From the junction of US 64 and NC 281 east of Lake Toxaway, drive north on NC 281 for 6.8 miles. Park on the right at the gated FR 5077.
Follow FR 5077 along the contour. You’ll pass three small streams. Beyond the third, the road begins to climb to a fork at 1.45 miles. FR 5077A turns left. Go right, remaining on FR 5077. In a few hundred feet, FR 5077 turns left and descends, while FR 9999 continues straight. You can go either way from this junction, but I’ve always followed FR 5077 to the left. On it in 0.1 mile, you’ll start passing through an old open field that is growing back. You’ll pass a beaver dam 0.3 mile from the junction. In another 0.3 mile, you’ll cross Miser Creek. Shortly beyond the creek crossing, you’ll leave the open area and enter the woods. In a few yards, an old road cuts sharply left. A little farther is an old road on the right. I think the road on the right is FR 9999, but I haven’t checked it. Continue straight. You’ll soon exit the woods into another field and cross a small branch. Just beyond the branch is a fork in the field. I’m certain the left fork is FR 9999. It runs from here all the way to Tanasee Gap Road at the trailhead for Double Branch Falls and John Neale Falls.
To see Bernies Falls, turn right at the fork. You’ll pass under a walnut tree and soon enter the woods to pick up a more defined road. At 0.25 mile from the last branch crossing, you’ll pass a campsite on the right side of the old road. In another 0.1 mile, you’ll reach a perpetually wet area created by a tiny branch. Shortly beyond the branch, you’ll come close alongside Miser Creek. Just before the road begins to ascend, look for a path leading to the right. Follow the path a couple hundred feet to cross the placid Miser Creek. Follow the creek downstream to the brink of a huge cliff. Be careful here, as this is the top of Bernies Falls. The waterfall begins with a short drop that is not visible from the base. Turn right here on a makeshift path and work your way over to an old logging road. Turn left and follow it a short distance to an obvious path on the left next to a big tree. The path descends steeply to the middle of the waterfall.
The name Bernies Falls honors Bernie Boyer, waterfall explorer extraordinaire. Bernie discovered many of the waterfalls in this book, and this is one of the finest. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to the man who has so substantially increased the to-do list for North Carolina waterfallers.
The path goes behind the waterfall and down to a near-frontal view. From a viewing and photography perspective, this is about as good as it gets. But you need to be mindful of a couple things and not let the view cloud your judgment.
First, Bernies Falls is dangerous. The path down is steep. The route behind the falls passes the edge of the cliff forming the bottom portion of the falls. All the rocks are wet and slippery. Unless the water is low, you’ll get wet as you pass behind the falls. Don’t rush through. Make sure each step is a safe one.
The other concern is for the natural environment. Bernies Falls supports a classic spray cliff natural community that harbors many sensitive plants and provides habitat for a number of animal species. Please do not step on any of the mossy rocks or disturb the vegetation. As you scope the route behind the falls, you might wonder how you’re supposed to get by without trampling a few plants. I can tell you that I got wet in the process!