I can honestly say I would likely never have visited this cascade were it not for its inclusion on the Carolina Mountain Club's Waterfall 100 Challenge. Tucked into a seldom visited corner of the Wilson Creek area of the Grandfather Ranger District, this waterfall requires a decently long and fairly rugged walk to reach what some argue is not all that scenic a cascade. My opinion is divided on this. To be sure, this is a very rugged hike and not one that I can say I particularly enjoyed. The trail is narrow, steep, and completely lacking in any fascinating natural features which might distract one from the work of hiking it. As for the falls themselves? Well...Burnthouse Branch is a beauty, I'll give it that. Is it worth the effort to reach them...well, I'll just let you peruse the album and let you decide that for yourself. Personally, I'm on the low side of maybe. Even so, it is enjoyable for me to have reached a place seen by so relatively few people. That alone might make Burnthouse Branch worthy of a visit.
The hike to the falls begins at the end of the narrow, sometimes rough Forest Road 197 the end of which lies nearly three miles from the tarmac of Highway 181 north of Morganton. The road ends in a wide dirt parking area while a narrow two-track continues up the hill a short distance ahead and ends in a large gravel berm intended to restrict vehicle traffic. The hike begins on the continuation of the forest road beyond the berm. The first half of the 2.1-mile approach is fairly easy to walk and follow. Ascending at rarely more than a moderate grade the trail follows the old forest road right-of-way as it climbs alongside Upper Creek. A bit over a mile in, however, things get sketchy in a hurry. The trail at this point leaves the old road and begins a sometimes steep, frequently rocky, and always narrow route up along the east side of the ever-narrowing river gorge. Like I said already, this isn't a fun hike by any measure. The steep ups and downs are tiring and downfall (including a particularly HUGE area of downed trees) keeps the going slow and potentially frustrating. About two miles from the car the trail reaches tiny Burnthouse Branch where its another short but steep scramble up the streambed to reach the base of the falls. The falls themselves are perhaps 50-feet in height and are split into an initial sloping free fall underneath which the river continues its plunge over and around a tangle of large boulders. Anyone hoping to get a full-frontal shot of the falls will be frustrated here but I found enjoyment enough shooting the two halves of the cascade separately. The moss covered rocks and the multi-faceted nature of the falling water made for a beautiful scene, at least in my humble opinion.
So, #99 is complete...now only one remains. I feel fortunate that I was able to visit Burnthouse Branch...in all likelihood I wouldn't have were it not for the list I was pursuing. After visiting I can certainly see how many folks don't consider the beauty of the falls to be quite worth the effort that is required to get to them. In a way I can sympathize. This certainly won't be a hike I will be eager to return to any time soon, if ever. That said its now time to come along with me as I pursue yet another obscure, out-of-the-way cascade. You'll definitely need the heavy duty boots for this one so be prepared...and, as always...ENJOY!!!
Mileage Hiked: 4.2 miles Hike Duration: 2:45
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 1,350' Max. Elevation: 2,080'
Total Vertical Gain: 850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 202'