After five weeks on the road it was time to head home, but not before one last day of hiking. From the North Carolina mountain town of Cashiers, I mapped a route past Gorges State Park, which opened to the public this past May. Located atop the Blue Ridge Escarpment, this newest North Carolina park is the source of five mountain streams that gradually descend toward the South Carolina border, where they suddenly plunge over spectacular falls and rush through steep-walled gorges.
With only one afternoon at my disposal I decided on a duo of one-mile round-trip hikes. The first, marked “strenuous,” descended sharply to a wooden platform overhanging Bearwalow Creek, where Upper Bearwallow Falls dropped 200 feet into the gorge. Pretty – but a bit anticlimactic after others I have seen around Transylvania County. And almost not worth the straight-up, half-mile ascent that had me gasping for air.
After catching my breath I crossed the parking lot to access the “moderate” Bearwallow Valley Overlook trail. I eyeballed the spongy, leaf-littered path leading up through dense pine forest skeptically; it certainly looked too steep to be considered moderate. But I had come this far; there was no turning back. Up I went. And up. And up some more. Trees thinned at the top of the ridge, offering peeks of a wide valley backed by blue-green mountains. In the distance, an observation platform promised a chance to rest while enjoying spectacular views, but when I stepped out onto the wooden deck I found a view totally ruined by transmission towers and power lines.
*Image of Rainbow Falls via Shutterstock