Flat Creek Falls

Flat Creek Falls

Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 48mm, f/22, 15 seconds, ISO 200, polarizing filter. Tripod and photographer attached to rope to keep from falling off cliff.

Danger Will Robinson!
Beauty Rating:
Trail and bushwhack
Flat Creek
River Basin:
Little Tennessee
3,040 feet
Type and Height:
Little drops and slides, then a big drop, then cascades; the total height is over 200 feet
Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District
Big Ridge
Hike Distance:
See Hike Description
Hike Difficulty:
Photo Rating:
East to west, depending on viewpoint
Waterfall GPS:
Trailhead GPS:
Google Earth Waterfall Download View waterfall on Google Earth. Link is for a Google Earth file. Click file after download and Google Earth will open and fly to the waterfall. Don't have Google Earth on your computer?

Driving Directions

From the junction of US 64 and NC 281 east of Lake Toxaway, drive north on NC 281 for 9.2 miles and turn left on the unpaved Rock Bridge Road (SR 1140). This is 15.9 miles from NC 107. Follow Rock Bridge Road for 1.7 miles to a fork. Go right on FR 4662 and follow it 2.15 miles to the end.

Hike Description

Listen up. You can get into trouble hiking to Flat Creek Falls, from both a safety and a legal standpoint. Those experienced in serious off-trail trekking will be able to use the topo map and their own good judgment to make the trip safely and avoid private property. Those unskilled in this type of hiking shouldn’t attempt it.

There are three ways to reach the base of Flat Creek Falls and two ways to the top. To reach the base, you can approach it from river right or river left, or you can follow the creek upstream from Bear Creek Lake. To reach the top, you can follow old logging roads and trails from the river-left side, or you can follow the creek downstream. I won’t provide detailed directions for any of these routes. If you know how to read a topo map, you can figure it out on your own. If you need a play-by-play, you don’t need to be hiking to it in the first place. The exception is coming up from Bear Creek Lake. As long as you stay with the creek, you won’t get lost. I’ll leave it to you to make sure you head up the right creek. And yes, you’ll need a boat. See the Nearby Waterfall listing for Sols Creek Falls for information on how to access Bear Creek Lake.

You’ll need the Big Ridge topo map modified for Forest Service use, since it shows the private-property boundaries. And you should understand that the topo map shows only a small number of the old logging roads and trails that run all over the place. If you aren’t careful, you could end up wandering for hours on the wrong roads. Getting lost and spending the night in the woods is a real possibility here for anyone who takes this place lightly.

The easiest way to reach both the top and the base of the falls is to cross Flat Creek at the trailhead and follow old logging roads to Grassy Gap. Note that the road shown on the topo map that drops from the trailhead and crosses the creek a couple of times no longer exists. It’s completely overgrown and impossible to follow. There are open logging roads that will get you there, but part of the route passes through private property. Most people hike to Flat Creek Falls this way, but I can’t advocate that in this book.

Near Grassy Gap is a path that follows the ridge down from the logging road to the top of the falls. You can see only a small portion of the falls from the top, and it’s a dangerous vantage point. A large cliff area on the river-left side of the falls will prevent you from climbing from the top to the base. You can cross the creek and climb down the river-right side, but you’ll need to swing wide to avoid the cliffs on that side as well.

From Grassy Gap, you can reach the base of the falls by continuing on the logging road, making some turns, arriving at the creek downstream from the falls, and following the creek upstream. But this route passes through private property as well. If you remain in the national forest, you’ll have to bushwhack down to the creek from Grassy Gap. It won’t be an enjoyable experience.

There’s another way to view the falls. On the northwest slope of Boardtree Knob is a sheer rock cliff facing the falls. From there, you can see the entire drop. There’s just one teensy-weensy catch. You have to get right to the edge of the cliff for an open view. The hemlock woolly adelgid has made it a little safer by killing the hemlock trees at the edge of the cliff, so now you won’t have to use a rope to get out on the rock beyond the tree branches. But it’s still extremely dangerous, and getting there requires a nasty bushwhack.

The hike distance varies according to the route you take and how lost you get on the way. Following the creek, it’s less than 1.5 miles from the trailhead to the top of the falls, but you won’t want to stay with the creek the entire way. Any route to the base besides following the creek up from the lake will probably be 3 miles or more.

Okay, you’re on your own. Please make it a safe trip.


Flat Creek Falls is among the more spectacular waterfalls in North Carolina. It is among a select few that have achieved cult status among waterfallers. (Windy Falls, Big Falls on the Thompson River, and Dismal Falls are among the others.) I think the biggest reason is the effect the waterfall has on anyone who stands at its base. Few waterfalls in North Carolina have the same combination of breathtaking beauty and awesome power. The difficult and dangerous hike required to see it only adds to its mystique.

I’m well aware that my commentary will entice some of you to see Flat Creek Falls, rather than dissuade you from it. And if you hike through private property to reach the falls and don’t make any wrong turns, you may wonder why all the fuss. But regardless of the route you take, you’ll do well to heed my warnings.

Flat Creek Falls

Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens at 16mm. Light painting on trees at ISO 1600, f/4, 15 seconds, flashlight and green gel filter. Sky shot at ISO 3200, f/4, 20 seconds. For lighting on waterfall, I shot just before sunrise at ISO 400, f/5.6, 4 seconds. Tripod and photographer attached to rope to keep from falling off cliff.

Danger Will Robinson!

Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm lens at 38mm, ISO 200, f/16, 0.6 seconds, polarizing filter. Tripod and photographer attached to rope to keep from falling off cliff.

Danger Will Robinson!