West Prong Hickey Fork Falls (8-25-18)
If there’s a “quietest” corner of Pisgah National Forest, it’s probably the portion which lies along the Tennessee border in Madison County. Well off the beaten track and lacking the high mountains or thundering waterfalls of nearby areas this area of the forest rarely makes in on the radar of the average visitor. Even so, there are a few natural wonders that just might make a trip into this corner of the North Carolina Mountains worth your time. The small cascade found on the tiny stream known as West Prong Hickey Fork is just such a place. Here a delicate veil of water slides down a dark, vertical 25-foot ledge to create a simple but beautiful cascade which is all but unknown despite the ease of access in visiting it.
Finding the trailhead to West Prong Hickey Creek Falls is half the adventure. You’ll have to dive deep into the rural backcountry of Madison County to find it. First you have to find Hickey Fork Road (also marked as Forest Road 465) which turns north off N.C. Highway 212 about seven miles north of its junction with N.C. Highway 208 to the east of Hot Springs. Turning north onto Hickey Fork the well-graded gravel road heads a bit over a mile north into the forest where, just before a sometimes-closed steel gate, a small parking area is located on the right side near a forest campsite. Parking here the path you’ll want, the Hickey Fork Trail, begins on the opposite side of the road just beyond the gate. Dropping down from the road the trail immediately makes a crossing of Hickey Fork via a long, curved log bridge. Beyond the crossing the trail heads briefly north before switching back to climb the hillside above. Despite the relative lack of visitors in this part of the forest the trail is none-the-less well marked and easy to follow. Over the first half-mile the route makes an initially moderate climb up one ridge, drops slightly into another drainage, rounds another low ridge, then drops again to make a rock hop of West Prong Hickey Fork. Beyond this crossing the trail begins an easy to moderate ascent along the west side of the stream which continues all the way to the falls. The surroundings are unremarkable but I found the forest, comprised of tall poplars, to provide a simple beauty all its own. The grade increases a bit the closer to the falls you get and, just before arriving, it passes a small unnamed cascade which pours into a deep pool above a point where the stream enters a long slide into the forest below. It’s a nice bonus stop just before reaching the falls. A minute or so above this cascade you’ll hear the falls below and, keeping a close eye out, you’ll spot a short but steep scramble path leading down to the creek below it. Descending the scramble path it’s just a short rock hop up the stream to the base of the falls.
West Prong Hickey Fork Falls isn’t the most dramatic of cascades but it makes up for its lack of size in its quiet setting. It’s obvious it doesn’t see all that many visitors which gives the setting a sense of remoteness that belies the ease at which it is reached. That said I would make sure that you don’t go after an extended dry spell. I’m sure at those times the waterfall is reduced to little more than a damp trickle on the rocks. That said, I’m happy I made this little side trip. I don’t know that I can recommend going far out of your way to visit this pretty little falls but if you find yourself in the Hot Springs area it’s definitely worth a stop. So, with that said, I present to you one of North Carolina’s easy-to-get-to yet relatively unknown cascades…the waterfall on West Prong Hickey Fork. As always…ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.005765, -82.694533
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: MODERATE
Hike Length: 2.6 miles Hike Duration: 1:30
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!!
Min. Elevation: 2,200' Max. Elevation: 2,550'
Total Vertical Gain: 350' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 269'
Trails Used (blaze color): Hickey Fork Trail (yellow)