Hiking Hotspot: Courthouse Falls
One overlooked waterfall in the beautiful Western North Carolina region is Courthouse Falls, located about 6 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, “The land of waterfalls.” Despite its’ immense beauty, tourists tend to pass over this one in favor of more easily accessible waterfalls. Thus, if you do decide to venture off-the-beaten path, you will be rewarded with not only views of a gorgeous waterfall, but also peace and quiet in a secluded forest setting. The bumpy road to the trailhead, which doesn’t require 4 WD but is a bit of a hassle, keeps this one off the radar. Note: this road closes often in the fall and winter, making summer the best time to plan a hike.
Pisgah National Forest
Courthouse Falls is one of many breathtaking waterfalls located within the lush Pisgah National Forest. Coming in at over 500,000 acres, and home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails, Pisgah is an adventure lover’s dream come true. According to the USDA, the Pisgah is home to one of the first areas of land purchased under The Weeks Act of 1911. This act led to the creation of national forests in the Eastern US. The Pisgah consists primarily of hardwood forest. Although gorgeous year-round, you really cannot beat hiking here during the colorful fall season. With plenty of deciduous trees such as oaks, flowering dogwoods, tulip poplar, and birch, every autumn the forest is ablaze in colorful hues.
The hike to Courthouse Falls
Courthouse Falls is a gorgeous 45 foot waterfall which cascades into a deep pool. Although the waterfall is a bit on the small side, the cove setting makes it one of the most attractive in WNC. It truly is a gorgeous sight. The rustic secluded nature only adds more to the appeal. Weekdays (and more often than not weekends too), you are almost guaranteed to have the entirety of the trail to yourself. Courthouse is easily one of the hidden gems of the Pisgah, if not the entire Blue Ridge region.
This hike can be easy or moderate, depending on if Courthouse Creek Rd (FS 140) is open or closed. The road frequently shuts down, so it’s best to check the forest service website before venturing out. Assuming the road is open, the hike is an easy 0.6 mile trek through dense greenery. If the road is closed, you will be adding another 2.5 miles each way to your hike. Some avid hikers choose to hike the road anyways.
There is a small steep staircase right before you arrive at the falls, but little elevation gain. It’s dark and shady, so great for a summer visit. Follow the appropriate color blazes on the trees to avoid getting lost or injured. Also do not venture down to the waterfall until you see the tree marking. Water flow tends to be strongest after a heavy rainfall during the late spring and summer months.
The trailhead is located 6.5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway from NC Hwy 215. From Brevard, take Hwy 64 to NC 215. Turn on FS 140 and drive about 2.6 miles to the trailhead. The drive from Brevard takes about 30-40 min.
Because the nature of this trail is so rustic, it’s a bit tough to find the trailhead. Out of all the trails I’ve hiked in the vicinity, this one had the least signage near the start of the trail. After driving what seems to take forever down a slow gravel road, this can be quite frustrating. Most days there are no other hikers, so you cannot count on seeing other cars parked. Below is a picture of the starting area. Look for a clearing about 2.6 miles into your drive. You will also see the trail marker intermingled in with the trees.
Where to eat
Either Brevard or Asheville is a great starting point to fuel up prior to your hike. Both feature a small downtown with locals restaurants and coffeeshops. Brevard is a bit closer, and thus, the preferred choice for anyone who wants to get up early and go. Quotations Coffee Cafe is a wonderful local coffeehouse which serves premier coffee from a fantastic local NC based roaster called Counter Culture. They also serve pastry, quiche, bagels, and yogurt parfait. The setting is so cozy that it’s hard to not linger around for a while. If you are seeking something unique, try a steamed bagel sandwich at Sully’s Steamers, or heftier, enjoy a classic breakfast at Mayberry’s.
What to do in the vicinity
Take a cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Courthouse Falls is located near Milepost 423. There are a number of scenic mountain overlooks along this portion of the drive. One highlight is the Richard Balsam overlook, which is the highest point on the Parkway at an elevation of 6053.
Hike the Richard Balsam trail. If you are up for it, there is a gorgeous high altitude hike through Fraser firs which begins at the Richard Balsam overlook. The loop trail is just 1.5 miles, but on the moderate side because of the high elevation. Milepost 431.
Graveyard Fields – Graveyard is one of the most popular stops on the Parkway, and for good reason. This trail features several small waterfalls and fantastic mountain views. It’s even more stunning during the fall leaf peeping season. Be prepared for crowds most of the year. Milepost 318.8