The trailhead GPS coordinates are for the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center, located at Milepost 451.2 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Read the Overview section before you think about making this hike.
The lower reaches of West Fork Campbell Creek are private property, so the only legal way to access the waterfalls is to hike from above. The best access is probably to start from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center, follow the trail from there to the summit of Waterrock Knob, then drop off the northeast side of the mountain and follow the drainage down. Easy to say and plot on a map, but not so easy to do.
I’m not going to explain every detail about this hike. If you’re experienced in off-trail hiking and scrambling and know how to read a topo map, you’ll find your way down without trouble. If you’re not, I encourage you not to make this hike. It’ll be a long, hard day at best. If you attempt to see the lowermost waterfall, Keyhole Falls, you probably won’t be able to make this hike in a day. Remember, what goes down must go back up.
If you follow the main stream down according to the top map, you’ll first pass through a dark, scenic spruce forest with lush, thick moss covering everything on the ground. You’ll eventually pick up a branch, which will flow mostly underground unless you’re here in high water. At about the 4,960-feet elevation, three branches come together. On the river-left branch is Epiphyte Falls, a short distance upstream. You can see it easily from the confluence.
Continue downstream. When the leaves are off, you may see a waterfall on a river-right side stream, high above West Fork. The stream is likely almost dry in summer. I didn’t take the time to investigate it up close on my hike.
At about the 4,320-feet elevation, you’ll come to the next waterfall, also on a river-right side stream. Cliffside Falls is only a few yards upstream from West Fork on a tiny stream, flowing over a jagged cliff face.
Aklapa Falls comes next, at about the 4,200-feet elevation. You’ll have to be careful with the scramble down the river-left side of the creek to reach the base.
West Fork Falls is a short distance downstream. The only practical way to reach the base is down the river-left side. You’ll reach a point along a cliff edge where it doesn’t look you can go any farther, but if you continue you’ll see that there is a route down. It requires both hands free and you need to pay close attention to what you’re doing. Anna Falls is on the river-left tributary at the base of West Fork Falls.
A short distance farther down from West Fork Falls is Dog Hobble Falls, which is a short distance upstream on a river-right tributary.
Jootum Falls, on West Fork, comes next, a short distance down from Dog Hobble Falls. If you make a dicey hop down the cliff beside the falls on river-right, or an even dicier scramble down on river left, you can reach the base quickly. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a long detour around the cliff on the river-right side (probably easier than river left). I recommend the detour.
The next river-left tributary below Jootum Falls has a waterfall on it, high above West Fork. I didn’t check it out up close. Same situation with the next tributary down on river right.
Keyhole Falls, the final waterfall on West Fork, is at the 3,880 feet elevation. You’ve just descended over 2,400 feet in elevation from the summit of Waterrock Knob. Congratulations! Now, guess what? You have to turn around and go back. The private property line is a short distance downstream from Keyhole Falls.
My buddy Paul Albert and I explored a little of the West Fork drainage a couple weeks after we hiked East Fork. We expected to find waterfalls and we weren’t disappointed. But we did find a few surprises.
As with our East Fork hike, we started from above and followed the creek downstream. In the upper reaches, much of the stream flowed underground at the water level we had. But soon after the flow became permanently on the surface, we started finding waterfalls. However, we couldn’t tell very well if they were on Blue Ridge Parkway property or on the private property that was marked with lots of purple paint.
The river-right said of the creek near the falls appears to be Blue Ridge Parkway, while the river-left side is a tract owned by The Conservation Fund. Based on the purple paint, the boundary line does not follow the creek precisely. We couldn’t tell at any given point whose property we were on.
The Conservation Fund transferred other tracts in the area to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this tract is slated for Maggie Valley Sanitary District. My understanding is that it will be open to the public, with hopes for a trailhead below. Currently, there is no trail to the falls from either direction, but having a legal place to park downstream would be a huge benefit. We had permission to leave a shuttle vehicle at a residence downstream and and hike through private property, so we didn’t have to backtrack.
There is no timetable for when the transfer will occur. And there probably will be no public access from below for a while after the transfer occurs. The Conservation Fund is working to secure additional tracts of land that might be used for this purpose, but as of now, everything downstream from Keyhole Falls is private property.
Until the transfer occurs and proper signage is installed, the public is discouraged from hiking in the West Fork watershed. Technically, you would be trespassing. Although the river-right side of the creek is mostly within the Blue Ridge Parkway boundary, you cannot access the waterfalls from that side. Trust me on this!
I’ll monitor the situation and let you know when Maggie Valley Sanitary District begins allowing public access. But even after that occurs, I won’t recommend these waterfalls as a day hike until there is public access from below. The backtrack hike is just too long and difficult to do in a single day.
West Fork Falls is not remarkable if you view it out of context with its surroundings. But the setting is really cool. Extending along both sides of the waterfall are rock walls. Anna Falls tumbles over a jagged rock face on the river-left side. Reaching the base of West Fork Falls from above requires negotiating a mountain-goat route that descends the rock cliff between the two falls. Overall, it’s one of the more scenic and interesting waterfall settings in the state.