South Mountains Game Lands
Rutherford County, NC
Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Photos are posted here:
About 5 or 6 years ago, Andy saw something in one of the Foothills Conservancy newsletters about a waterfall on Sally Queen Creek in the South Mountains. He mentioned it to me a few months back and we decided to try and find it sometime soon.
A good bit of web research revealed absolutely nothing about the location or existence of this waterfall.
Studying some topo maps a few weeks back, we had circled an area where we intended to explore. I was hoping to get a bit of confirmation that this was the right area and maybe some insight as to the best way to approach.
So I decided to eMail the Foothills Conservancy. I was very pleased to get a response with approximate GPS coordinates. Especially since the coordinates were dead center inside the area I had circled on my map!
The easiest way to get there would be to come up from downstream. However, this would require crossing through a large chunk of private property. Staying entirely on public game lands, would require hiking almost entirely off trail. Fortunately Andy, Bob, Boone, and I were up for that challenge.
We met in Shelby, NC and piled into Andy's car for the half hour drive to the South Mountains Gamelands (Hwy 226 to Johnstown Road to Melton Road to Old CC Road).
We parked on the shoulder of Old CC road next to a gated and recently cut logging road heading to the West. We hoped that this would get us started in the right direction and we might even get lucky enough and have it take us most of the way there. Wishful Thinking!
Andy hiking through a recent clear-cut area
The dirt road soon ended in an open clear-cut area, which turned out to be private property, so we headed up into the trees and back into public land. The next 2 miles or so were entirely off trail.
Fortunately the forest was mostly open, so it wasn't a horrible bushwhack. However, there definitely were some thick areas, especially as we neared some springs and small tributary streams.
Bushwhacking across a small stream
The most pleasant aspect of this part of the hike was a surprising number of big trees. In an area that has been heavily logged over the years, we didn't expect to see such an impressive display of old growth forest.
Bob by an impressive old growth tree
Another interesting sight we found was the remains of what we could only figure was an old Moonshine Still.
Remains of an old Moonshine Still
After a couple of hours of bushwhacking, we were all relieved when we finally caught sight of what we thought was Sally Queen Creek. While I was using my compass to try and lead us in a general North West direction, the terrain ended up pushing us a bit further south than we intended.
Andy wondering where are we?
We had actually arrived just downstream from where Sally Queen joins the North Fork of the First Broad River. This would not have been a problem except we quickly realized that we were no longer on Game Lands, but now on private property.
A little unintended tresspassing
We kicked our hiking pace into high gear which was made much easier by a well travelled dirt road and swiftly made our way north back onto public land.
Boone and Bob crossing Sally Queen Creek
Once back into the South Mountain Gamelands, the road got a bit rougher, but still fairly easy going alongside Sally Queen Creek. At points, the creek is well below the old roadbed, and there are certainly some other cascades worth exploring. Several side paths lead to closer looks, but we skipped most of them since we really were not sure how long the hike back would take.
We did make a few stops. Bob just had to walk across a giant downed tree hovering 20 feet above the creek. The rest of us thought he was crazy!
Bob goes out on a limb! A very big one!
Eventually we arrived at Sally Queen Creek Falls and we were all pleasantly surprised. Sally Queen exceeded our expectations!
Sally Queen Falls
The only downside to this waterfall is that an enormous Hemlock has recently fallen in front of the falls. I don't figure this downed tree will be going anywhere anytime soon! This definitely gets in the way of some of the best viewing angles, but there are still lots of other spots to view and photography this scenic waterfall.
Downed Hemlock in front of Sally Queen Falls
Obviously we picked this spot as our main lunch break for the day and spent a good bit of time enjoying and photographing the falls. Andy and I ventured upstream a bit, but found nothing immediately upstream from the main waterfall. But since we only went about a quarter mile past Sally Queen Falls, there is definitely still some potential further upstream from where we turned back.
Me at Sally Queen Falls
After about 3 minutes, we completely lost the old roadbed and ended up in a mess of underbrush. This was definitely the worst part of the hike. Not only were we going steeply up hill, but we were whacking through a mess of Rhododendron, Dog Hobble, and Briars!
Fortunately, as we got higher up the North West face of Richland Mountain the brush started to thin out. Unfortunately, the route seemed to be getting steeper and steeper.
I am not sure which was worse, trying to head straight up or trying to side-step around the contours. We tried a bit of both and neither was very pleasant. This was definitely a much tougher route than we took on the hike in. However, it did keep us 100% off private property and it also was a good bit shorter (mileage-wise).
Eventually we reached the crest near the summit of Richland Mountain were we stopped for another nice long break. I could tell Bob was beat as he resisted the urge to bag the actual summit of Richland Mountain!
Andy, Bob, and Boone taking a break near the summit of Richland Mountain
All that was left was a steep downhill descent which hopefully would take us back to the road somewhere near Andy's car. That is assuming we were interpreting the map and compass readings correctly!
What was a steep climb up was now a steep climb down! I took the lead down the mountain trying to find the safest way down. The butt slide maneuver worked very well on several occasions!
Our steep descent ended at what looked like a clearing. But as we walked through we quickly realized that the chest high grassy stuff also contained a hidden briar patch!
Andy and Bob in the "Hidden Briar Patch" Boone is in there somewhere too!
By the time we made it though to the road, my legs were a scraped up and bloody mess. It was a welcome relief that we ended up less than 100 yards from Andy's car!
Mileage-wise, we probably only covered about 6 miles, but since almost all of it was bushwhacking, it seemed a lot further and definitely much more difficult than your typical 6 mile hike.
This is a very rough estimate of our hike route
(not based on any actual GPS readings)
We went clockwise starting from the blue dot at the lower right.
The other blue dot is the approximate location of Sally Queen Falls
As excepted, we didn't run into a single other person except for a couple of horseback riders that passed by as we were loading our gear into Andy's car
The weather was absolutely beautiful with temperatures in the mid 70s. While we obviously are not the first people to visit Sally Queen Falls, we did beat our waterfall guru buddies! Anytime we find a waterfall before Kevin Adams, and Waterfall Rich, it always an accomplishment!
As always, I enjoyed the company of Andy, Bob, and Boone and their adventurous attitudes. This is not the type of hike that most people would attempt and it is not one I would attempt alone, so their companionship is always welcomed!
The full set of photos is posted here: