Snowbird Creek Waterfalls (6-3-17)
The waterfalls located in the Snowbird Creek area of Nantahala National Forest are some of the most wild and remote cascades you can visit in the State of North Carolina. Tucked away in the thickly forested hills to the west of tiny Robbinsville, NC these cascades are not the highest or most impressive in the state, and every one of them require fairly lengthy hikes to reach, but if you decide to make the effort to visit I guarantee you won't be disappointed. There are four main waterfalls to visit in the area. Three of them, with the rather uninspired names of Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls, are located along Snowbird Creek itself. The fourth, Sassafras Falls, is located on a major tributary close by. On this trip, just to be clear up front, I'd only be visiting three of the four. The major contributing factor to this was mileage. To visit the three I did required nearly 12-miles of walking and including the fourth would have pushed the total to over 15...something that on this very warm and humid day I was unwilling to attempt. Besides my major motivation for doing this hike was that one of the falls, Middle Falls on Snowbird Creek, would represent the 97th waterfall completed of my ongoing CMC Waterfall 100 Challenge. Essentially for me any other cascade would be a bonus then. This was a hike long in the planning and I was anxious to find out what I might discover. I wasn't going to be disappointed...
My hike began from the end of Snowbird Road, west of Robbinsville, at a place known to locals simply as 'The Junction'. At the end of the decent-sized lot two major trails into the forest begin...the Snowbird Creek Trail and the King Meadows Trail. I'd be following the Snowbird Creek Trail for the majority of the hike. Starting out I had about 2.5-miles of walking on the Snowbird Creek Trail before reaching any landmark of significance. Enjoyably, the trail is wide, well-maintained, and relatively flat as it follows an old logging grade upstream alongside its namesake stream. My arrival at the crossing of Sassafras Creek was the first highlight of the hike. Here, an old car full of bullet holes sits rusting quietly in the woods alongside a large campsite situated by the stream. After taking a few minutes to muse on the possible history of this fascinating old vehicle I made the rockhop of the creek and continued up the Snowbird Creek Trail for another quarter-mile to where the Sassafras Creek Trail joins it from the left. As with many of the junctions on the hike this one can be easily missed, so keep a sharp eye if you go! Turning uphill onto the Sassafras Creek Trail I now had a 0.8-mile side trip ahead of me to reach the first cascade of the day...Sassafras Falls.
Sassafras Falls is the highest of the cascades I'd be visiting this day, at around 60-feet in height. It's a multi-tiered cascade of which the creek splits into three distinct channels as it tumbles down the massive ledges which form it. It's a wonderfully wild and beautiful waterfall. I would have liked to stay longer but I had many more miles to log so I had to quickly retrace my steps back to the Snowbird Creek Trail and continue on. My next waterfall of the day would be located another mile or so upstream from the junction with the Sassafras Creek Trail. This would be the Lower Falls on Snowbird Creek. The Lower Falls actually consist of two main drops separated by a couple hundred yards of creek. Each section is reached by short and very steep scramble paths off the main trail. Neither path is marked but, if you're listening for the sound of falling water below and keep a sharp eye out you should be able to spot them. Each section of the Lower Falls is pretty and worth a visit but the upper section is my personal favorite. After the Lower Falls I again continued up the Snowbird Creek Trail to a point, about 4-miles from the trailhead, where a large footbridge crosses the creek. Here I had a choice to make. I could either continue following the Snowbird Creek Trail, which makes a left beyond the crossing, or follow the so-called Alternate Trail which heads up the neighboring ridge. I had actually decided before my arrival I'd be following the Alternate Trail. According to all the reports I had read prior to the trip, the section of the Snowbird Creek Trail between the bridge and Middle Falls can be exceedingly hard to follow and requires upwards of a dozen creek crossings. The Alternate Trail, in comparison, requires more in the way of vertical climbing but is dry, well-maintained, and easy to follow. The choice was clear. The Alternate Trail is a bit of a leg burner, as advertised, but it was an easy trail to follow as it winds up and over a steep ridge to the east of Snowbird Creek. After a little over a mile I first passed the trail which continues up to the Upper Falls on Snowbird Creek then arrived back at the Snowbird Creek Trail itself just a short distance above Middle Falls.
Turning downstream, I soon reached the spur path to the falls and before I knew it I was standing beneath Middle Falls itself. This was a biog moment for me. The 12-mile trek to reach these falls had long been a deterrent to visiting (thus it was the 97th falls I attempted on the Challenge) so it was with a great sense of accomplishment that I arrived. The Middle Falls themselves are not high (perhaps 20-feet if I'm generous) but they are a rare creek-wide type cascade which creates a majestic unbroken veil of falling water over 100-feet wide. Yes, it requires some effort to get to them but I can now say it is worth every step. Middle Falls on Snowbird Creek is a beauty...perhaps the best of the bunch on this day. I enjoyed the scenery and the sense of accomplishment for as long as I could, then turned my attention to the 5.5-mile return trek. Buoyed by my success the hike back to the car went quickly, that and mileage aside this had been quite an easy mountain trail to travel, so soon I found myself on the road home. It had been a wonderful day, and one that had gone smoother than I could have hoped it to. The trails of Snowbird Creek were magnificent and a joy to travel. The scenery is amazing in its remote and wild beauty. It was all just...good. If you ever get the chance go visit...Snowbird Creek is an all but hidden gem and I feel fortunate to be one of the few who have now explored it.
Without further adieu I present to you the waterfalls of Snowbird Creek...this is a long one, but worth it! As always, please...ENJOY!!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.264615, -83.938158
Mileage Hiked: 11.8 miles Hike Duration: 5:00
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 2,700' Max. Elevation: 3,700'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,440' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 122'