Prepare your inner masochist because this creekwhack will have you fighting a grueling 800-ft in elevation gain on near vertical mountainsides while being slammed with waterfall after waterfall – all in only a short 0.8 miles! But don’t worry, it’ll feel like a lot more.
Located deep in the thickets of South Carolina’s Oconee County, Crane Creek is as wild as it can come. It’s situated just south of the historic Winding Stairs Trail, near the Cherry Hill Recreation Area in the Upstate. Since the main drops of the creek are a little further upstream from the south trail head, most people hike north along this until they get closer to the waterfalls then bushwhack over.
But joining me on this adventure are known hardcore waterfallers Everette Robinson, Wendy Walker, Becca O’Donnell, and Ashley Heslip with her incredible dog Dana – so naturally we weren’t going to take any traditional approach. We came here to see Crane Creek, and we decided we were going to do just that – by creek walking the whole thing!
Our ending shuttle car was dropped on a dirt pull off directly on SC-107 (34. 560534, -83. 57453) , 3/4 miles south of the Cherry Hill Recreation Area and not too far from where Crane Creek meets the highway. Then we all piled into my Jeep, drove another 1.7 miles to Tamassee Road (aka Cheohee Road aka FS710), and headed down until it meets the creek at the bottom of the gorge. At this point you will see a small pull in for parking, and thus marking the start of the creek walk. (34* 4051′ N, 83* 4.7688′ W)
There’s an obvious fisherman’s trail leading upstream from the parking, but it is very short lived. Before long, we were already bushwhacking in the creek bed. Luckily, it’s only about 1/4 mile upstream to the first significant drop.
This 20-ft drop was pretty challenging for me to photograph. As shown, there is quite a bit of deadfall and water level was up during our visit. Everette and I were ankle deep in the creek trying to get a decent composition.
We ascended Crane Falls by climbing up on river left. Almost immediately upstream is this small, but pretty, sliding fall. We crossed the creek at its base to get a closer look and better vantage spot for some photos.
Continuing upstream on river right, the mountainside became incredibly steep. Between this point and our next stop, the going was slow and precariously near vertical. As you can see from the photo below, we were walking on old deadfall logs that were held up by dense rhodo undergrowth.
Just before reaching the next waterfall, Secret Falls, we were forced to cross the creek one more time. I’m glad we did because the entire river right side of it is a cliff that wouldn’t have been passable for us. If you are approaching Secret falls this way, make sure to stay river left!
Secret Falls was far more impressive than I anticipated! This beautiful, 60-ft drop snakes over and through a small crack in the cliff line. There isn’t a solid vantage point other than where I took this photo, and even that was dicey. Secret Falls has a reputation of being hard to locate. I’ve heard of several people missing it on their first time out here, including Wendy when she first tried to visit. This was partly why we also chose to creek walk the whole thing – we figured it’d be hard to miss it at that approach!
Next up was Crane Creek Falls, only around 750-ft upstream from Secret Falls. But this is where the gorge is going to make you work for it. Everything upstream from here is steep and usually requires some wide swinging to get around the many drops of the creek. Luckily, its not all dense growth but be prepared for periods of it! For the majority of the way up, we stayed on river left.
This is truly one captivating waterfall! The sheer 60-ft rock wall towers above as Crane Creek makes its plummet over with a clear view from the base. I’ve seen photos of it in lower waters and it’s not as nearly impressive. I recommend visiting this creek after a good rain. Heading up river left and swinging wide around, the next waterfall is literally just above Crane Creek Falls.
Yellow Jacket Falls is the next waterfall and the highlight of the entire adventure, for me. There was something enchanting about this waterfall that captivated me when I first spotted it through the forest. The intricate details of the rock, the two prongs of the falls, and the old growth dead fall gave this drop so much character! My only regret was that we didn’t visit it on a cloudy day for better photography opportunities, haha.
Continuing the trend, our next waterfall destination – Prospector Falls – is less than 250-ft upstream. As before, we swung wide on river left to circumvent the rock face of Yellow Jacket Falls. After a quick bush push, we found ourselves at the base of the 15-ft drop.
Despite the sunny conditions, I found this waterfall to be quite photogenic. Once more, Everette and I found ourselves ankle to deep knee in the creek looking for the perfect vantage point.
By the now, the mountain side starts leveling back out and becomes far less steep. With the hardest parts of the hike behind us, our final waterfall on Crane Creek is immediately upstream – Deadfall Falls.
You guessed it, Deadfall Falls has a very obvious reason for its namesake. Despite the pileup, I found it to be not only fitting but complimentary. It’s neatly cluttered to only one side of the drop and still leaves a good bit of the waterfall open for viewing!
After Deadfalls Falls, Crane Creek takes ones more sliding drop right above it.
After this, the creek basically levels out and takes the form of a calm stream. By now we were quite close to road and moseyed our way back to where we dropped a car off SC-107. But after that smashing creek walk, we were all hungry for a little more. With the exception of Everette, none of us had been to Miuka Falls, which is only a 1.25 mile hike from the south end of the Cherry Hill Recreation Area.
Unanimously, we descended down the Winding Stairs Trail, from the recreation area. The gentle grade and wide open path was quite the contrast compared to the last couple hours of our day! Before we knew it, we heard the mighty 75-ft drop directly down a small spur trail off the main one.
After Miuka Falls, we backtracked Winding Stairs to the recreation area and I caught a shuttle ride back to my jeep. Overall, Crane Creek was a phenomenal adventure with friends – both old and new – and a must for any hardcore waterfaller!