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This is an approximately 5 mile (**see NOTE, below, regarding distances listed in this report**), out and back hike, located in the northeast portion of Linville Gorge, NC. It begins in a small neighborhood that borders the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, follows Brushy Ridge Trail to Red Trail, following that to its intersection with Henson Creek Trail, and then descends over 1000 feet as it follows Henson Creek towards the Linville River. Along the way you are treated to several waterfalls, massive rocky outcroppings and overhanging cliffs, many with water dribbling off them, and some with a fine, steady stream of water cascading down the rock face. You are treated to some incredible long range views of Linville Gorge from two different look out points, as well as gorgeous views back up Henson Creek Canyon.
You also are going to work your hind end off!! This is an incredibly tough hike, and one that, in my opinion, should not be done solo. The terrain is incredibly steep in places, with periodic crossings of Henson Creek, where many rocks are super slick with green slime. We had two dogs with us on our hike, one 80 pounds and one about half that, both very accustomed to long tough hikes, and there were portions of the trail that both of them had difficulty navigating.
Andy and I did this hike with initial hopes of hooking up with Westface Trail, and following it south to pick up Fantasy Canyon and take it back up the ridge to Red trail, and back to our beginning point. But, a combination of how late in the day we reached the bottom of Henson (close to 4pm in late October .... not too many hours of daylight left), combined with not actually finding Westface trail had us do an out and back hike.
(NOTE: please see the very helpful information left by Bob Underwood on this flickr photo (see second comment) about connections between Westface and Fantasy Creek.)
Elevation Profile of the trail
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Click here for a larger map
NOTE: This larger map also has Westface Trail drawn in
using coordinates provided by www.linvillegorge.net
GPX data for download
(zip file which includes both GPX format, as well as GDB format for Garmin users): Henson Creek Trail in Linville Gorge.
The parking area for this hike is located in a neighborhood located off Highway 181. If coming from the north on 181, the road to turn onto is Ginger Cake Road, just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The turn onto Ginger Cake is 1.9 miles south of where Hwy. 183 comes to a "T" at 181.
Turn right onto Ginger Cake Rd. If coming from the south, Ginger Cake Road again joins 181, 1.2 miles further down the highway, and you can pick the road up on that end.
Continuing with directions from the north, once you turn right onto Ginger Cake Road (a paved road), watch for your next turn, which is a right turn onto a dirt road called Mountain Park Road. In approximately 1/4 mile, Mountain Park Road will have two roads join it at a "V" on the left. It's a bit of a drop off here, turning left into this "V" junction. You'll see a dirt road go both to your left and right, as well as to a small circular area around a small grove of rhododendron trees. There is room for about 3 cars to park along the small circular area that encircles the rhodo grove.
You'll see several driveways, two wide grassy paths, and a wide trail. The wide trail is Brushy Ridge Trail, and has a stone marker where it joins the road.
Follow Brushy Ridge Trail for 0.7 mile, and watch carefully for Red Trail. It is blazed red (here and there), but you do need to watch for it.
Once you make the turn, you begin a gentle descent, which soon enough turns into a steeper descent. This will be the theme for the remainder of the hike, at least until you turn around to come back!!
In 0.3 mile, you come to a junction of two trails. Continuing straight (actually, bearing slightly to the right), takes you, in another 500 feet, to Huckleberry Point, a rocky out cropping with great 360 degree views all around.
Views from Huckleberry Point (above and below)
To continue the hike, back track the 500 feet to the trail junction and turn right. You will almost immediately see another trail .. this is actually a short cut back to the trailhead, coming out on one of the two grassy paths.
To continue the hike, bear right (southeast) to remain on Red Trail.
In approximately 0.3 mile, you will leave Red Trail, and pick up unmarked, unblazed Henson Creek Trail. From here on, you will be dropping elevation, moderately steeply at first, and then very steeply. You will follow Henson Creek the entire way down the canyon. The entire trail has tons of rocky cliffs, rocky outcroppings, and rocks and boulders underfoot, providing a lot of visual interest (as well as tough hiking!!).
Rocky Outcroppings and cliffs along the Trail (above and below)
NOTE: From this point on, my GPS track (and subsequent distances) are **VERY** approximate. The constant, overhanging cliffs interfered A LOT with the signal, and downloading the track once I was home showed the track hopping all over the place. I cleaned up some of the wilder stray tracks, but even what is included in the downloadable track above shows wide variation from where we actually went. Basically, you stay on the left (as you're going downhill) side of Henson Creek, with an occasional trip across the creek (with an immediate cross back to the original side) just to pick an easier route downhill. You will be picking your way along the rocks and boulders, squeezed between a rocky cliff to your left, and Henson Creek to your right.
In about 0.7 mile, you come to the first of several waterfalls. This one is two tiered, with an almost vertical drop. At its base is a large, deep, gorgeous pool with water so clear it is hard to see where the surface is.
First Waterfall along Henson Creek
A little farther downstream you come to a second waterfall:
Views of the Second Waterfall along Henson Creek (above and below)
The photo above shows the second waterfall within the context of the gorgeous Henson Creek Canyon that the trail follows
After passing the second waterfall, the trail continues on to Ledge Point, with its jaw dropping views of Linville Gorge to the south.
Views from Ledge Point
(top photo is also taken from there)
We found this more or less by accident ... we were following a fairly clear, easy (read ... level) trail since the second waterfall, but periodically seeing ribbons to our right, suggesting that we should leave this trail and continue down off the cliff. However, easy and level will always win out over dropping steeply downhill off a hillside, and we came out to Ledge Point, a rocky ledge, with the terrain falling off steeply directly below us, and Linville Gorge opening up beyond us.
The trail pretty much ends here, and we back tracked to the place where we saw the ribbons leading off this trail.
This began our steepest, toughest descent yet. There were several areas we had to help the dogs over and down off of boulders, 5 foot high rock walls, and fallen trees. Basically, you're picking the "least hardest" route down.
Yup, this is the trail!!
A sheer rock wall remains high overhead to your left, at times angling steeply into your path, forcing you into the creek to continue your descent.
At one point, we saw a small cascade gushing out from within the rock itself. If you look closely at the photo just above, you'll see that in the lower right quadrant of the photo.
Third waterfall along Henson Creek
This cascade too, has a lovely pool at its base.
The view looking down towards the Linville River from our turn around point
Yet another cascade along Henson Creek
Our original plan, as noted above, was to make a loop hike by picking up Westface Trail. But at the 2700' elevation point (at least according to what my GPS was reading), we were in a deep rhododendron thicket, finding no easy way to continue. We were a "mere" 100 feet in elevation from the Linville River, and had to be within spitting distance of Westface, but between the lateness of the hour, and our super slow progress (the last two hours had us covering only one mile), we made the wise decision to make this an out and back hike, and retraced our route up.
When we reached the juncture with the "short cut" cutover from Red Trail back up to the trailhead, we took that, and were surprised how quickly we reached the car.
Besides all the splendidly magnificent scenery noted here, you are also treated to some gorgeous, deep, incredibly clear pools of water that form along the course of the creek. Pictures of these and other photos are in my flickr set.