After being pleasantly surprised by the stunning views at Big Bradley Falls near Saluda, North Carolina, I finally got around to hiking to Little Bradley Falls in the same area. As with Big Bradley Falls, the pathway seems to be more of a suggestion than a proper trail. I’ll try to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made.
Following the less than 2-mile trail is mostly intuitive. Other websites mention that the creek should always be on this or that side of you, but they’re wrong. You’ll cross the creek a few times and hike on both sides of it. If the water is low, you will be able to hop across on large rocks. If the water is high, you will get your feet wet fording the creek.
You can park at the large dirt pull-off for Big Bradley Falls or drive just a little further across the street and park at the Little Bradley Falls pull-out by the bridge. I should reiterate that the trailheads are on opposite sides of the street about twenty yards down the road from each other. The trailheads are on opposite sides of Cove Creek as well.
There seem to be two trails to Little Bradley Falls at first—a wide one that closely follows Cove Creek, and a narrow one that leads up and to the left. You’ll notice that there is a red blaze on the tree to the left, so take that path. If you take the path on the right, you’ll have to scramble up a 25-foot dirt hill to get back on the proper trail. Have pity on the poor bastards like me who made that embarrassing climb.
You begin walking above the creek with the water on your right. You will have to negotiate some tight, steep corners and a blowdown or two, but this is the correct trail. There are very few red blazes to guide you.
The first confusing intersection comes when you can either continue walking with the creek on your right or cross the creek. You want to cross the creek at this fork and then head left once on the other side. I think there is a red blaze on a tree at this crossing. Continue on the main trail avoiding smaller side trails. You will climb higher in a steady elevation, keeping the creek on your left. You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction when you have to cross the rock slide. The boulders are slick, so be careful.
After the boulders, you will have to negotiate some fallen trees. After that, you will cross a very small stream. Once across, the trail seems to fork in several directions. People camp around this area, so there’s really not one correct path to follow. Just walk toward your 10 o’clock and the growing sound of the falls. If there are very few leaves on the trees, you might even be able to see the cascade from the crossing.
This is a very fun little waterfall and swimming hole. As you can tell by the poorly lit pictures, I was there early when the sun was still peeking through the trees. Oddly, I saw no one on my hike to the falls and only two people hanging around the pool. Then I must have passed 20 people on the way back to my car. I imagine this is a pretty popular place when the water is clear and the weather is going to be hot, which it was on the day I was there.
Due to the fact that there are several creek crossings and the pathway is often muddy, this might be a good time to take some water shoes. That way, you can play around in the pool at the base of the falls without worrying about cutting your feet on any of the rocks.
I saw some people making the hike with little kids. They brought snacks and towels and seemed to be spending their morning there. Others brought large and small dogs. I think kids would be fine on this trail, but I’m not sure how some of the heavier dogs would be able to navigate the rock slide area. Maybe that’s why there are so many side trails? If you’re planning to get wet anyway, why not just walk the dogs directly through the creek to the falls?
This was a fun and easy hike. You could have a great morning hiking to the Big Bradley Falls overlook and then crossing the street to play in Little Bradley Falls. Follow that up with a late lunch at The Purple Onion in Saluda and then call it an early day.