Upper Bearwallow Falls Trail in Gorges State Park is a short trail to an observation deck overlooking Upper Bearwallow Falls.
Official Trail Sign
Photo by John D. Wright
Note: The official trail sign says "trailhead", which normally refers to multiple trails stemming from one location or accessible off the original trail. Despite this moniker, Upper Bearwallow Falls Trail does not lead to other trails. Further, the trail map by Friends of Gorges State Park leaves out "Upper" and refers to the trail only as Bearwallow Falls Trail.
Also, do not confuse this trail with the Bearwallow Valley Trail which begins in the same parking area.
From N.C.: Take U.S. Highway 64 to N.C. 281 South. Turn onto N.C. 281 South. Travel .9 miles from U.S. Highway 64 to Park Entrance.
From S.C.: Take S.C. Highway 11 to S.C. Highway 130 North. Turn onto 130 North. Travel 10.2 miles to the North Carolina State line. S.C. Highway 130 becomes N.C. 281. Travel 7.8 miles to Gorges State Park Entrance.
From Park Entrance: Travel one mile to the new visitor’s centre. Turn left just past the visitor’s centre onto an unnamed paved road. Travel .9 miles to the second and primary picnic area named Bearwallow Picnic Area.
There are two picnic areas. The first, White Pine Picnic Area, is encountered at .7 miles and is the smaller of the two. The larger picnic area at .9 miles has two trailheads, the Bearwallow Picnic Area Trailhead and the Upper Bearwallow Falls Trailhead, and bus parking. Due to the larger size of the area, the larger size of the parking lot, and the presence of signed trailheads, I am considering the second picnic area the primary area. The two picnic areas are visible to one another if the viewer is standing in the right place.
Blaze Markings: blue metal triangles
Length: approximately 3/4 mile (approximately 1.5 miles there and back as the trail does not end at another trail or accessible location); exactly 1379 feet; park literature portrays the there-and-back length at 1.5 miles.
Difficulty: strenuous, according to park literature; due to elevation change; the short length as well as the presence of a couple of benches along the way serve to minimize the difficulty, so that I would personally categorize it as moderate.
The Upper Bearwallow Falls Trail is a short, relatively steep trail to a nice overlook of the waterfall of the same name. “Bearwallow” is a fairly common name in the mountains hearkening back to the days when things were being named. Black bears (Ursus americanus) are native to the area and the wallows they make in soggy areas to cool off provide local colour to our maps.
Bearwallow Creek meanders into the northwestern portion of Gorges State Park heading downhill generally southeast until flowing into the Toxaway River. Due to the grade, there are a number of waterfalls on the waterway. Upper Bearwallow Falls is one of the most impressive.
I hiked this trail in the summer with my friend, John Wright. It was a hot day, but the trail is mostly shaded and short, and we stopped at the benches to rest, so we weren’t overexerting ourselves by any stretch of the imagination. John has a bad knee, so he needs to stop frequently to rest, especially if there is a drastic change in elevation. This trail can readily be enjoyed by those with similar difficulties in a similar manner.
The trail begins on the south side of the larger picnic area parking lot. A kiosk is present, providing a map of the trails. The trail follows the nicely-done boulder steps leading from the kiosk area down toward the road.
At 87’, there is a road crossing. After crossing, the trail immediately heads downhill.
At 486’, a bench is provided after a slight levelling and before another descent. Although you aren’t likely to need it now, it provides a handy resting place for those coming back up from the viewing platform. We used it for this on our return trip. The waterfall’s roar can just be made out from this point, increasing as one progresses.
At 773’, a second bench is provided.
At 1334’, a nice three-tiered observation deck is perched on the mountainside. The observation deck is about 45’ long. The waterfall (technically a cascade) is further down in the valley and is best seen from the far end of the observation deck. At this point, an interpretive sign regarding waterfalls, the Eastern Continental Divide, and the Blue Ridge Escarpment educates the visitor. Upper Bearwallow Falls as well as some long range views are partially or mostly blocked by the foliage in season, which is slightly disappointing, especially regarding the waterfall, which is the focal point of the trail. It is still worth the hike, however, particularly if you hike it when the leaves are down.
View of Upper Bearwallow Falls from the observation deck. Notice the dead hemlocks on the right.
Photo by John D. Wright
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