Sleepily tucked away between the dramatic Linville Gorge to the west, and the well-known waterfalls of the Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic River Area to the east, the Steels Creek Gorge is a treasure-trove of dramatic waterfalls unbeknownst to the average hiker. There are 5 named waterfalls on Steels Creek along this section, including Steels Creek Falls, and 6 more known waterfalls on tributaries of the creek. In total, this hike brings you to viewing points for 5 waterfalls. Of course, if you’re the adventurous type you can see more with a good map and directions from North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition. The highlights are Steels Creek Falls and Beverly Hillbilly Falls, both impressive and unique waterfalls that bely description. In addition to multiple creek fords on this hike, the only way to see Beverly Hillbilly Falls is a 0.3-mile creek-walk/bouldering expedition upstream. If you’re not comfortable with this we advise you to skip it, the other waterfalls should suffice. This is also a great area for camping and swimming. There are nice campsites right beside the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and Steels Creek that are ripe for a weekend basecamp utilized best for fishing, swimming, and waterfall exploration.
Mile 0.1 – T-junction with the old MST on the left. In 100 feet you’ll pass an overgrown forest road grade on the right. (This overgrown path on the right is beginning of a bushwhack to see Zigzag Falls. Following the path down towards an old campsite is easy, but the rest is extremely difficult and dangerous. The waterfall is listed in North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition, see the book for more information.)
Mile 0.8 – As the trees open up on the right, you’ll see a short side path down to exposed bedrock. This is the top of Rip Breeches Falls. If the rock is dry you can walk to the base, but the pool at the bottom left means it is not possible to view this waterfall without getting wet or sliding down. This hike travels to the base of the waterfall starting at the creek downstream, at Mile 5.1.
Mile 1.55 – Above to your right is a large grass field, a former orchard, that also presents camping opportunities. The unofficial Lettered Rock Trail begins at the edge of the field heading southwest towards FR 496.
Mile 2.9 – Reach the base of Beverly Hillbilly Falls, a unique double-slide waterfall. The creek steeply slides over massive cliff approximately 25 feet, then makes an abrupt right-hand turn following a narrow rock chute. The creek then turns left over a short, shallow slide into the larger base pool. The water here is deep and beautiful in the chute. It is easy to walk beside the chute right up to the main waterfall. This waterfall is also known as Screaming Right Hand Turn Falls, the name seems appropriate. Turn around and make your way back downstream to the campsite.
Mile 3.5 – A scramble trail on the left leads down to a massive, sloped boulder in the middle of Steels Creek Falls. Use extreme caution here, the path and rock are not level, and typically wet. There is an old rope anchored to help you shimmy down the rock for a better view, but you cannot fully trust the integrity of a rope left by someone else. It is highly recommended to stay far away from the edge of this rock, or do not scramble on it at all. The rock juts out into the middle of the waterfall, so one slip will send you into the falls. From wherever you stand you will get a great view of the upper drops of Steels Creek Falls. There are multiple short drops over smooth, sculpted rock into enormous potholes. There is also a shorter, steeper, and more dangerous scramble path to see the very top of the waterfall. There is no rope here to help you. You should ignore this, the view isn’t worth the risk. Also, you cannot see the base of the waterfall from the trail. It requires an incredibly steep and difficult bushwhack, or a long creek-walk through deep pools far downstream. Once you are done viewing Steels Creek Falls turn around and head north on the MST upstream.
Mile 5.4 – Reach the base of Rip Breeches Falls. The unnamed tributary to Steels Creek flows over 40 feet down the left side of the open rock. To rejoin the MST, either climb up the rock or turn right and do a short bushwhack through the woods.
Mile 5.5 – Back on the MST, turn left heading west uphill.
Mile 6.3 – Turn right on the old MST. (Or continue straight to cut this hike short, leaving out the last two waterfalls.)
Mile 7.0 – The side path ends at the base of Upper Steels Creek Falls. This steep slide is over 50 feet high, and plummets from high above out-of-sight. Unfortunately, this waterfall is usually cluttered with downfall at the base and rhododendron above, obscuring great views.
Mile 7.1 – Turn right on FR 496.
Mile 7.4 – Hike ends at the MST gate on FR 496.
Steels Creek Falls Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 22, 2018
Thanks for sharing this incredible hike! We went the weekend after hurricane Florence and the water was still very high. The three wet crossings mentioned turned into six wet crossings because of the water level. The pool at the base of the teacup falls was much larger than what you see in the youtube video and it was at least 6-7 feet deep when we went swimming..
This is an extremely remote hike, we only saw one other person on the first day. Do not do this alone. Watch the video to get a better sense of what's involved with this hike. This is definitely a great canyon to camp in, there are a variety of sites and plenty of space. Easy access off highway 181.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 12, 2017
My friends wanted me to take them on a hike with some shade and water during this intense summer heat. I thought this hike perfectly fit the bill, as most of the trail is wide and under tree cover, and it is a good beginner's foray into creek-walking to waterfalls. We only did 3 waterfalls on Steels Creek that are close together, Teacups Falls, Beverly Hillbilly Falls, and Steels Creek Falls.
There was some downfall around the side trail to Teacups Falls that wasn't there last year, it made the descent a little trickier. Teacups Falls is by far the safest to explore, the pool is wide with an extensive sandy, shallow area. Next we went straight to Steels Creek Falls which was more dangerous than my previous visit. The trail down, which is steep, was almost entirely mud from recent rains. Combined with thin soil and the gradient, this is hazardous. More dangerous is the rock pulpit in the middle of the waterfall which is the primary viewpoint. You do not want to fool around here, one slip on the rock and you could easily tumble over the lower drops. The two ropes tied off to help people down the rock were muddy and frayed, but seemed fine for one person to use at a time. We all found small nooks to sit down and enjoy the incredibly unique pothole drops of Steels Creek Falls.
I convinced my friends to try the straightforward creek walk to Beverly Hillbilly Falls. The main issue was making sure their small labradoodle could get around big rocks. This wasn't an issue until the boulder field below the waterfall, where we had to lift him a couple of times. This waterfall is one of my favorites, and is very isolated. We lounged on the large rocks beside the falls for a while. This time, I scouted a hidden scramble trail around the right side of the waterfall that led to the top. We took this and creek walked around massive boulders a few hundred feet upstream to Teacups Falls. This is a really beautiful section of creek, and saves about 20 minutes of backtracking.
By the way, we only saw one very large group of backpackers that seemed like college freshmen. Otherwise this is an unpopular hike, nearby Linville Gorge and Upper Creek Falls get all the visitors.