There are no safe areas to view the beautiful and bashful Big Bradley Falls. It should only be accessed by advanced hikers.
Hidden away in the beautiful and rugged Green River Game Lands of Western North Carolina is the bashful Big Bradley Falls. This stunning 75′ waterfall and swimming hole is truly a site to see but can be somewhat difficult to view completely and is definitely not a hike for young children or the inexperienced. While the hike to the overlook is moderate and short, just under a mile, the hike to the base of the falls, doesn’t add much distance but it is significantly more strenuous and involves a roped assisted climb down a near vertical 25′ rock wall. The overlook is also very exposed atop a small rock outcropping with no railing present. Unfortunately there have been numerous accidents and deaths at Big Bradley Falls over the years. The sign at the start of the trail sums it up well – Safe views of Big Bradley Falls are not available. Despite all of this, Big Bradley Falls is still a very popular spot to visit but should only be a destination for the experienced and responsible hiker.
The trailhead for Big Bradley Falls is located off of Holbert Cove Rd in Saluda North Carolina. It is 3 easy miles off of Interstate 26 from the Saluda exit #59. The parking area for the trail isn’t marked but is easily spotted as it is located just before the road crosses Cove Creek and it is exactly 3 miles from the Interstate. There is also a small wooden signboard that should be visible. The parking area isn’t huge but should be sufficient for most days.
The trail starts at the back of the parking area next to the wooden signboard which you should review before heading out. It initially starts out very flat through a small field where you quickly encounter a fork. Stay to the left on the main trail as it enters the woods and parallels Cove Creek. The trail is marked with blue blazes on the trees along with signs warning you of the conditions near the falls. Shortly after the start of the hike, the trail crosses Cove Creek. Depending on the conditions, you may have to get your feet wet or abandon the hike completely if you can’t safely cross the creek. After crossing the creek the trail will ascend slightly following the blue blazes up the hill. From here you can either hike to the overlook or down to the base of the falls. We will describe both starting with the overlook.
To reach the overlook, continue on the trail about 3/4 of a mile. You are looking for a trail that cuts off steeply downhill to the left. It is marked with a blue arrow and LO on a tree although it is on the opposite side of the tree. The trail here is short to the overlook but very steep and there are no steps. It leads down to a small rock ledge that provides a distant and somewhat limited view of the falls. While there may be some smaller flows that are visible on the rock face, the large flow of Big Bradley Falls is hiding in the corner behind some vegetation and a dead hemlock tree. Note that the drop-off from the ledge is significant. Extreme caution should be used while you are on the rocky ledge.
When you have finished enjoying the view from the overlook, you can either hike back to the parking area or down to the base of the falls. To reach the base of the falls, start hiking back towards the parking area and look for a steep trail leading down towards the top of the waterfall. It isn’t marked but there is another warning sign on a tree right next to the trail followed by a yellow warning sign a little further down the trail. It should be about 1/4 of a mile from the overlook or, if you are coming from the creek crossing, it’s just under a 1/2 mile after the creek. The trail here is steep and will switch back away from the falls. A trail continues straight to the top of the falls but you want to take the switch back which will take you to a fixed rope on top of a 25ft near vertical wall. It is at this point that you need to make a decision as this part of the hike isn’t for everyone. You need to know both your abilities and limitations to ensure you are capable of making it safely down the wall and then back upon your return. Only experienced hikers should proceed past this point. If you decide to continue, use the rope to safely make it down the wall and then follow the remaining short trail down to the base of the falls.
The area at the base of the falls is quite large and provides full unobstructed views of the beautiful Big Bradley Falls. There is a large pool at the base of the falls that is a popular swimming hole during the warm summer months. If you come prepared, you can enjoy a dip in one of the most beautiful swimming holes in the area or just sit back and enjoy Big Bradley Falls as it roars in the background.
When you have finished enjoying the base of Big Bradley Falls, hike safely back to the parking area. Take care and be safe when climbing the wall!