The trailhead GPS coordinates are for the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center, located at Milepost 451.2 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can shorten the hike by starting at a point a few miles north of the visitor center and climbing up to the ridge. Study the topo map for the shortest route.
If you hike to Campbell Creek Falls from below, you would have to trespass for most of the route and this is not trespasser-friendly country. (Not that I would advocate it regardless.) The legal route begins from the Blue Ridge Parkway and follows the creek downstream. You won’t get into trouble with landowners by going this way, but the other trouble you could get into will be much worse.
I’m not going to give you a play-by-play for this one. If you’re experienced with bushwhacking in steep terrain and finding your way off trail, you’ll find the falls and might make it to the base. If you’re not experienced, you really shouldn’t go. Reaching the base of Campbell Creek Falls requires as difficult a hike as any you’ll find to a waterfall in North Carolina.
I’ll give you enough info to keep you on the right track, but you’re going to have figure out the details on your own. First, you’ll start from the Blue Ridge Parkway, either at the Waterrock Knob parking are or a few miles north. From the parking area, you will follow the ridgeline trail along the Plott Balsams and then drop off the north side of the ridge after you cross over Fork Ridge, which intersects the Plott Range. (Make sure you drop off the east side of Fork Ridge, not the west or else you’ll end following West Fork Campbell Creek.) You can start a few miles north of the parking area and shave off some distance, but you’ll have to bushwhack up to the ridge. Fortuantely, the forest is easy to walk through at this point.
Keep following the drainage downstream. You’ll soon pick up a branchlet, which will eventually become the river-left fork that makes up East Fork Campbell Creek. At the 5,200-feet elevation, you’ll reach the top of Mile High Falls, assuming you followed the correct branchlet. Depending on exactly where you start down and how far you wander from going straight down, you could be on a branchlet to the east of the falls.
Just keep following water downstream. At the 4,400-feet elevation, you’ll reach the top of Alyssa Falls. A short distance downstream is a tributary coming in on river left, and a few yards past that is the river-right fork of East Fork Campbell Creek. A short distance upstream on it, just out of view from the confluence, is Lyn Lowry Falls.
Campbell Creek Falls lies a short distance downstream from the two forks. The creek flows through a narrow chute before reaching the top of the falls. There is no view from the top and it’s not safe being there, so there’s no point in going beyond the chute.
Reaching this point is relatively easy for experienced off-trail hikers. But getting to the base of Campbell Creek Falls from here is anything but. The waterfall sits at the head of a narrow canyon. Near the creek are vertical rock walls. Farther up, are pockets of thick dog hobble and trees interspersed with cliffs. Both sides appear equally daunting. Paul Albert and I went down the river-right side and after a few brief periods of thinking we were trapped and would have to backtrack, we finally made it down to a point several hundred feet downstream from the falls. We made it unscathed, but you need to trust me that this is not a route you want to take.
The sensible way down would be a very long swing around the cliff. I suspect the river-right side would be the easiest. You’d have to climb far up, swing around the narrow ridge, descend along the tributary by Plott Hound Falls, and then go upstream to Campbell Creek Falls. Perhaps the river-left side offers an easier route, but it doesn’t look promising.
Looking at the topo map, you might decide to continue along the ridgeline beyond the Fork Ridge intersection to the top of Mount Lyn Lowry, and then continue following the ridgeline and finally dropping off to follow the tributary that creates Plott Balsam Falls. The problem with that route is that it passes through a section of private property, as well as bypasses Alyssa Falls and Lyn Lowry Falls.
Perhaps a better option would be to follow Fork Ridge down to the 5,000-feet elevation, and then follow that drainage down to East Fork Campbell Creek. You’ll miss those other waterfalls, but you might find one on that creek you follow down. I have no idea how difficult this route would be, but I suspect it would be challenging.
Remember, regardless of the route you take, you have to backtrack to get back to your car. You’re looking at a very long, grueling day.
When my friend Paul Albert first took me to Campbell Creek Falls, it was located on private property. Now, it’s part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Waterfall stories like this are rare in North Carolina. This one comes thanks to The Conservation Fund, which acquired a large tract of land on the headwaters of Campbell Creek and transferred it to the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2016. The tract encompasses most of the East Fork Campbell Creek headwaters and a large portion of West Fork Campbell Creek.
The property combines with lands acquired or facilitated by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. The funding for these acquisitions came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as private donors. In total, more than 5,000 acres surrounding Waterrock Knob have been added to the Blue Ridge Parkway system. The property, called Waterrock Knob Park, is the newest park entity along the Parkway, being touted in the same vein as Moses Cone Memorial Park and Crabtree Meadows—individual destination parks within the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor.
A few trails already exist within the park, mostly along the ridgelines. While there has been talk of new trails and facilities, there are no official plans from the Park Service and it seems unlikely that trails would be built anytime soon to any of the waterfalls in the Campbell Creek watersheds. With the low funding provided to the Parkway and the backlog of work that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, building a new trail over incredibly steep terrain probably isn’t high on the Parkway’s priority list.
Campbell Creek Falls is a beauty, not so much for the waterfall itself as for the surroundings. It sits at the head of a narrow canyon with steep walls on all sides. The cliff on river left overhangs a bit, providing an escape from the weather and a natural feature to frame your waterfall photo.
I still have a few more creeks to explore in the East Fork Campbell Creek watershed and expect to find a couple more waterfalls that are significant when I do. I haven’t yet explored any of the West Fork Campbell Creek watershed, which looks like prime waterfall habitat.