Twin Falls - Clawhammer Cove Loop
Twin Falls of Pisgah is one of the more popular family-friendly waterfall dayhikes in this part of the National Forest. Not so much “twin” cascades as they are closely adjacent ones both measure close to 100-feet high and are most definitely worth the minimal effort to see. The falls are typically reached by following the Buckhorn Gap and then the Twin Falls Trails from Forest Road 477, a walk of just under two miles each way. I had visited the falls many times previously, particularly in the spring as this is one of the finest trails for wildflowers in the area. This time, however, I wanted to turn a trip to the falls into a loop rather than an out-and-back by combining the previously mentioned Buckhorn Gap Trail and the neighboring Clawhammer Cove Trail (which itself sports a much lesser known cascade!) to create a moderately difficult 5.6-mile hike that doesn’t involve backtracking. Add in Avery Creek Falls and another unnamed cascade adjacent to Twin Falls and there’d be five waterfalls to see this day! Thus it was that I set out on this very dreary, but perfect for waterfall hunting, late winter day.
The hike would begin and end at the aforementioned Forest Road 477, also known as Avery Creek Road. The pull-off for the Avery Creek Trail is easy to miss as it’s quite small and the trail sign sits downhill a bit in the rhododendron. Just over two miles from where 477 leaves US-276 start watching on the right and you’ll spot it. If you reach the much larger pull-off for the Buckhorn Gap Trail you passed it by about a quarter-mile. The trail leaves the road by diving into the rhododendron below. It soon reaches Avery Creek, crossing it about a quarter-mile in just before the junction with the Clawhammer Cove Trail which marks the start of the actual loop. Continuing upstream on the Avery Creek Trail the first waterfall of the day, Avery Creek Falls, is passed on the left at about the half-mile mark. It’s a nice place to stop briefly. The trail keeps heading upstream, soon crosses Avery Creek again just before joining with the Buckhorn Gap Trail which it coincides with for the next few hundred yards. Just under a mile into the hike the most potentially confusing intersection is reached. Here the Avery Creek and Buckhorn Gap Trails once again split, with the Avery Creek Trail continuing ahead and the Buckhorn Gap Trail turning right to cross Avery Creek again via a large log bridge. Turning onto the Buckhorn Gap Trail the route now begins an easy climb up the narrow valley of Henry Branch, one of the two creeks which feed Twin Falls farther upstream.
The Buckhorn Gap Trail below Twin Falls is a pleasant hike, crisscrossing tiny Henry Branch on a number of occasions and only in a couple brief spots being more than moderately steep. Six-tenths of a mile after leaving the Avery Creek Trail the lower junction of the Twin Falls Trail is reached. Taking a left here it’s only another easy quarter-mile to Twin Falls. As you drop into the cove containing the falls you may notice another cascade tumbling from a cliff high above on the left. After decent rains this can be a pretty cascade but most of the time, however, it’s little more than a trickle. Twin Falls themselves appear upon reaching a large campsite at the upper end of the trail. To the left through the trees an unnamed tributary forms the 80’ left hand waterfall. Straight ahead is the 100’ cascade formed by Henry Branch. A spur trail leads up to the left from the campsite, passes in front of the left-hand cascade and then drops to the creek in front of the other. It’s a great place to scramble around a bit enjoying different viewing angles of the neighboring falls. After enjoying Twin Falls the loop continues by picking up the Twin Falls Trail again as it drops off the back of the aforementioned campsite to a rock-hop of Henry Branch. A short time later it reaches its upper junction with the Buckhorn Gap Trail alongside a couple of hitching posts, a hundred yards or so above the lower junction where you left it earlier.
Back on the Buckhorn Gap Trail you’ll begin the most rigorous portion of the hike as the trial now attacks the ridge ahead. For just under a half-mile the trail undertakes a mostly continuous moderate ascent. The end of the climb (for the most part) ends when the trail arrives at an old overgrown road and another bit of a confusing intersection. Here signs for the Buckhorn Gap Trail point both right and straight ahead. Both directions will take you to nearby Forest Road 5058. The spur of the trail heading straight ahead climb more and intersects the road higher up the ridge. The best way to go at this point is to take the right turn, following the overgrown road ¾-mile on a winding and leisurely uphill grade to where it too intersects 5058 a bit lower and farther south. Now comes the road-walk portion of the hike, though this is a gated road so the only wheeled traffic you have to worry about is the 18-speed kind. Take a right at the end of the Buckhorn Gap Trail and follow F.R. 5058 on a gradual and winding downhill grade for about 7/10-mile at which point watch for a large blue blaze marking a large tree on the right. This marks the upper end of the Clawhammer Cove Trail which will now form the back half of the loop.
The Clawhammer Cove Trail starts with a steep downhill walk. Pay attention about a quarter-mile down as the trail makes a sharp left curve to come alongside Clawhammer Cove Creek. This is the spot you’ll have to leave the trail if you want to see the nearby but seldom-visited Clawhammer Falls. To get to it simply leave the very outside edge of the curve and start walking uphill via the route of least resistance. The forest floor is fairly open here so it’s not that difficult. Within a couple hundred feet the small ten foot falls should appear on the left below you in a narrow ravine choked with downfall and shrubs. Due to the surrounding clutter the falls isn’t all that photogenic at first glance but, to me I still found a curious beauty in it when you consider its wild setting and its relatively unknown status. Once visiting Clawhammer Falls return to the main trail which continues down Clawhammer Cove along the right side of the creek at a moderate downhill grade. Within a half-mile things begin to level off again as the route nears Avery Creek once again. At ¾-mile from the falls you’ll arrive back at the junction with the Avery Creek Trail where the loop started. Take a left, cross the creek and in a quarter-mile you’ll be back at the trailhead.
With the potential of five waterfalls to be seen on this hike it’s hard to speak too poorly of it. However, I’d highly recommend going in early spring as the wildflower display is truly something to see in this area. Any other time of the year would be fine though. Just don’t go during drought conditions as Twin Falls can be less than impressive during those times. That said, I invite you to now join me as I explore what I’ve called the Twin Falls-Clawhammer Cove Loop in the Pisgah Ranger District. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.314952, -82.749169
Route Type: Lollipop Difficulty: HARD
Hike Length: 5.6 miles Hike Duration: 2:45
Trailhead Temp: 40'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 2,450' Max. Elevation: 3,180'
Total Vertical Gain: 850' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 152'
Trails Used (blaze color): Avery Creek (blue), Buckhorn Gap (orange), Clawhammer Cove (blue), Forest Road 5058 (unblazed), Twin Falls (yellow)