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Winter Waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

Last year, J-Dub and I went and summited Mt. Rogers when we were together for Christmas. This year the bomb cyclone that rocked the east coast late December 2022 waylaid our camping plans so we shifted to a day trip up in Pisgah National Forest.

A large waterfall iced over in a winter forest on a clear day.
One of the two Twin Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

We got an early start and stopped in Brevard, NC for coffee and bagels before heading in for our first waterfall Looking Glass Falls. This waterfall is down a short set of stairs from a car pull off and was a frigid experience in the morning, a singular kind of cold as the sun hadn't yet crested the Appalachian mountains.

A gushing waterfall on an early winter morning. The sides of the falls are still iced over and ice and a frosted rhododendron form the foreground.
Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest

We got back in the car and continued our drive, passing the popular summer spot Sliding Rock, to the Cradle of Forestry. This is the campus of the Biltmore Forest School, the oldest forestry center in America. The campus was closed so we turned around and headed toward our next hike, enjoying the winding road along the Davidson River and the stone Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built bridges we drove over.

A stone bridge with lichen and age on a sunny winter day. The bridge crosses a stream with large flotsam of ice.
Old stone bridge in Pisgah National Forest.

We stopped at the Moore Cove Falls Trail next, a gently rolling 1.4 mile in-and-out trail. A Carolina Mountain Club trail crew was out working on what seemed like a little re-route, or perhaps just some intense erosion control, either way; this trail was getting quite a bit of use today and I imagine it stays pretty crowded year-round.

Moore Cove Falls Trail leads to a viewing platform of the spectacular Moore Cove Falls. Today they were especially fantastical. A large ice cone had formed at the base of the falls and sharp icicles hung over the edge. Now, with the temperature above freezing again, the falls were flowing and melting the ice cap from the inside out.

Hiker looks up at the steady stream of water from the safety of a cavern. Above the figure large icicles hang and water pours steadily into an ice cap.
Moore Cove Falls, Pisgah National Forest.

We swung into the Art Loeb trailhead after Moore Cove Falls to regroup and eat a quick snack. We traveled up here with the idea of either summiting Looking Glass Rock or picking another waterfall hike depending on trail conditions. Our first two smaller hikes told us that treads were still fairly icey and would probably be worse in higher elevation, so we opted for Twin Falls instead.

AllTrails marked the trailhead to access the Twin Falls Trail in one spot, but Jon knew another access point further up the winding, gravel road past the park’s stables. Pulling up to the trail head, the small lot was filled up with mountain bikers, decked out in full van life regalia. One of them was climbing out of the bed with a sleeping pad, while the other two were checking tire pressure on a bike before loading it up onto a rack. They made space and cleared out quickly so we could park and begin our hike, accessing the Twin Falls Trail from the Buckthorn Gap Trail.

The Buckhorn Gap Trail is a fairly tame, orange blazed trail following Avery Creek. The slick conditions proved the real challenge as there were many creek crossings and patches of thick ice. Typically, there were both ford and bridge options available for the crossing as it’s a multi-use trail. But it would have been a cold day for even a small forge so we took our time and had our fun rock hopping the creek and crossing some backcountry footbridges.

We encountered some old infrastructure along the way too! I imagine it being an old wagon road since it was evenly paved with small stones on the out slope like a barrier. I did a bit of internet snooping and couldn’t find much on it. If anyone has any ideas or leads, please leave a comment and let us know!

An old stone road with a small, outside retaining wall curves down a slope before ending at an abrupt break.
Wagon road?

The Twin Falls Trail is a short 0.4 spur trail to an incredible view. Two massive waterfalls cascade down a carved out valley, roaring in relative synchrony. The valley, carved a bit like a heart, is apparently a popular proposal and romantic photo site and it’s easy to understand why. We had it pretty much to ourselves this afternoon though which was a nice treat. We could sit and eat lunch, taking it all in before hiking out back to the car.

A water fall gushes down into a valley in winter forest. Bright, white patches of snow and ice mark the path of the falls against the browns and greens of the forest.
One of the two Twin Falls in Pisgah National Forest

Leaving Pisgah, we picked up a coffee in Black Mountain for the drive back. The small, mountain town was packed with tourists for the holidays and in full-swing. It's a picturesque little downtown with plenty to offer and explore, but we still had quite a drive ahead of us and didn't want to lollygag. Hitting the road, we drove through the evening and stopped by a Mellow Mushroom for some pizza.

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