you can wade in the splash pool, but I wouldn’t recommend it during high flow periods.

 

This is Wintergreen Falls. Due to the very wet winter of 2020, it is flowing pretty nicely.

 

We stayed to visit for about 20 minutes, joined eventually by another pair of hikers. When we’d had enough, we returned the same way, a half-mile to the junction with Tarklin Branch. However, rather than going back, we turned left (west) here on Sandy Trail. This one is named appropriately. The tred on Sandy Trail is indeed quite sandy, remnants of being in the flood plain of Grassy Creek.

Grassy Creek starts with whitewater, but soon calms down to a slow, quiet stream cutting through dense, overhanging rhododendron thickets. Did you know that Grassy Creek is named for the evergreen teaberry ground cover that can be found along its banks? There is one junction where you can wade the creek to try Grassy Creek Trail, but we continued on Sandy Trail for 0.6-mile. At the end it rejoins Tarklin Branch Trail, but further southwest. Turn left.

It is roughly another half mile on Tarklin Branch to its meeting with Thomas Cemetery Trail. We turned right here (north), but you can also go left to view the Thomas Cemetery. Another wide double track, Thomas Cemetery Trail takes you through yet more stunning pine and hardwood forest. As mentioned above, there is evidence here of fairly recent logging activity.

We found a nice log on the side of the trail to enjoy lunch, and heard an unexpected crash in the forest nearby. We soon found out it was a State Forest Service ranger in a pickup truck driving through a frozen puddle, causing the crash-like loudness in the otherwise silent woods. We waved back and forth as he passed by, then put our packs back on to resume the trek.

You stay on Thomas Cemetery Trail for about a mile, until it crosses Buck Forest Road where you turn right. It’s then one last half mile on Buck Forest back to the parking lot. You will pass one of the few remaining inholdings within DuPont State Forest as you approach the finish. I often wonder how annoying it is to the people who live there to have hikers and bikers traversing their backyard day after day.

Summarizing this hike, the destination is a delightful picturesque waterfall deep within the forest. Along the way you’ll be treated to the smells and sounds of a vibrant pine woodland, the exciting rush of whitewater, and the calm soothing essence of a clear mountain stream. This is a great one for the whole family, both kids and the elderly, as it is not the least bit hard. Be careful around waterfalls as always, but have a great time.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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