Reece Place Falls (Lower Cascade) -- 2,500'

Headwaters State Forest - Reece Place Lollipop

Headwaters State Forest is a recently established piece of protected property along the North Carolina-South Carolina border in Transylvania County. Established in 2009 with the acquisition of land by local conservancy groups, Headwaters opened to the public in 2018 and encompasses nearly 7,000-acres. Named for its location surrounding the headwaters of the East Fork French Broad River the State Forest is a rugged and all but undeveloped piece of real estate containing wooded ridges and numerous waterfalls (although the advertised 20+ count may be a bit exaggerated). Since the forest is still in its infancy as public property very little, if any, infrastructure exists providing access as yet. There are only two official trailheads and maps of the roads/paths within it are vague and hard to find. For those worried that Headwaters might someday become the zoo nearby DuPont is, there is some hope…the NC Forest Service has stated it intends to build little more than a couple small parking areas. Otherwise it will remain preserved in the wild state in which it currently exists. So, for those of us with a sense of adventure and a good map, we can experience this new state forest at its most raw...untouched as-yet by the hands of man.

With 2020's COVID-19 pandemic in full swing much of the surrounding public lands of my home Transylvania County were closed to visitors. I decided, thus, that this would be the perfect time to set about exploring Headwaters. I mapped out a series of a half-dozen hikes which, when combined with earlier visits would allow me to cover most of the existing trail system within the forest.  This hike would be the culmination of that effort.  The highlight of this short trek is, of course, Reece Place Falls...a natural wonder sure to be the #1 highlight of Headwaters State Forest as soon as access points are more fully developed.  As of this writing there are two primary ways to get to Reece Place Falls.  The first is from Gum Gap Road, which involves a drive down a rather rough two-track and a roughly six-mile round-trip hike.  You can learn more about that route by visiting another of my trip reports HERE.  This hike, however, represents the other much shorter option for a visit to the waterfall...though it's a quasi-unofficial option at this time.  The route begins off East Fork Road and follows what has become an unofficial/official path to Reese Place Falls.  This path connects with the existing trails within the State Forest which lead to and around the area of the falls.  On this day, I'd add a bit of extra walking to the standard out-and-back from East Fork Road to the waterfall by including some of these trails to create a nice lollipop-style loop.   Of the hikes I'd taken at Headwaters this one promised to be the easiest but, as you'll see, that didn't mean it would lack for natural beauty.

The current 'trailhead' is an unofficial one, and I am unsure if that will change in the future.  It's located on the outside of a tight curve along East Fork Road about 3.8-miles south of Highway US-276.  There's room for a number of vehicles here, just don't block the cable gate.  The access trail begins beyond the cable gate where, on the far side of the first rise and at the far end of the large gravel clearing which follows, an obvious path enters the forest.  The route this trail follows has existed in some form for at least a couple years but there is evidence that the Forest Service will eventually be changing its route.  That's why, for this album, I include the 'Interim' caveat for the naming of the access trail.  Departing the clearing the trail immediately begins a moderate descent, through dense groves of mountain laurel, towards a rather misleadingly-named stream known as Big Branch.  In a little over a half-mile the path hops across Big Branch, which is anything but big, and makes a brief but very steep climb to a newly cleared right-of-way at the top of the adjacent hill.  This freshly cut swath through the forest is what leads me to believe that a re-route of the present access trail is likely in the near future.  Turning left on the now-wide path the route levels for a brief moment before making another, very steep, drop to meet Hidden Falls Road at around the 3/4-mile mark.  Hidden Falls Road used to be the primary route into Reece Place Falls as you could once drive to its west end at Busted Rock Road.    Busted Rock Road is now closed to the public, however, which is why the interim access trail was created as it remains within State Forest property.  Turning left (northeast) on Hidden Falls Road the terrain flattens out considerably as you're now traveling alongside the floodplain surrounding the nearby East Fork French Broad River.   The next half-mile takes you through some beautiful woodlands and past a couple large grassy clearings which represent the locations of old fields or homesteads.   Just before reaching the end of Hidden Falls Road another forest road breaks to the right (south).  This is Reece Place Road, which you'll be returning to for the remainder of the days loop after visiting Reese Place Falls.

At the small clearing at end of Hidden Falls Road an easily identified trail continues towards the sound of falling water ahead.  Within a few feet you’ll come to a split in the path, with falling water visible through the brush ahead and another trail leading up the slope to the left. Head straight to the falling water first. A nice little cascade is located here, tumbling from beneath the overhanging laurels. You might even catch a glimpse of Reece Place Falls through the trees high above. Returning to the small clearing you'll now take the path leading up the slope to the left of the lower falls. The path gets quite narrow as it climbs, rounding a large rock cleft near the top. At this point you’ll see Reece Place Falls ahead. Be super careful as you hop across the narrow ravine required to get closer and, with a few more hops between boulders, you’ll have arrived at the base of the falls.  Reece Place Falls is a magnificent sight. Over 60-feet high, it drops in two distinct stages through a narrow, mossy ravine which takes on a very tropical feel in the warmer months. This view of the falls is definitely worth the trip on its own but, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, Reece Place has one more surprise. With great care one can scramble up the bare rock ledges to the river-right of the cascade. It’s not a terribly long scramble but the rocks are frequently damp making it trickier than it looks. The scramble ends at the base of the upper drop…or rather the upper drops!  Hidden in the narrow cleft beyond is a near-twin cascade to the one visible up to this point. The river makes a sharp right-turn at the base of the far cascade and the waters of the two falls join at the bottom of a steep narrow rock chute. I’ve visited a lot of waterfalls in the area and I can promise you, there’s nothing quite like the magical scene Reece Place Falls creates from this spot. Again, the summer brings a blanket of green which very much imitates what you’d imagine a tropical rain forest might look like. There’s no doubt in my mind that someday soon, for good or for ill, Reece Place Falls will become quite popular. It’s too unique and beautiful not to be. If you visit sooner than later, however, you’ll likely still be able to enjoy the cascade in solitude.   After soaking up all the natural splendor you can handle, scramble back down to Hidden Falls Road and then the few hundred yards farther and the left turn you'll now want to make onto Reece Place Road.

A word of warning here, the next portion of the hike requires the possibility of needing to make up to four wet fords.  If, upon turning onto Reece Place Road, you make the short walk down through the pines to the East Fork and don't like the looks of either of the two crossings here...turn back.  The first two crossings are the easiest...the next two are successively wider and deeper.  After the quick crossings of the two channels comprising the East Fork, the path rises a bit and then in a few short minutes arrives at the crossing of Hickory Flat Creek.  In this album you'll see I was able to hop across.  Don't plan on being able to do the same.  The month had been exceptionally dry when I made this trek so the water levels you see aren't quite what they normally would be.  Beyond Hickory Flat Creek the path rises and quickly arrives at the lower end of Flat Creek Road, which breaks left to immediately make another crossing of the creek, at a tight right-hand bend in Reece Place Road.   Make sure to keep right on Reece Place Road.  For the next 2/3-mile the route now remains dry as the trail road meanders along the base of the ridge on the south side of the valley.  This is a great stretch of trail for wildflowers in the spring, just FYI.  At the end of this easy stretch a red metal gate is passed whereupon Reece Place Road ends at its junction with Busted Rock Road, which you now need to turn right onto.  Immediately the widest and deepest ford of the day appears ahead as you need to now recross the East Fork French Broad River.  This will ALWAYS be a wet ford, even during dry spells, but the river is fairly calm here making it an easy ford as far as such places go.  After reaching the north bank of the river again you'll immediately arrive in a grassy clearing.  This clearing is what remains of the small parking area once accessible via Busted Rock Road, before the road was closed to the public.  The west end of Hidden Falls Road is also found here which, upon making a right onto,  you'll complete the last portion of the loop as you return to the access trail after a quarter-mile.  Simply retrace your steps from earlier at this point, up the access trail for 3/4-mile, back to the trailhead at East Fork Road.   

This is a wonderful hike, as any hike which includes Reece Place Falls is bound to be.  Whether you choose to do the entire loop as depicted in this album, or just make a direct out-and-back to the falls, the effort required will be more than paid off by the stunning natural beauty you'll experience.  The out-and-back to the falls is suitable for just about anyone, while the full loop is probably more suited for those comfortable with backcountry travel.  With the State Forest still in its infancy the waterfall remains a true hidden gem though, inevitably, it cannot possibly remain that way. So if you want to experience it in its current pristine, relatively undiscovered, present state I recommend visiting soon! With all that said I now invite you now to come along with me as I make a nice little loop hike,via East Fork Road,  past the exquisite Reece Place Falls of Headwaters State Forest.  Pay attention to the turns and, as always…ENJOY!!                                         

Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.116276, -82.722898

Route Type:  Lollipop                  Difficulty:  MODERATE  (Petzoldt Rating:  3.80 )

Hike Length:  3.0 miles                Hike Duration:  1:45

Trailhead Temp:  65'F                  Trail Traffic:  NONE!!

Min. Elevation:  2,460'                  Max. Elevation:  2,720'

Total Vertical Gain:  400'             Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  133'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Busted Rock Road (unblazed), Hidden Falls Road (unblazed), Interim Access Trail (unblazed), Reece Place Road (unblazed)


(Gaia GPS login required)

***HEADWATERS STATE FOREST is still in its early stages of development so it is possible, if not likely, that the names/blaze color of trails used here will change in the future. Please refer to the official N.C. Forest Service page for the most up to date info.***


  • No Comments