Yellow Fork Falls – or also known as Paddys Creek Falls – is a brilliantly crafted 35-ft waterfall located just outside the southwestern flank of the Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina.
The majestic waterfall takes a free fall over a jagged cliff face before crashing down a few more boulders and emptying into what may be the most emerald colored swimming hole in the entire state! In places, the cliff side can reach upwards to 80-ft tall and even creates a small cove that will allow one to walk behind the free-falling portion of the drop. This out-and-back hike totals just over 2 miles round trip as it meanders gently down a moderate and easily navigable social trail.
The trail head for Yellow Fork Falls is located on the southern end of Old NC 105 (Kistler Highway) in the Nebo/Marion area of North Carolina. The trail head is extremely easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but it is also very obvious if you know where to look. A few dozen yards north and south of the trail head are very small pullouts where you can park your car, but know that the spaces are limited.
A Google Maps link to the trail head can be found here.
The GPS for the trail head is (35.810694, -81.938778)
Look for the start of trail cut on the side on the road – which will NOT be marked in any way. If you’re coming from the northern end of Old 105 then the trail will start on your right, or if you’re coming from the southern end, the trail will begin on your left. The GPS and link above are exactly where the trail begins.
Once located, follow the trail into the woods. It’s only a mile long and well established the entire way down. It’ll drop about 600-ft in elevation by the time it’s all said and done – which means it’s also mostly uphill on the return hike back. The trail stays fairly moderate for the first 0.9 miles, at which point you’ll come up to a small 8-ft rock ledge. At the ledge there is a very sketchy wooden ladder to help you down the rocks, but I’d be weary to trust it more than you need to. It has clearly been damaged and repaired more than once, and it has been there for at least 10 years that I know of! Nevertheless, the ladder is short and ultimately shouldn’t give most people any trouble as long as they exercise a bit of caution.
After the ladder, the remaining 0.1 miles to the base of the falls is a steep descent. You’ll begin to come under some of the cliff wall on your right, and you’ll see a boulder pile under an overhang. From here you can either go behind the free-falling portion of the waterfall by scrambling over the boulder pile or you can continue to follow the trail to the left for the next 50-ft to reach the base. I suggest doing both.
As you reach the base, there is a huge boulder on river left that you can either cross in front of or behind to reach the “beach” area of the base closer to river right. Depending on water levels, the path in front of the boulder may be dry or it may be a waist deep wade – I’ve seen both. If you’re not looking to get wet, then you can cross behind the boulder by scrambling over a couple large rocks and crossing the creek – but that way is a bit more technical than just wading in front of the boulder. Choose your destiny!
The swimming hole is truly the most emerald colored plunge pool I have ever seen in North Carolina. The water is cold, but deep, and you can even enjoy a small side on the bottom boulders into the basin. Behind the boulders that make up the bottom cascades of the waterfall, there is a shallow cave that you can crawl around and explore. Yellow Fork is a personal favorite to visit during the summer months and will be sure to make your list of top NC waterfall favorites too!