Lower Bearwallow Falls is a 55-foot waterfall in Gorges State Park in North Carolina. When most people think of Gorges, they think of Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls. But there’s another parking area near Frozen Creek with trails that connect to the Foothills Trail. Despite a gravel parking lot, picnic tables, grills, and a privy, I’ve never seen more than a couple of cars there.
Let me say upfront that this is not a hike for a rainy day or even a muddy day. It involves a river crossing and a steep scramble down an unmarked trail. If the ground is slick, accessing the falls will be very dangerous. And considering this is already an 8-mile out-and-back hike, it’s probably a good idea to save this adventure for a dry, sunny day. I’ve created a GPS map you can use to identify the various waterfalls in the area. It also points out where you leave the trail to scramble down to Lower Bearwallow Falls.
Park at the Frozen Creek Access Area using the map point below. There’s no cell service in the area, so get your navigation app up and running while you’re still in civilization.
The Auger Hole Trail is an old forestry road with orange blazes. The Auger Hole and Canebrake Trails split near the top of the hill at the .7-mile mark. Stay straight to continue on Auger Hole. This section is mostly downhill until you reach the crossing of the Toxaway River at the 3.5-mile mark.
This can be a very dangerous river crossing. The first time I tried to visit Lower Bearwallow Falls, the water was too high and I had to turn around and walk back to my car. This time, the water was a little higher than usual, but not recklessly dangerous. Compare the video below to the photo above to see what I’m talking about.
There’s a very small, primitive campsite on the other side of the river in case you want to spend a weekend exploring Lower Bearwallow Falls, Auger Fork Falls, Maple Spring Branch Falls, Chub Line Falls, and Step Around Falls. There are also designated campsites with picnic tables and bear poles near Wintergreen Falls, which can be accessed via a trail intersection just before the river crossing.
Once across the river, walk a half mile up the old forestry road to the unmarked trail to Lower Bearwallow Falls. It’s in the elbow of a clockwise bend where the ridge comes up to road level. There’s a downed tree just off the road that you need to step over. The photo just after the river marks the spot. It’s also marked in yellow on the GPS map. Simply follow the most worn earth and use your best judgment. After about 50 yards, the pathway will take a turn to the left where it descends steeply down the mountain. When I visited the falls, there was pink marking tape to indicate where you turned left.
This is bushwacking. I don’t think I’ve had to scramble like this since I visited Dismal Falls. It’s easier and safer to ascend the river gorge than to descend, so be extra careful on the way down. I would not have attempted this descent without trekking poles.
The waterfall is absolutely gorgeous. The cool spray made it difficult to get a good photo, but it felt like air conditioning on a hot and humid day. The water was a little higher than usual, resulting in an impressive cascade (compared to other photos). The roar of the water was very loud. If you plan to swim—which you very much can do—it’s not a bad idea to bring bugspray and earplugs.
Aside from the scramble to/from the falls and the river crossing, there’s not much to this hike. You walk 8 miles on a gravel forestry road. It’s mostly downhill on the way to the falls and mostly uphill on the way back, although the elevation changes or flattens out often enough to provide some relief.
I did this trail in under 3½ hours, but I hike pretty fast. I think a more casual hiker should plan to start no later than 7 hours before sunset. Due to the river crossing and the steep scramble to the waterfall, I don’t think this is an appropriate trail for small children or pets.
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