We hit the trails last weekend: destination Falls Creek Falls. Just east of Jones Gap State Park, this portion of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area is protected by the Nature Conservancy. To reach the trailhead we headed north from SC Highway11 on the road that leads to the Jones Gap visitor center, but took a series of smaller roads leading towards Palmetto Bible Camp until we eventually crossed Falls Creek and arrived at the small parking area and kiosk. As most of the leaves have fallen there is a little teaser for the falls on Duckworth Rd. on the way in – they can just be seen across the fields opposite the camp.
We parked, registered at the kiosk and headed in, one of only two vehicles parked at the trailhead. The 1.3 mile-long trail starts off on a steep climb up an old roadbed following purple blazes, climbing 200’ in the first 0.35 miles.
The trail levels out for the middle section of the hike, leading through a beautiful hardwood forest filled with giant boulders. The peace in this draw was profound; the rocks appeared as slumbering giants in a bed of autumn leaves, with oaks and maples towering overhead to shelter their resting place. We dawdled here, and the boys scaled one of the largest boulders, the sense of accomplishment etched in their smiles.
A slight downhill dip led us to the Little Falls Creek crossing. The slippery stones were navigated without incident and we soon found ourselves climbing again, the last ½ mile a 400’ elevation gain. The boys needed some encouragement on this segment, and we frequently found ourselves holding their hands to help ascend some of the steepest sections in a series of switchbacks.
We heard the falls first, and then had a partially obstructed view through the trees. Once at the falls, a spur trail leads to a view of the top of the falls, while the main trail steeply descends to the base of the falls. From here the 5 mile Hospital Rock Trail takes you to the Jones Gap Visitor Center as well as to the connector trail that climbs up to Pretty Place, or you can retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
We first took in the 100’ waterfall from the base of the falls. Both the trail up to the top section and the one to the base are incredibly steep and difficult, but luckily short. We enjoyed the view of the waterfall and Jones Gap, and then climbed up to check out the upper section. Both spots had decent sized boulders that would make for a great picnic, but we opted to head back aways to a safer zone for our snack.
On our way down the switchbacks we saw a total of about a dozen hikers with about six dogs. While the majority were off leash and didn’t bother us, we had a nervous minute or two while three larger dogs passed while we were seated on the edge of the trail taking a break; the dog’s owners can assure me all they want that their dog would never harm anyone, but when meeting strange dogs on the trail you never know what will startle the dog, especially when there is the unpredictability of children and wilderness in the mix. My boys know better than to approach these four-legged hikers, but when a child comes nose to nose with a large dog coming around the corner I feel the need to remind the owners that the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area has leash laws for a reason. As it was, the encounters left me jumpy and I found myself missing most of the fabulous views on the way down.
Once we had hopped back across Little Falls Creek Mikus and I took a small detour up an old road bed to the waterfall visible from the trail. The road leads to a cluster of large boulders, and skirting them to the right we found an easy ascent to a great view of a 40’ slide.
Once back in the field of boulders the boys convinced their father to climb three or four more of the giants with them, leaving me with a sleeping baby in the carrier to regain the serenity to be found in the autumn forest.
The rock-climbing sapped the last bit of the boys’ energy levels and we found ourselves cajoling and coaxing them along the last bit to the car. Good thing we had the promise of ice cream on the way home in addition to pb&j sandwiches waiting in the car…
The 2.5 mile Falls Creek Falls hike took us a total of 4 hours to hike (probably closer to 3 miles with the several detours we added). Lauris and Mikus (5 and 3 years old) walked the entire way, while Vilis (1) rode in the backpack carrier. This is not a hike that would have been possible without Roberts along; I carried Vilis on the return trip which was hard enough – I can’t imagine how it was on the way up! We took frequent breaks for snacks/photos/nature journals which helped break up the steep sections (800 feet net elevation gain), and we let the boys make decisions such as choosing to climb a boulder, or lingering longer at the waterfall to maintain peace on the trail. Final verdict: thumbs up! Challenging hike, beautiful waterfall and unique boulder forest – perfect for a warm autumn day.