A wonderful loop hike to a series of waterfalls with a nice summer swimming hole.
Just off highway 181 in the Pisgah National Forest, a few miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is the wonderful loop hike – Upper Creek Falls. This area is made up of a series of several waterfalls along with a popular swimming hole right where Upper Creek rushes down the mountain. It is a gorgeous area and the moderate hike is just a little over 1 1/2 miles. There are, however, a few creek crossings on this hike which may either require you to get your feet wet or even turn back if the creek can’t be crossed safely.
The trailhead to Upper Creek Falls is located just off highway 181 about 5 and 1/2 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Look for the sign set back off highway 181 next to the short unpaved road that leads to the parking area. It is right on a curve so use caution if you are approaching from the North and turning left. The parking area for Upper Creek Falls is large but this is a popular spot and it can fill up during the warm summer months when people like to spend a leisurely afternoon wading in the swimming hole. If you want to beat the crowds, arrive early. There are no restroom facilities at Upper Creek Falls.
Since the trail to Upper Creek Falls is a loop trail you can start from either direction but we recommend starting at the top section which includes a few waterfalls and the swimming hole first. This side of the loop departs behind the signboard. The return is on the opposite side of the parking lot.
The trail is a beautiful walk in the woods although initially you parallel the highway and can still hear the cars and motorcycles as they rush by. The yellow blazed trail gradually descends at first but once you hit the first switchback, and start to move farther away from the highway, the pace of the descent picks up. It is only about a 1/2 a mile until you reach Upper Creek which has wooden stairs leading down to the rocky shore of the creek. At this point you are directly above the largest waterfall in the area so you need to exercise extreme caution. A slip into the creek directly above the falls would almost certainly be fatal. You also have to use good judgment and decide if you can safely continue across the creek at this point. There will be times when the creek isn’t crossable. During these times just enjoy the view and then hike back to the parking area.
If the water level is manageable, you have a few options. Many people will walk up the creek for about 100ft to a large swimming hole that is just below another large cascade. Even if you don’t plan on going for a swim we highly recommend that you checkout this area because it is very beautiful. Although it seems crazy to swim above the large waterfall, the swimming area is protected by a number of large rocks. There is even a rope swing tied to a tree for your enjoyment.
You can also safely walk to the top of the large waterfall and enjoy the view from above it. This is just to the right as you come down the stairs. Stay well back from the slippery rocks and rushing water while you are enjoying this vantage point.
If you want to continue the loop you will need to cross the creek. Most of the time this can be done by safely boulder hopping across although you may need to get you feet wet. After you cross the creek, the trail continues into the forest and switchbacks down the mountain. There are a number of side trails off the main trail that lead to various views of the large waterfall. Some of these provide your best views of the large 80ft waterfall at Upper Creek Falls.
The main trail will eventually level out and parallel the creek for a short distance before intersecting it again at a large flat rocky area just below where the series of waterfalls ends. This is a great area to relax and enjoy nature before crossing the creek and continuing on your hike.
After crossing back over Upper Creek, the trail will then start a series of steady switchbacks as you work your way up the mountain. There are quite a few switchbacks, just take your time and eventually you will end up back at the parking area completing the Upper Creek Falls Loop. You can see much evidence of people cutting through the woods and making their own trails, but to avoid erosion and keep the trail beautiful for future hikers we recommend you stay on the designated trail.