Rocky Fork State Park
- 4.5 miles
- 2:45 duration
- 614 ft elevation gain
Today I took part in a guided hike at Rocky Fork State Park. This was an off trail hike to see some remote waterfalls along Long Branch.
My friends Melissa and Mary also took part in this hike, and we rode together to the park. There were nine other participants in the group, and we were led by two park rangers, Tim and Andrea.
I was a bit sore from yesterday’s 10.5 mile hike, so hoped I would be able to endure today’s journey. It had been rated “strenuous” in the event description which went on to characterize the hike as “…crawling through, over, and under many rhododendrons and creek crossings.”
I loaded my Nikon and tripod in my backpack, donned gaiters over my boots to keep the water out if I got in too deep, grabbed my hiking stick, and I was ready to go.
The first mile of the hike was brutal. The peace and tranquility I normally experience hiking along the Rocky Fork creek barely registered as I rushed to keep up with Tim. We followed the forest road up Rocky Fork, and I never even noticed when we took a right turn to follow another forest road along Long Branch. I guess my eyes must have been focused on the ground in front of me as I continued to put one foot in front of the other. This road was wide and well-maintained like the first, but consistently climbed up, up and up some more. The pace set by our leader was faster than I was accustomed to, but I managed to stay right at his heels.
Finally, we paused in a curve and I took the opportunity to shed my sweatshirt. Once everyone had caught up and had the chance to rest, we began following a third, very overgrown road. It closely followed Long Branch and we started to experience the promised rhododendron obstacles and creek crossings. At times there was no road at all – only a narrow footpath. I was glad for my trusty cedar hiking stick. As rough as this trail was, I was actually enjoying it more than I had the sprint up the well-maintained roads. I’ve had plenty of experience bushwhacking and creek walking, and the beauty of this area was incredible.
It seemed that every 50 feet or so there was another beautiful cascade. At one point, our leader pointed out what looked like a large moss-covered rock formation in the middle of the creek, with water cascading down each side of it. He explained that it was actually a fallen American Chestnut tree.
We passed by a couple of fifteen foot waterfalls, and then stopped at a third. There was a steep descent to reach the base of this waterfall, but it was worth it for the view. After everyone had a chance to explore and/or have a snack, Tim gathered us for a group photo. Next to the waterfall I spotted my second type of wildflower for this season – a Halberdleaf yellow violet.
We then headed back down the trail. A handful of us stopped along the way to photograph the other two waterfalls, but quickly caught up to the rest of the group as they slowly picked their way through the rhododendrons and crossed the creek.
Once back on the better maintained roads, it was all downhill back to the parking lot. I was able to enjoy the views I had missed earlier and soak in the lovely views of Rocky Fork.
I enjoyed meeting some new people and seeing a part of the park I had not visited before. This trip was well worth the $5 fee. As the park continues to be developed, the route to these waterfalls will eventually be improved so that more people can visit them. I am very thankful for the opportunity to experience their beauty and recommend that you follow the park’s Facebook page to learn about other similar opportunities in the future.