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Harper Creek Falls and South Harper Creek Falls – Pisgah National Forest, NC

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
10.9 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
7 hours with 1 hour and 45 minutes of breaks
2,425 ft
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Parking area on SR 1328/Brown Mountain Beach Rd. 35.97765, -81.76617

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins (Contact Zach)

This lollipop hike in the Harper Creek Wilderness Study Area of Pisgah National Forest is a premier day hike or weekend backpacking trip with two wonderful waterfalls and plenty of great campsites. Harper Creek is a major tributary of Wilson Creek, which is protected as a National Wild and Scenic River. This region, within the Grandfather Ranger District, is full of big waterfalls and large creeks that originate from the slopes of Grandfather Mountain and surrounding peaks. The wilderness study area is one of two in this area, and although the first section of this hike is popular, the western portion of the loop feels like true wilderness. Your first stop is Harper Creek Falls, which boasts two incredible swimming holes amid an impressive setting. Many day hikers stop here and take full advantage of the swimming and cliff jumping opportunities. This hike continues following Harper Creek west, crossing the creek many times making navigation surprisingly difficult at times. South Harper Creek Falls is a 120-foot marvel surrounded by smooth cliff walls over 200 feet high. You can explore this waterfall from the base, the middle, and a cliff view across the gorge, but one false move could be fatal. The return along the Raider Camp Trail lacks excitement, but you’ll stay out of the creeks long enough for your shoes to dry out before one last crossing of Harper Creek. This loop may be enough for one weekend, but there are many other waterfalls in the area if you wish to explore further.

Camping – There are many dispersed campsites throughout the Harper Creek Wilderness Study Area. The best are the series of massive flat sites during the first mile of the hike, but these are close to the road and may be crowded. You’ll find many smaller campsites beside the creek further into the region.

Navigation - As you hike along the Harper Creek Trail beyond Harper Creek Falls, the blazes become infrequent or non-existent, and many creek crossings are not marked. As a general rule of thumb the Harper Creek Trail stays very close to the creek, only rising high and away from the creek at the two waterfalls. You’ll cross Harper Creek and side streams 14 times on this hike, 12 of them are likely wet fords.

Waterfall Safety – The Harper Creek Trail does not provide access to the base of either waterfall. For most hikers, the views from the trail will be sufficient as described below. You’ll come across scramble trails and climbing ropes that afford access to daring hikers, but none of these are maintained by the forest service. It is up to you whether you want to try any of these scrambles.   

Mid March
Harper Creek Falls and South Harper Creek Falls Hike Comments
Archived Comments

By: Dan G Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 3, 2018
I did this loop backwards and I think going the route written here would've been better, especially for a first time in this area. The difference would be that the majority of the creek crossings, especially the sketchy ones, would've been completed earlier in the hike with fresher legs and mind. The creeks are all very high now and the crossings are more like fording. All were at least knee high and a couple times I was up to my crotch (I'm 5'11''). Trekking poles were a must. From Mile 3.1 to 5.8 the trail as noted was fairly overgrown, and sometimes took some time to determine where and if to cross (especially the island crossing). But instincts kicked and it became more of feeling the trail. There were a couple tree markings giving confidence when seen, but this section could use some love. Mile 5.8 to 6.35 was a rocky, downed-tree scramble, not for the faint of heart. Once you ford the creek the top of the falls though, I would say the remaining hike would be wonderful going the written directions. This hike ended up being a good challenge on a beautiful day. It is definitely wilderness and I really enjoyed the solitude. Other than the 3 adventurous miles from 3.1 to 6.3, the trail felt very well graded, smooth and well marked. The views of Grandfather and Grandmother mountain and the South Harper Falls Overlook at 7.0 was definitely worth it. If you do the loop backwards while the creeks are still high, don't be ashamed to turn around at the top of South Harper Falls which would make a great 9 mile out and back.

By: Tim G Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, September 26, 2017
We hiked this as a leisurely two-night backpacking trip during some hot weather. Since we were out on weekdays, we only saw a couple of other people on the trail. Zach's description of the various crossings and intersections were really helpful, and basically spot-on. I think some recent trail work had been done on the first part of the north side of the loop there were some new blaze markers and all of the creek crossings were really well-marked. It has been dry for a while, and the crossings weren't bad at all, but definitely required water shoes or sandals, and poles would be helpful. The trail up to the ridge above the South Harper Creek Falls is in tough shape still. Lots of erosion, steep sections, and deadfalls. Be careful. We didn't attempt to explore the base of either falls, but we enjoyed the creekside campsites. Mosquitos were basically non-existent, which was nice. We saw evidence of coyote activity (scat), and a couple of impressive bear paw prints on the "island" around mile 5.2. A nice hike overall.

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