Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pearson's Falls near Saluda, NC

The recent trips to North Carolina – Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, Charlotte and vicinity– have reminded me how close the Upstate is to the state line. It seems some scenic adventures in our neighboring state haven’t really popped up on our radar because, well, they’re in a whole other state. Such is the case with Pearson’s Falls. An invitation from friends to join them on a short waterfall hike brought us to the Pearson’s Falls Waterfall and Botanical Preserve near Saluda, NC, just an hour away from Greenville.

The trip from Spartanburg is less than 40 miles, and although it’s fewer miles if you’re headed up from Greenville, it will take 10-15 minutes longer as you’ll be on small roads the whole way up. Old Highway 25 cuts the corner off, taking you past the North Saluda Reservoir and bypassing Tuxedo, NC – not only a straighter shot, but one of the most beautiful roads in the Upstate. On sunny days be prepared to share the road with cyclists, and once you get closer to Saluda get ready for some stunning mountain views.

Pearson’s Falls has been owned and maintained by the Tryon Garden Club since 1931. As it is a privately owned property there is an admission fee (however nominal), and because the glen has set operating hours visitors should check the gate schedule before visiting. We timed our visit to arrive soon after opening, allowing for max time outdoors before having to head back to pick Lauris up from school. Following the gravel Pearson Falls Road south straight from Saluda is the easiest way to get there, although you can take the paved 176 around to the paved end of Pearson Falls Road near the North Pacolet River bridge. Upon arriving we paid the upbeat gate attendant (“you’re my first visitors of the morning!”) and parked in the small parking area before setting off on the gravel trail to the falls.

The preserve is advertised as a botanical, bird and wildlife sanctuary, and encompasses 268 acres of native forest surrounding Colt Creek. Many of the larger trees near the trail are labeled, and the resulting mix – tulip poplar, beech, maple and buckeye – present a typical cove forest type. Being a rather chilly February morning with three exuberant children along for the hike we didn’t see any wildlife; on the other hand there were plenty of spots of snow, ice, icicles and frost for the boys to poke, prod and pick-up.

Vilis walked the whole 1/3 mile to the falls by himself, although I had a firm grasp on his hand as the trail ascends rock steps which can be uneven or narrow in spots. With picnic tables and benches providing ample rest spots along the trail, we could easily have spent hours getting to the falls if we had listened to Mikus’s suggestions on where to stop for snacks…

Several small cascades along the way provided a lovely sound of running water until we reached the lower falls, a wide ledge with about a four foot drop. Just behind are the main falls, a 90 ft. waterfall that cascades down layers of rock to reach the narrow creekbed and boulders below.

The falls are named for engineer Charles William Pearson who scouted the mountains for Southern Railroad. In 1931 the Tryon Garden Club bought the property to protect it from development, and today it is designated as a North Carolina National Heritage Site of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, a North Carolina Birding Trail Site, and is in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Gardens.

Although we had packed a lunch the lure of lunch in Saluda proved too great to overcome. There were several tempting options, and having picked Wildflour Bakery (“All we knead is love”) we were soon seated with delicious sandwiches in hand. Well, the moms had sandwiches – the kids chose sticky buns!

A morning spent outdoors meant a couple of passengers dozed off in the back of the car on the way home. We made it to school pick-up with plenty of time to spare, and the afternoon was spent enjoying the sunshine in the backyard. Final verdict on Pearson’s Falls? Yet another magnificent waterfall that is going on the list to hike in the spring! 

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