Due to lack of signs and the degree of difficulty, the Little Bradley Falls and (Big) Bradley Falls hikes are usually left to those ‘in the know’; however, judging by the amount of traffic on our recent visit, these gorgeous waterfall hikes have been discovered and are quickly gaining popularity as short, but challenging and rewarding hikes in western North Carolina.
The Green River Game Lands are a relatively undisturbed wilderness area containing narrow gorges, steep ravines, coves, old-growth & mixed hardwood forests, and are managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. The area is named after the Green River, which runs through a rugged gorge on the Blue Ridge escarpment, at one point dropping 400 feet in 1 ½ miles through a six-foot wide crevice known as "the Narrows." Cove Creek, which originates near Saluda (and Pearson’s Falls) flows north and into the Green River, but first flows under I-26 and over two waterfalls, Little Bradley and Bradley Falls.
|One of the most difficult sections traverses a rock slide|
To reach the falls, hikers can park at a gravel pull-off on State Rd. 1142 (also known as Holbert Cove Rd.), which is a hair over three miles from exit 59 on I-26 less than an hour away from Greenville. There are no signs, but the trail for Bradley Falls departs to the north from the parking area, while the hike to Little Bradley starts on the opposite side of the road, across the bridge on the east side of Cove Creek. Hikers must immediately climb a steep section of trail away from the creek; the second trail that leads alongside the creek is a popular wading and picnic area, and although you can plainly see where hikers have attempted to reach the trail up the steep mountainside, there is consequently significant erosion and damage. It’s simple – follow the red blazes in the two or three places that the trail splits, and you’ll reach the falls.
|follow the red blazes!|
The boys love this hike as there are several creek crossings, making water shoes a good idea if taking off/putting shoes back on or attempting to rock-hop isn’t your idea of fun. But these crossings and a couple rather dicey sections of trail also bring the degree of difficulty up to moderate, meaning that the older boys require assistance in several spots and Vilis spends time in the backpack carrier.
The trail ends upon reaching Little Bradley Falls; you’ll know you’re close when you pass the old chimney ruins. The 35-foot, triple-tiered waterfall feeds into a large pool at the bottom, perfect for wading and cooling off on a hot summer day. Exercise extreme caution on the slippery boulders, and don’t attempt to climb to the top of the falls; just as with most other scenic falls in the area, dozens of people have been injured, and even killed in their attempt to photograph and explore the treacherous terrain. On our visit a professional rappelling team was practicing waterfall rescue operations up and down the side of the waterfall, and just this May a 20-year-old man fell about 50 feet from the top of Bradley Falls and ended up in the hospital in critical condition.
We retraced our steps to the bridge on Holbert Cove Rd. completing this 2-mile hike. On our way to the car I stared down the trail that leads to Bradley Falls. Although I long for the day that I’ll be able to hike the 1.5 mile there-and-back to the 100ft falls, I realize that it might still be some years before the boys can join me, due to the 30-foot rappel to reach the base of the waterfall. Until then, I’ll be more than happy with Little Bradley Falls! We reached the car, grabbed our lunch, and spent another hour in Cove Creek wading, splashing and catching crawdads before heading into Saluda for ice cream on Main Street. Summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains doesn’t get much better than this!
For a video tour of the Little Bradley waterfall hike view this video by HD Carolina!
This article also appears on the Kidding Around Greenville site.