Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Buffalo Creek Park in the Hickory Nut Gorge

Known for jaw-dropping waterfalls, stunning views of Lake Lure and vibrant fall foliage, the majestic Hickory Nut Gorge is a treasure chest of adventures just over an hour from Greenville. Along the 14-mile canyon created by the Rocky Broad River are numerous communities such as Gerton, Bat Cave, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure and Bill’s Creek, and in the surrounding environs you’ll find plenty of recreation including Dittmer-Watts Nature Trail Park, Chimney Rock State Park, Rumbling Bald, Florence Nature Preserve, Bearwallow Mountain and Buffalo Creek Park.

  
We headed up to Hickory Gorge in our annual fall color chase last week, hoping that the upper altitudes of the gorge would already be showing the vibrant foliage that the hardwoods in this area are known for. While we were definitely early for the show (predictions are for a peak of color more towards the end of the month), the hike in the headwaters of Lake Lure at Buffalo Creek Park was a look into the future of what the planned trails for this area will eventually hold.


Buffalo Creek Park is the gateway to 1,500 acres of land on Weed Patch Mountain. Owned by the town of Lake Lure, the park is managed by Conserving Carolina, the recent consolidation between the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Pacolet Area Conservancy. Buffalo Creek was opened to the public in the spring of 2014, and what is currently about 5 miles of trail will soon extend a total of 7-10 miles to the state park property at Eagle Rock near Shumont Mountain. The plan is to connect it with Chimney Rock State Park on the north side of Rumbling Bald Mountain, and eventually a complete circuit of Lake Lure will be pieced together in a 30-40 mile trail summitting multiple surrounding peaks.

Turkey tail fungi

But, we’ll have to be patient; currently the main portions open to hikers and mountain bikers are the Rumbling Bald Mtn. and Buffalo Creek Park trails. The 200 acre Buffalo Creek tract features a 4.7 mile loop which takes you up the side of Weed Patch Mountain and then back down to Buffalo Creek via endless switchbacks. The parking area is small, with space only for 5 cars (or a few more if you really squeeze ‘em in), and the hike moderate – it climbs about 500ft as it zigzags up and down the mountain.


For a detailed description of the hike (as well as maps and pictures taken in the winter) you can read Jeff Clark’s post on the park, but the trail is really straightforward. After a short section on an old roadbed you cross the Creek and then take a turn (follow the signs) to start the lollipop-loop. The trail is designed with safety in mind, with alternating designated days for bikers and hikers: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Friday, mountain bikers go left and hikers right (counter-clockwise around the loop), and on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday, hikers go left and mountain bikers right. This is designed to give hikers advance warning of bikers coming downhill.


There are a couple of spots with views of Lake Lure (like the one at the top of this post), but those will mainly come once the additional section of trail connecting to Eagle Rock opens. What currently exists of the connector trail is 1 mile long, taking you up 12 switchbacks to a dead end; we skipped this portion of the hike, opting to return to Buffalo Creek for lunch.



The best views were of Youngs Mountain on the opposite side of the valley, and the traverse of the boulder field along the top portion of the loop was also enjoyable. Plenty of oaks, hickories and other hardwoods will be ablaze in another couple of weeks, while the ecological diversity in the gorge will be showcased in the spring when the wildflowers return; 37 rare plant species and 14 rare animal species (including the Green Salamander) call this area home. Although the trail primarily seems designed for mountain biking, there is no doubt we’ll be returning to explore the gorge further - to experience the various seasons in Hickory Nut Gorge, and to enjoy the completed connector to Eagle Rock in Chimney Rock State Park.


For more on nearby hikes, please see my posts on Lake Lure, Chimney Rock State Park and Bearwallow Mountain. For more information on the status of the loop that will eventually circumnavigate Lake Lure, please see the Buffalo Creek FAQ section of the Lake Lure website.

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