Numerous routes lead to the trailhead whether you’re coming from NC 181, the community of Edgemont, or the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ll give directions from the parkway, which is how most people get here. Study a road map for other routes.
At Milepost 311.3 of the parkway (0.9 mile north of NC 181 and 5.9 miles south of US 221), turn south onto the gravel SR 1518 (unsigned at my last visit). Follow the road 1.7 miles to a fork; a church is on the left. Go left on the gravel FR 464 (Edgemont Road). After 2.5 miles, turn right on FR 58 (Kawana Road). It is 0.25 mile on FR 58 to a small pullout on the left.
North Harper Creek Trail (#266) descends the slope behind the trail sign and comes to the first of four crossings of North Harper Creek at 0.21 mile. If you have difficulty with this crossing, turn around and come back when the flow is lower. Across the creek, the trail goes downstream and passes over sections of exposed rocks that are slippery when wet and treacherous in icy conditions. You’ll come to the second creek crossing at 0.6 mile, this one easier. About 0.1 mile farther, you’ll reach the third crossing, which is a little harder. Beyond the third crossing, the trail swings away from the creek briefly. As it comes back to the creek, you may see a couple of paths turning left. Don’t take them. You’ll reach the creek at the top of the falls. During normal flows, you can hop onto an exposed rock in the middle of the creek, then hop to the other side. In higher water, this will be a wade. Across the creek, the trail utilizes a switchback to descend the slope and reach the base of the falls 0.21 mile from the crossing.
You get two falls for the price of one here, since you can’t see the upper slide from the base or the bottom drop from the upper section. In fact, there’s a hike of nearly a quarter-mile between the two. The upper portion is on a gently sloping rock. When it’s dry, and if you exercise caution, it’s safe to walk out on the rock until you get near the edge. I like the views from here better than from the bottom. The bottom portion is a steep slide into a small pool.
North Harper Creek Trail continues downstream from the falls, passing Chestnut Cove Branch Falls (see the “Nearby Waterfall” listing) and Bard Falls. It ends at Harper Creek Trail, which continues following the creek downstream, passing Harper Creek Falls and ending at Brown Mountain Beach Road in the Mortimer community. Numerous connecting trails in this area provide excellent backpacking and day-hiking opportunities.