Bard Falls (10-7-18)
Bard Falls is yet another fantastic waterfall located in the rugged Wilson Creek area of the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. Remote yet surprisingly easy to get to (if you don't mind getting your feet wet), it is amazing to me that this 30-foot cascade hasn't garnered more attention than it has. Not that I'm complaining. The wilderness feel of this area is in large part responsible for the appeal of Bard. At about 3.5-miles round-trip the hike to the falls isn't all that difficult (by the standards of the area) and the reward is seeing an impressively unique cascade. Here, North Harper Creek slices its way down through a massive rock face into a narrow sluice below. Alongside the falls you can also see a massive heart-shaped pothole which has been carved completely through the cliff, giving the cascade its alternate name of "Hole-in-the-Wall Falls." It's a wonderful spot and a place you certainly shouldn't miss if your a waterfall-er who finds themselves in the area.
The route to Bard Falls begins at a small trailhead along Forest Road 464 at a sharp bend about 3.5-miles above its junction with NC-90 or about 1.5-miles below the lower trailhead for the Little Lost Cove Cliffs. You should see a sign denoting the North Harper Shortcut Trail (#266A) which enters the woods off the right side of the parking area. Starting the trail the first thing you'll notice is the gradual grade the path takes as it descends the otherwise very steep terrain. Along the way to Bard Falls you'll be descending nearly 500 vertical feet but never once does the route feel anything approaching steep in nature. It's a fabulously pleasant walk. For the first mile of the hike the Shortcut Trail weaves in and out of a handful of narrow drainages which may or may not have small streams running through them depending on how wet the weather has been recently. There's not much to see along this stretch of the hike but the surrounding woodlands are beautiful and the wildness of the area is immediately impressed upon the senses. After a mile of gradual descending the Shortcut Trail intersects the North Harper Creek Trail at a T-junction. To continue to the falls, turn left (downstream). The route now follows the nearby river, first through a large flatland, before pulling right up alongside it. About a quarter-mile below the trail junction the trail crosses North Harper Creek at a shallow ford, the first semi-major obstacle to seeing the falls. The ford is located along a relatively calm stretch of river but I doubt there's anyway to cross here without getting your feet wet even in the driest periods. As it was when I visited, with water levels slightly elevated from rains the night before, the crossing was about thigh-deep. Beyond the ford the trail gets narrower and obviously less-traveled (most people must turn around at the ford). North Harper Creek get much more lively at this point with numerous large cascades to be seen through the brush alongside the creek. About four-tenths of a mile below the ford the trail passes alongside the crest of Bard Falls, which is easily seen (and heard!) through the trees. At this point continue walking downhill a bit farther and look for a steep scramble path which leads to the ledges below the falls. This is easily the trickiest and potentially dangerous part of the hike. The open ledges, especially once you're in the open below the falls, can be wet and a slip here could send you tumbling to the pool below...not an appealing thought considering the remote location. Pick your way down slowly. The reward for your care will be a view of one of the more uniquely beautiful waterfalls in the area.
From the end of the sloping rock below the falls you can see up the narrow gorge into which the river tumbles from above. The scene is wild and beautiful as Bard Falls cascades down thirty feet of rock alongside the unique pothole I mentioned earlier. The day I visited, with water levels elevated, the scene was even more powerfully wild...and the heavy spray made picture taking a bit challenging. Even so it was a place I had no trouble spending a good deal of time sitting and enjoying my surroundings. After it's simply a matter of retracing the route down to get back to the car. Overall Bard Falls makes for a wonderful short trip. Mostly easy, with just enough challenging components mixed in to keep it interesting, the hike to the falls is one I could recommend for just about anyone (though maybe not for small children). I'll let you decide...come along with me as I seek out another of the Wilson Creek area's hidden gems...Bard Falls. As always, please enjoy...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.005790, -81.808532
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 3.7 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 2,000' Max. Elevation: 2,520'
Total Vertical Gain: 500' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 270' (all on return)
Trails Used (blaze color): North Harper Creek (white), North Harper Shortcut (white)