Yellow Fork Falls
Yellow Fork Falls is a beautiful yet relatively unknown cascade located just to the southwest of Linville Gorge. No official trails lead to the falls but there is still a path that is fairly open and easy to follow. The waterfall itself isn’t all that large but what it lacks for in height it more than makes up for in form. At around twenty feet in height, tiny Yellow Fork free-falls off a huge overhanging ledge then turns and fans out over a broken pile of boulders below. As far as waterfalls in the area go, Yellow Fork is singularly unique in its presentation. This makes it, to me, all the more wonderful. It’s also not all that hard to get to…if you know where to look.
The most difficult part of reaching Yellow Fork Falls is locating the trailhead…though the term ‘trailhead’ isn’t exactly the best term in this case. The path to the falls begins at a non-descript point off the west side of the Kistler Highway at a point 3.8 miles north of its junction with N.C. Highway 126. There are no signs here or even a pull-off to indicate its location. Use the coordinates I’ve provided in the info section below, park, and simply look for the faint but obvious path which leads up into the forest off the west side of the road. Once the path is located, the going gets easy from a navigational standpoint. The unmarked, un-blazed path heads up into a large grove of white pines and, in a few dozen yards, makes a hard left turn onto the remains of a long-abandoned logging road. Again, the route and turn are obvious. Now heading south the path descends ever-so-gently along the ridge through a mixed forest of pine, hardwood, and underlying laurel. The route continues in this fashion for about a half-mile where, at a small cairn which may or may not be there on future visits, makes a hard right turn to drop down off the ridge in the direction of the river. This is where the going gets noticeably steeper, something to remember as one has to make this climb back out on the return. For the next four-tenths of a mile the path continues a constant moderately-steep descent. Along the way the landscape opens up, turning from forest into surroundings of low shrubs and young early-succession saplings. Charred stumps and standing deadwood are evidence of a fire which swept through here in the not-too-distant past. The upside is that the views are nice as a result with the high ridgeline of Dobson Knob visible across the valley to the west. Four-tenths of a mile after dropping off the ridge the trail again makes a sharp turn, this time to the left. Another small rock cairn marked this junction on my visit but, again, this isn’t a marker that you should count on being there in the future. A few yards beyond this sharp left you’ll reach a shear ten foot ledge with an old but sturdy ladder braced against it. This is the start of the final drop to the falls. Carefully descending the ladder the path now gets seriously steep. The surrounding rhododendron are useful as handholds here. At a point just above the river the path makes a hard left downstream to head around a huge boulder which at this point separates you from the stream below. The final drop to the water is steep and the path emerges alongside a jumble of boulders through which Yellow Fork flows via a myriad of small cascades. At this point a short scramble upstream, taking caution of the slick mossy rocks, and you’ll end up standing at the lower end of the pool beneath the falls.
Like I said earlier it’s not so much the size of Yellow Fork Falls that makes it so attractive. The unique shape of the cascade combined with the high cliffs extending away from them creates a scene of unique and wild beauty. It’s an extremely photogenic spot and I spent a good deal of time taking pictures and simply soaking in the scene before me. It’s a wonderful place, needless to say. The hike back simply retraces the route in but, due to the steep climb out of the valley is much more taxing…especially if you go on a humid sunny day like the one I experienced. Overall, I’d highly recommend this hike to anyone who happens to find themselves in the area. I can’t say it’s the easiest of hikes, the climb back is a tough one, but the effort to reward ratio here is a positive one. That said, I invite you to come along with me to visit one of the regions more underrated cascades…Yellow Fork Falls…and, as always…ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.81069, -81.93879
Route Type: Out-and-back Difficulty: HARD
Hike Length: 2.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:15
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: NONE!!!
Min. Elevation: 1,880' Max. Elevation: 2,580'
Total Vertical Gain: 700' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 700' (all on return)
Trails Used (blaze color): Yellow Fork Falls Path (unblazed)