Last year around this time we spent 3 days and 2 nights in the Wilson Creek area with our friends and their adventure pup, Knox. Forgive the long absence – lots of things have been happening, and although the pups instagram is still going strong, I took a hiatus from the blog. Here’s to a renewed effort, and way more interesting adventure posts to come!
Trips are reviewed keeping in mind a few criteria:
- Getting There / Location: Is it easily accessible? Is the trail head easy to find? How are the maps, and are the trails clearly marked?
- Trails and Terrain: Are they well maintained? Are they clearly marked? On a scale of downward escalator to scaling the side of a building, how difficult is the hike?
- Aesthetics: Are there key overlooks, water features, etc.?
- Campsites: Are they crowded? Flat? Near water? Firepits?
- Important Notes: Things to keep in mind – Is there phone service? Water? Is it crowded?
- Adventure Pup-Friendliness: Taking all of the above into account, is this a good trip for your fur babies?
Adventure Mom and Dad have hiked areas of Wilson Creek before, but it was Huckleberry’s first overnight backpacking trip so we weren’t sure what to expect.
GETTING THERE: C-
Ok, C- is way too nice of a rating. Let’s go with D–. It’s just bad, y’all.
The road leading in to Wilson Creek Recreation area is Brown Mountain Beach Road. The first mile or so is paved, and then turns to gravel. By this point, cell service is long gone, and signage is minimal…and by minimal, I mean non-existent. So, we recommend stopping before turning on to Brown Mountain Beach Road and plugging in your destination to get a better idea of mileage.
We chose to meet our friends at a parking lot at the trailhead for Harper Creek Falls. This takes you down a few miles on the all gravel / dusty road that is “two lanes.” For a while you are driving next to Wilson Creek in the day recreation area, where no overnight camping is allowed. There is a sign (probably the only one in the entire park) that says “Now leaving Wilson Creek Day Area,” which can be super confusing. Keep driving! Once you pass the visitors center (it’s a reddish brown log cabin on your left, parking lot is on your right) and an RV park, you will go around a few hairpin turns and see a small parking lot on your left. And by parking lot, I mean a dusty flat-ish area that can fit about 7 cars. Again, there is no signage, because let’s keep things interesting, shall we?
The only way we knew we were in the right spot was getting out of the truck and finding the trailhead.
Did you almost get run off the mountainside by a beat up pickup truck flying a “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag? Does your car look like it survived a nuclear fallout? Are you completely out of wiper fluid? Congratulations…you made it!
TRAILS AND TERRAIN: A-
Wilson Creek is a US Forest Service area, which is your first indicator of how well maintained and marked the trails are. Useful trail map HERE. US Forest Service areas tend to not be as well-maintained as other parks, so be prepared when hiking in these areas. Trails are not very well marked, and, in some places, there may be downed trees (big ones) and washouts along the way. A great map and an even greater sense of adventure are a must!
We kicked off our adventure at the Harper Creek Trailhead. The first mile of the trail is a very steep uphill, which is great because the first mile of a trip is always nothing but suck – at least for me. Might as well get the hard stuff out of the way while you get into the swing of things! After that it turns into fairly steady, rolling ups and downs – nothing too strenuous. However, this is a slow-going trek due to the multiple water crossings. Depending on recent rains, creek crossings can range from ankle deep to waist deep.
BRING A CHANGE OF SHOES. Keens, Tevas, Chacos or other water shoes are highly recommended. About two hours out of our day was spent switching out of hiking shoes into our “river” shoes, crossing the creeks, drying off our feet, and putting hiking shoes back on. If you have water shoes with a solid sole and you are okay with open-toe, you may be better served keeping your water shoes on for a 2 mile stretch where there are crossings every couple hundred yards – totally a personal preference!
On the last day, we hopped on the Yellow Buck Trail, as it was a quick 2 miles back to the parking lot. This was a hugely bad decision – the trail was much more difficult than anticipated, with an extremely steep climb. It took us much longer to complete and we ran out of water about halfway through. There were no water sources nearby, so we just kept trudging. Chris carried Huck part of the way so he didn’t have to over-exert himself, and we ended the hike with a good long swim in the creek. This is the perfect trail if you enjoy punishing yourself.
Overall, it’s a great trail system for pups due to the water crossings. They are almost built-in breaks for the pups to take a breather, splash around, cool off and get a drink of water. Just avoid Yellow Buck.
Crystal-clear water crossings and multiple waterfalls make this entire area absolutely stunning. It is very remote (remember those gravel “roads”?), which makes it a quiet, peaceful kind of beauty. Some waterfalls, like North Harper Creek Falls, aren’t more than two miles in, making it much easier to get to for daytrippers. Others, like Bard Falls, take a bit more effort (and a few creek crossings), but are completely worth the effort.
We fully intended to make it to Bard Falls on Day One, but the crossings made for much slower going than we anticipated. That, combined with a thunderstorm rolling in made us set up camp about an hour or two earlier than we had planned. Early in the morning on Day Two we made it to Bard Falls. It’s a bit of a steep trail to get to the base of the falls, so we stripped our packs halfway down and then crawled down the rock face to get to the pool at the bottom.
If you’re adventurous, walk/crawl along the left side of the falls and you’ll find a hole in the rock with an opening to the base of the falls. From there, jump on in! It’s a pretty shallow pool. Huckleberry was NOT amused when his dad decided to take the plunge. Both Knox and Huck had a great time swimming around in the pool and exploring the rocks around the falls. However, this area can be slippery – which Huck found out the hard way and almost tumbled down into the pool. He decided to sit out the rest of the time, watching Knox explore from a safe (read: DRY) distance.
Towards the end of the day, we crossed over the road and made our way down to Hunt Fish Falls. This trail, although a short distance to the falls, is a pretty steep descent (so be prepared for the hike back up!). The trail opens up on a wide, flat rock around the base of the falls. If the day had been sunnier, we would have hung around for a while and maybe gone for a swim.
Hunt Fish Falls is a fantastic quick up-and-back hike if you don’t want to do an overnight camp. You get the best of everything – an awesome view of the falls, a fun swimming hole, and you get the satisfaction of having “worked for it” because of the steep hike back up. It’s a GREAT exercise for pups, since they get a break in the middle to rest and swim around. If you don’t have a water filter, make SURE you have extra water in your car for when you get back – trust me, your pups will need it!
Wilson Creek has remote campsites along the trail, meaning you are able to pull off the trail at any point and set up camp. There are multiple sites that are used frequently, and most of them are set up near the creek for easy water access. For the most part, these areas tend to be flat, have a firepit area set up and some big logs for seating.
The first night a thunderstorm rolled in around 5pm, much to Huck’s disdain, so we pulled off the trail and set up camp in between two creek crossings. There was a nice large fire ring, enough space for our two tents, and it was right on the creek, allowing us to easily refill on water and wash some items. Huck is a chicken when it comes to storms, so we put him in the tent thinking he’d be happier there. We were wrong, and now our Big Agnes has a Big A** hole in the door. Thanks, buddy!
We didn’t intend to camp in the same spot both nights, but the second day our intended spot for stopping wasn’t near any water sources. We thought we may have been able to make it back out the next day without refilling, but thankfully we decided to take the Persimmon Trail back down to the creek. The closest campsite just happened to be the one we were at the previous night!
- Do NOT expect to have service while in the park. Plan accordingly.
- Water crossings: I normally subscribe to a “less is more” philosophy, but in this case, bring water shoes and bring extra pairs of socks. You want to be able to change into a dry pair of socks in the morning, trust me.
- Holiday weekends are crowded weekends. This is a standard rule of thumb, but Wilson Creek is like the Myrtle Beach Wilderness during holidays. It’s packed, you have a bunch of drunk people tearing around the roads, and campsites can fill up quickly.
ADVENTURE PUP RATING: A+!
This is a FANTASTIC trip for your furbabies. As per any extended outdoor hike, you need to make sure you have enough water for your pups and allocate enough time to take frequent breaks. Check their paws at the end of each day to make sure they don’t have any splinters or cuts. And, of course, tick check! The great thing about Wilson Creek is (depending on your location) you can make a quick daytrip out of it to see some great waterfalls and bring your pups along, or you can stay out there for days on end exploring different trails.