Bernies Falls

Bernies Falls

Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 19mm, f/13, 0.6 second, ISO 200, polarizing filter.

Beauty Rating:
8
Accessibility:
Trail
River:
Miser Creek
River Basin:
French Broad
Watershed:
Small
Elevation:
3,040 feet
Type and Height:
Free fall, slides, and cascades about 60 feet high
Landowner:
Pisgah National Forest, Pisgah Ranger District
County:
Transylvania
USGS Map:
Lake Toxaway
Hike Distance:
About 2.7 miles or about 2.9 miles
Hike Difficulty:
6-9
Photo Rating:
8
Compass:
310°
Canopy:
Partial
Waterfall GPS:
Trailhead GPS:
NC 281 Trailhead :  N35.19316, W-82.95673
Tanasee Gap Road Trailhead:  N35.21298, W-82.93822
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Driving Directions

NC 281 Trailhead   

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.

Tanasee Gap Road Trailhead  

From Beech Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway, head south on NC 215 for 8.35 miles and turn right on Tanasee Gap Road (SR 1324) . (This is 8.7 miles north of US 64.) Drive Tanasee Gap Road for 4.6 miles and park on the left shoulder. FR 9999 starts here. This is also the trailhead for Double Branch Falls and John Neal Falls.

Hike Description

From the NC 281 trailhead, 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. The left fork is FR 9999, which leads to the trailhead on Tanasee Gap Road. Note that the fork may not be obvious during winter. Look for a walnut tree on the right, just beyond the fork.

To see Bernies Falls, turn right at the fork. You’ll swing around the 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. At this point, look for the easiest way to cross the creek to the river-right side. You may have noticed a path veering off the old road a short distance before reaching the wet area. You can take it to a crossing of Miser Creek as well.

After you reach the river-right side, you should be able to follow an obvious path along the creek to the top 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. It may not be obvious as such, but if you follow the path of least resistance, you should be okay. Turn left on the old road and follow it a short distance to an obvious path on the left next to a big tree. This path descends steeply to the middle of the waterfall.

To see Bernies Falls from the Tanasee Gap Road trailhead, follow FR 9999 less than 0.2 mile to a wide spot where the road starts to descend. (The route to Double Branch Falls goes to the left from here into the woods.) Continue on the old logging road and descend to an indistinct fork in a little over 0.1 mile. The left fork will get you there quicker, but it’s steeper, very overgrown, and you might get lost on the way. Go right and you’ll reach a sharp left switchback in about 0.2 mile. Another old, indistinct logging road goes straight here, but you want to turn left and stay with FR 9999. In less than 0.25 mile, you’ll come to a sharp right switchback. Turn right. In about 0.1 mile, you’ll see an obvious side path on the left. Descend on this path 25 yards to Parker Creek.

An old logging grade follows Parker Creek downstream on river left and provides access to John Neal Falls. But to see Bernies Falls, you need to cross the creek and continue following FR 9999. Ascend moderately, then descend slightly, then climb steeply a short distance to reach an open field in 0.75 mile from the creek. The final steep push is on a path rerouted from the old logging road. Ascend through the field, then descend to reenter woods in 145 yards. Continue descend for 220 yards to a T. Go left and cross a small stream, in 15 yards. You’ll enter another field just beyond the stream and renter the woods in 135 yards. From here, it is about 0.7 mile to a T in a field.

To the right is a crossing of Miser Creek. To the left is a walnut tree. Go left, swing around the walnut tree, and soon enter the woods to pick up a more defined road. You’ll soon 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. At this point, look for the easiest way to cross the creek to the river-right side. You may have noticed a path veering off the old road a short distance before reaching the wet area. You can take it to a crossing of Miser Creek as well.

After you reach the river-right side, you should be able to follow an obvious path along the creek to the top 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. It may not be obvious as such, but if you follow the path of least resistance, you should be okay. Turn left on the old road and follow it a short distance to an obvious path on the left next to a big tree. This path descends steeply to the middle of the waterfall.

Overview

The name Bernies Falls honors Bernie Boyer, waterfall explorer extraordinaire. Bernie discovered many of the waterfalls in my 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 very wet in the process!

Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm lens at 24mm, f/22, 4 seconds, ISO 200, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!
Bernies Falls

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 24mm, f/22, 1/4 second, ISO 200, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!
Bernies Falls

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/11, 1/8 second, ISO 200, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 24mm, f/16, 1/6 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!
Bernies Falls

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/11, 1/10 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!
Bernies Falls

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 24mm, f/16, 1/2.5 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!
Bernies Falls

Photographed during the winter freeze of early January, 2018. Bernies Falls is dangerous to photograph in these conditions. I used special gear and careful measures to do it safely. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/11, 1/4 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Danger Will Robinson!