Wilson Creek: 49,000 Acres of Rugged Wilderness
Forty-nine thousand acres of wilderness comprise the Wilson Creek area, one of North Carolina’s most pristine and rugged terrains. Camping, kayaking, hunting and fishing, waterfall hikes, off-road driving, and mountain biking are available in selected areas. Opportunities for adventure and activity abound for every skill level including the most experienced outdoorsmen.
A 23.3-mile mountain stream, Wilson Creek was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in 2000. Much of Wilson Creek lies within the Pisgah National Forest. The stream starts atop 5,920-foot high Grandfather Mountain, just 100 yards above the Blue Ridge Parkway. Twenty miles later, the headwaters rush through the Blue Ridge Mountains into a 200-foot deep gorge of granite bedrock.
From its boulder-strewn headwaters, kayakers plunge through rapids with names like “Boatbuster” and “Thunderhole” in what is recognized as one of the most challenging runs in the southeastern United States. Twenty-five miles of wilderness trails offer hikers and backpackers striking views of small waterfalls and forests intertwined with laurel and rhododendron. Pristine trout waters draw avid fishermen while mountain bikers find single-track systems, creating opportunities for all abilities. Thirty-four miles of trails are open to all-terrain and off-highway vehicles in the Brown Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Area.
There are numerous hiking opportunities in Caldwell County offering enough challenge for any active outdoorsman and gentler pathways for walkers who prefer strolling. From viewing waterfalls at Wilson Creek with the rugged terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains to a less strenuous walk in over 20 walking areas throughout Caldwell County, there’s something for everyone.
The trails in the Wilson Creek area are generally rugged, so be prepared. Most are signed at trailheads and a few have internal signs or blazes on the trees. The descriptions below are for a few of the more popular waterfall trails. Use these descriptions in conjunction with a map of the area (available at the Wilson Creek Visitor Center or from the U.S. Forest Service). The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, blazed with white circles, crosses through the area.
Being one of the more popular hikes in the area, you get double waterfalls at Harper Creek starting at 40 feet. This walk is an easy to moderate hike and takes about an hour. The trailhead is about 1.9 miles north of the Wilson Creek Visitor Center on Brown Mountain Beach Road. Follow the creek until you get to the waterfall. The trail is blazed in orange. There is a parking area at the trailhead.
This waterfall is easy to get to and is excellent for beginners. The trailhead starts at Mortimer Campground and follows Thorpes Creek. This 15-foot, cascading waterfall is about .18 mile on the trail. From Brown Mountain Beach Road, turn left on N.C. 90. Mortimer Campground is on the right. Follow the road through the campground and park at the end.
Hunt-Fish Falls is a wonderful destination for more advanced hikers. The trail winds down a scenic cove to a 20-foot waterfall and becomes very steep at the end. The length of the trail is .7 miles. The trail intersects with Lost Cove Trail above Hunt-Fish Falls, which provides several opportunities to connect to other trails for longer hikes past Hunt-Fish Falls. From Brown Mountain Beach Road, turn left on N.C. 90. Follow N.C. 90 for 1.8 miles to Pineola Road (SR464). Turn left on Pineola Road and go 3 miles to a marked parking area on the right.
This trail is one of the more scenic trails in the region. There are three falls along this route with several easy to difficult creek crossings. The trail reaches the Upper and Lower Gragg Prong Waterfalls and Hunt-Fish Falls. This trail is part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and is marked with a white blaze. From Brown Mountain Beach Road, turn left on N.C. 90. Follow N.C. 90 for 2.1 miles to Roseboro Road (SR981). Turn left on Roseboro Road and go 4.1 miles to a bridge. A small parking area is just beyond the bridge.