Located deep within the Big Ivy/Coleman Boundary of Pisgah National Forest, Peach Orchard Creek deliciously flows through one of North Carolina’s most scenic and vibrant areas. At its pit, the waterway descends into a nearly 800-ft deep gorge between the western flanks of Bullhead Mountain and Locust Knob.
The creek itself is among one of the most mossy covered I have ever seen; not to mention a photographer’s field day down there with tons of opportunities for beautiful compositions. Peach Orchard is quite productive with several high cascades and smalls falls, as well as two more noteworthy waterfalls.
The plan was to enter the creek near SR 2173, in Barnardsville, and head downstream from there to what appeared to be about the end of the gorge (judging from a topo map) around 3400′ elevation. I was joined with the lovely Eliza, aka Mermaid, for this afternoon jaunt.
Peach Orchard Creek crosses SR 2173, near its headwaters, about 0.7 miles before the state road ends at the more popular Douglas Falls trail head in Barnardsville. For reference, here is a link to a Google Map pin for Douglas Falls that you can get directions to.
When coming from I-26, take exit 15 for NC-197 towards Barnardsville. In about 6 miles, turn right onto Dillingham Rd – after just passing the Post Office on your left. In 2.2 miles, the road forks in a curving fashion – keep towards the left to continue onto SR 2173.
In about 10.5 miles (and after passing several roadside waterfalls along the now gravel road), you’ll pass the Laurel Gap Trail on your left. On your right will be what seems to be a car camping site. In 0.1 miles just as the road curves to the left, some maps say there is an old logging road splitting off of SR 2173 on the right – down the mountainside to the creek. I could not find that road for the life of me. Friends of mine say they have never found it either. It almost doesn’t make sense because it gets steep going off the ridge there. We ended up parking right at that curve where the the road was supposed to be, 10.6 miles down SR 2173.
I didn’t want to miss too much of the creek from where we parked, so we started right there down the spine of the ridge – where SR 2173 curves to the left. Within a few yards, we went more off the left side of that ridge towards the water via the path of least resistance. In about 500-ft, we were at Peach Orchard Creek. I was happy to find that the creek itself is quite open, despite satellite images showing it hemmed in.
Depending on where you land in the creek, you’ll head downstream for 200 or 250-ft before reaching the first high cascade.
Despite being only 8 or 9-ft high, this was actually one of the coolest features we saw that day. Peach Orchard Creek splits around this “pit” looking rock that is covered in lush, green moss. Its distinguished shape makes for quite the captivating subject.
The whole creek was so hard to say what was what. For some people this is a small waterfall and to others it’s not even close. I used the term “high cascade” because it definitely deserves its own recognition and stands out as its own identity. But from my own personal stand point, I don’t really call anything under 10-ft a waterfall. Instead, I usually say high cascade. I also call most waterfalls under 15-ft a small falls. But this is only a matter of subjective opinion, and despite which way you lean, I think we can all agree on how gorgeous it is!
Immediately downstream from the first cascade is the next 10-ft small fall/high cascade, that comes tumbling down some very detailed rock stacks.
Again – this may not be the biggest, but dang is it one of the most beautiful! The setting is stunning, contrasting, and easy to photograph. The creek spills over many intricate cascading levels, wrapped by green boulders. Needless to say, I spent more time than anticipated here.
Around another 350-ft downstream, the creek starts to pick up a bit more momentum as the mountainsides start to shape the gorge. It forms a sort of “entrance cascades”, and makes a worthy photo.
At this point, we crossed at the cascades onto the river right side of Peach Orchard Creek. Immediately downstream from here is the first actual small waterfall on the creek so far. We swooped down the right hand side to reach the base.
This small waterfall is about 15-ft high but the upper section curves around to the left, in the photo above. The real beauty is the deep, clear pool at the bottom. It was quite inviting, but bitter cold despite being July. Most of Peach Orchard Creek was like that – had oddly deep and clear pools for even tiny cascades along the way. There is a small cliff line on river right downstream of this spot with some neat overhangs.
According to my topo map, there appeared to be a cliff line on the river left side of the creek about 650-ft further downstream. This was one of my major points of interests for coming out here, so we made our way downstream via path of least resistance. Some scrambling was involved but overall pretty it’s moderate. Experienced creek walkers should have no problem. Immediately downstream, though, is another 8-ft scenic cascade.
My guess was right, and there is a small cliff line river left with some impressive-sized boulders that tumbled to the creek.
At this point, there is another small falls here. It’s about 12-ft high and in two cascading tiers. It splits a couple rocks and makes yet another great subject.
I thought the boulders added a nice effect to this one. It had a bit of dead fall at the base but was very photogenic nevertheless.
The next section of the creek starts to narrow for a bit as you enter deeper into the gorge. In about 300-ft downstream, you’ll reach the top of a narrow and tall slot. It’s very mossy and the base has small, but pretty steep, walls with a deep plunge pool. I would say it’s one of the two noteworthy waterfalls on Peach Orchard Creek.
The entire creek gets squeezed and drops about 40-ft down here. About halfway down there is a dry pull out on river left. I decided I was able to climb down into that pull out around the first boulder on river left in the above photo. With some assistance, Eliza was able to follow.
Of course the sun was blaring by this point.
Getting down the next half was a bit trickier. I was trying to avoid a bushwhack around the rock walls. Since we were already half way down anyways, we pushed on. There was a big rock behind us that prevented going down river left and the bottom had steep walls on both sides. Ultimately river right made more sense for us to be on. During our visit, there was dead fall across the bottom half. In what I am dubbing the “koala maneuver”, we shimmied across the logs to the other side and continued downstream.
Right below the plunge pool for this waterfall, the creek goes through another tiny squeeze.
In another 230-ft downstream from here, you’ll run into the next 35-ft and second noteworthy waterfall. The creek splits an island at the top, then it crosses and splits another big rock at the base. We descended river left from here.
This one was pretty interesting for two reasons. I’d imagine it would make the shape of an “X” from an aerial perspective because of the way it’s splitting and cascading down. It was pretty challenging to get both sides of the split in one angle.
The next interesting aspect of the waterfall is that there is an over sized tractor trailer tire resting at the split in the middle on river right. We were quite impressed one made it that far into the gorge!
Immediately downstream from here is another 10-ft, scenic small falls.
About 300-ft more downstream is another set of high cascades that splits around a small rock island in the creek.
By this point, Eliza was nearing her limit on creek walking. I was being my typical Mountain Cat, stubborn self and still wanted to make it to the 3400′ elevation mark – only another 0.3 miles downstream. Besides, the geology was starting to get interesting again. So she stayed while I made a speedy and solo sprint down.
By and large the creek wasn’t too much productive with anything significant standing out. In about 0.2 miles downstream from where I left Eliza, there was a nice high cascade and another one 0.1 miles even further beyond that.
On the river right side, I found an old logging grade that headed upstream while gradually ascending the mountainside. Perhaps this was the old logging road we were initially looking for..?
I followed that back until I linked up with Eliza again. The goal was to continue following the old grade upstream towards the car from here. We went up the mountainside and followed that gradually fading cut as far back as possible. Luckily, we were able to go most of the way before losing it to the earth at around 3920′ elevation on river right.
Since we were past the steepest part of the gorge, we decided it was easier to just bushwhack the 300-ft up the mountainside to SR 2173 then road walk back to my Jeep. We made it to the campsite I mentioned earlier at the junction with Laurel Gap Trail then back to the parking with no further problems and the bushwhack was pretty open.
While there are no overly significant falls on Peach Orchard Creek, it is still littered with several notable small falls and high cascades. It’s also one of the most scenic I have walked and definitely worth the visit for the more adventurous type. Photographers would also enjoy the serene and photogenic setting found at most of the water features on the creek.