Gorges State Park -- Wintergreen & Chub Line Falls (1-14-17)
As some of you may know already I have for some time been plugging away at the Carolina Mountain Club's Waterfall 100 Challenge. Getting towards the completion of this list the waterfalls I need to reach are becoming increasingly difficult to reach as, predictably, I've left the ones requiring the longest hikes and/or most difficult bushwhacks until the last. One of these more challenging waterfalls was going to be Wintergreen Falls, which despite the hike being only 5-miles from my home, I had yet to visit. You see, the most direct route to Wintergreen requires a lengthy 10+ mile round-trip hike by way of the Auger Hole Trail on the east side of Gorges State Park. I like waterfalls but, even for me, 10-miles is a long way to go for a single cascade. Then I received an offer I couldn't easily pass up. A friend of mine, ranger, and former co-worker at Gorges State Park wondered if I'd be interested in riding along with him on a routine patrol through the interior of the park. On the way he'd drop me off at the beginning of the trail to the falls on the Auger Hole Road saving me a good three-and-a-half miles of walking. Obviously, I eagerly agreed. So my hike would officially begin about 3.5-miles down the Auger Hole Trail from its starting point...the Frozen Creek parking area on the State Park's eastern boundary. At this point the newly designated Wintergreen Trail breaks north to follow the Toxaway River Gorge upstream.
The route to the falls begins easily enough as the Wintergreen Trail follows the route of an old forest road for about a mile before reaching the banks of the Toxaway River where there will soon be a backcountry campground constructed. Beyond that point, however, the route gets a bit trickier. On this visit I was able to, without much trouble, locate the goat path heading up the river. For the first quarter mile or so the going was pretty straight forward, then the path reaches the site of an old landslide and from previous trip reports I've read there's an option of two routes from there. Either you can head down along the river or uphill away from it. I was only able to see the path continuing straight ahead so I simply went that way. The path continued to be fairly overgrown but it was, for the most part, obvious. About three-quarters-of-a-mile from the future campground the path reaches tiny Panther Branch, which is crossed via an easy rock-hop. Beyond Panther Branch is the most rugged part of the hike. The path steeply ascends up and around a series of rock ledges skirting the very narrow and steep edge of the gorge. It then descends back to the river by dropping down, almost vertically, another series of moss-covered ledges. This is a tricky section to navigate and I found myself on my rear end to make the drop safely. After the ledges the trail levels out again but becomes less easy to follow. At one point I found myself forced away from the Toxaway and involved in a true bushwhack involving some nasty briers. Thankfully the bushwhack doesn't last long and I soon found myself standing on the edge of the large pool beneath Wintergreen Falls itself. I can say this, the rough hike completely pays off here. Wintergreen Falls is an amazing site. Spilling out of the narrow unseen gorge above it is a fantastically wild and scenic cascade. I spent an enjoyable half hour sitting on the shore snapping pictures and simply taking in my surroundings.
After Wintergreen I retraced my steps. First back along the goat path to the future campsite and then along the Wintergreen Trail back to the Auger Hole Trail. By this point I had contemplated making an impromptu side-trip to nearby Chub Line Falls and decided, since I was already down here and still feeling pretty good, I couldn't pass up a visit. Chub Line isn't that far off the Auger Hole Trail but it requires an extremely steep bushwhack to visit. The good thing is, at least after the leaves fall, that Chub Line can be seen from the main trail giving you a good idea the direction you need to be headed before you get off into the weeds. I left the Auger Hole Trail perhaps a quarter mile above its junction with the Wintergreen Trail at a point where I could see a large rocky beach along the Toxaway far below. As I stated before, its an incredibly steep descent that will find you on your butt and searching for handholds on a number of occasions. That, and the rhododendrons you have to fight through as you near the river get quite thick. I thankfully managed the descent without any bloodshed and soon found myself standing just downstream of Chub Line on the rocky beach I had seen from far above. Carefully making the ford of the Toxaway I was able to get a bit closer to the falls itself. I had thought that Wintergreen Falls would be the highlight of this hike...it had indeed been spectacular but I'm here to say Chub Line stole the crown. The rugged power of the Toxaway here is amazing to behold. I immediately had no regrets deciding to make the difficult climb to see them. If you have the chance to go...I implore you to do it. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the entirety of Gorges State Park.
After Chub Line it was time to make the steep climb back to the Auger Hole and continue my walk back to the car. The climb was difficult but overcome without too much trouble. Back on the Auger Hole Trail I simply now had to make the three mile (mostly) uphill walk back over the ridge to the parking lot. As the Auger Hole was originally constructed for vehicular traffic its a relatively easy trail to climb. There's not much to see, mind you, but at least the going never gets to difficult. An uneventful hour later I once again found myself at the Frozen Creek Access lot and my day was complete. It had been a wonderful trip. Difficult at times to be sure, but the two waterfalls I had been able to visit were more than worth the effort. Thanks to my taxi ride at the start I only had to log about 7.5 miles to visit both but I can honestly say if I had to have done the full 10+ mile hike it still would have been more than worth it.
So, without further adieu come along with me as I once again venture into the wild interior of Gorges State Park to visit two of the most ruggedly beautiful cascades I've yet had the good fortune of exploring. As always...ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.108482, -82.883659
Mileage Hiked: 7.4 miles Hike Duration: 4:30
Trailhead Temp: 50'F Trail Traffic: None!
Min. Elevation: 1,350' Max. Elevation: 2,300'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,400' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 189'
Trails Used (blaze color/shape): Auger Hole (orange squares), Wintergreen Falls (blue squares)