On trails and off, Little River Canyon offers a water-themed escape for hikers looking for unique adventures
I’m busy like everybody else, so I usually spend no more than four hours on a trail. That’s a good length of time for a totally-exhausting workout in the great outdoors, and for getting some new pictures. Luckily, I live within a half hour’s drive of three state parks and Little River Canyon National Preserve.
Here’s my favorite three- to four-hour hikes at Little River Canyon. Scroll down to read details for each one.
- Wolf Creek to the Humpty Dumpty Rapids (out and back again)
- Eberhart Point Trail to the base of Grace High Falls on Bear Creek (2.6 miles, out and back)
- Eberhart Point Trail to Bottleneck Rapids (out and back)
- Bear Creek from parkway to river (out and back)
Some of the things a canyon hike can feature are jaw-dropping geological wonders like cliff overhangs, river-side boulders that are bigger than buses, little beaches, curious rock layers, cascading streams and unnamed waterfalls.
There are a lot of rhododendron and mountain laurel throughout the canyon. Most of the time, they are in full bloom in late spring and early summer.
There are a lot of creek- and riverside maple, hickory and dogwood trees so you can imagine the colors in the fall.
I like watching kayakers, so most of the hikes I have taken at the canyon have featured a chance of seeing some brave folks in their little watercrafts navigating some whitewater.
For a public land area of its size, the canyon has surprisingly-few miles of official, named trails. A few of my favorite canyon hikes don’t even partially follow one of the named trails.
That doesn’t mean the named trails aren’t great. The ones that lead from the rim to the river, including the Little Falls Trail, the Lower Two-Mile Trail, the Eberhart Point Trail and the Powell Trail, are great starting points for going deeper into some of the most amazing parts of the canyon, and seeing things few people ever see.
You can locate the trailheads for the named trails on Google maps.
And when there’s no trail, it’s a slow go. If you choose to try one of these hikes don’t expect to cover much distance in three or four hours. When I walk on a walking path at a city park, I average about 16 minutes per mile. But sometimes when I hike at the canyon, I’m lucky to average better than 75 minutes per mile!
Hiking where there’s no trail means facing obstacles like slopes too steep to walk on, boulders to far to hop on, creeks that require some crisscrossing, and bushes too thick to fight your way through.
Hiking where there’s no trail usually requires some care to avoid dangerous drop offs, briar patches, and finding ways around pools of water.
Sometimes I’ll carry rubber boots in my backpack if a hike requires crossing a creek, or the river.
Wolf Creek to the Humpty Dumpty Rapids (out and back)
My favorite Little River Canyon hike is one that usually doesn’t require rubber boots. But hiking down and back up Wolf Creek can include crossing the creek at least a couple of times.
Pictured: Upper part of Greg's Two Falls
The creek flows down a narrow ravine and it features a good number of cascading waterfalls, one right after the other.
Wolf Creek in fall
I park in the wide patch of grass near the Wolf Creek bridge. It’s just below the intersection of the Rim Parkway and County Road 255.
In the middle of the 20th century, it was common for people to push their old-junker automobiles into the canyon at the Wolf Creek overlook, so you may see an old engine block or some other old car parts near the bottom.
When you reach the river, if the water isn’t too high and the leaves aren’t too thick, you can stand on a boulder close to the middle of the river, look up and see both the Wolf Creek overlook and the Canyon View overlook.
To get to Humpty Dumpty Rapids, turn left at the river and let your ears guide you. You’ll know when you are getting close by the sound of the water if conditions are right.
I believe these are the highest-rated and most-dangerous rapids in the canyon. It can be dangerous to get too close, so be extremely careful.
When you have had enough of the sights and sounds of the wild river, you will have to take the same route back up Wolf Creek to your car unless you decide to extend the hike an extra two or three hours going another way.
Eberhart Point Trail to the base of Grace High Falls on Bear Creek (out and back)
Another one of my favorite canyon hikes includes a mix of named trail and some tough off-trail slopes and creekbed exploring.
Most of the Eberhart Point Trail is the remnants of a road that was built in the 1960s to service the amusement park chairlift.
Getting from the Eberhart Point sign to the river is a hike of only about 0.75 mile, one-way. It’s very steep with a grade of over 20 percent in a couple of spots.
When you reach the bottom, turn left at the river. It’s about 0.20 mile to Bear Creek. Walking on the river’s edge is more difficult than cutting through the woods. I usually take the river going, and the woods coming back.
The first time I saw the falls from the bottom, I was shocked at the size of the rocks and cliff. It all looks so much smaller from the overlook on the parkway.
NOTE: If the water level is too high, Bear Creek has some places that are very tough to impossible to find a way through, and you should probably attempt hiking there on another day. If the water level is low, you can trek the entire creek in it’s rocky bed.
Pictured: Under Graces High Falls during a dry period; Photo by Stephen V. Smith
As you explore the area, remember you will have to go back up the Eberhart Point Trail, which takes about the same effort as going up the stairs on a 36-story building. Or worse.
Eberhart Point Trail to Bottleneck Rapid and back again
Rappellers seen on the Bottleneck Rapids hike
3.3-mile Bear Creek hike from parkway to river
Bear Creek forms its own narrow gorge with some amazing scenery. It has a lot of wildflowers in the spring and summer, and has breathtaking fall colors.
As I mentioned above, a Bear Creek hike can be next to impossible when the water level is too high. But if you hike there when the water is just right, it’s worth the effort.
This hike starts at a place on the parkway where it’s safe to walk down the slope to the creek. It can be shortened by turning around at the base of Graces High Falls. It can be extended by starting at the Bear Creek bridge.
Other canyon hikes
Obviously, there are a lot of opportunities for shorter hikes at the canyon. For a longer hike, it’s hard to beat going the entire length of Bear Creek from Eberhart Point to where the creek meets the Rim Parkway at the Bear Creek bridge.
One area I have enjoyed exploring several times starts at Lynn Overlook. I have watched kayakers in the river here more than any other place. Just west of the overlook there is an unmarked trail that I believe came about as a result of the foot traffic of rock climbers as well as kayakers exiting the river after the Suicide Rapids.
There are some amazing rock formations and a wet-weather stream with cascades and a waterfall nearby. It’s one of the quickest routes to the riverside. Unless the water is too high, you can hike a good distance upstream or downstream. Going back up to the top is like going up the stairs on a 20-story building.
If you are getting to know what it’s like to hike at the canyon, the Lower Two-Mile Trail is something you don’t want to miss. It’s only about 550-600 feet from its small parking area to the river.
At the bottom of the trail you’ll find a deep and wide pool of water followed by shallow section. It’s a wonderful place if you enjoy wild rivers. It’s tough to go very far upstream, but it’s not too difficult to go downstream towards the Hawk’s Glide overlook while enjoying the picturesque scenery in a curvy part of the river.
Another one of the named hiking trails, Powell Trail is not as steep as the other routes from the rim to the river. The last time I was there, it was hard to determine after the first three or four tenths of a mile where the actual trail was. But that didn’t make it hard to make my way to the river through the tall hardwoods.
If you turn to the north at the river, you can enjoy hiking as far as a creek. It’s a spectacular creek without a name. I don’t know why it doesn’t have a name. Maybe we should call it Lickskillet Creek since it passes through the Lickskillet area about 1.5 miles to the northwest.
If you go south from Powell Trail, it’s a long way to anything other than river and woods.
Going back an easier way. I have often hiked along the riverbed, but then walked along the parkway to get back to my vehicle. Going back the same way is just too tough sometimes. Alternately, if there are two or more hikers, bringing two vehicles -- one for each end of the hike -- would be ideal in many places.
Snakes. Obviously, rocky creeks and riverbeds are home to a lot of snakes. For many years I avoided hiking in the summer due to my fear of snakes. But I have learned that snakes avoid the sun and heat, so summer is as good as any other season to hike at the canyon. The only poisonous snakes I have seen at Little River Canyon were copperheads on two occasions -- once on a cool May morning, and once on a cold October afternoon.
The May snake saw me at the same time I saw it, and we quickly moved in opposite directions. I had just reached the river from the Powell Trail.
It was on a Wolf Creek hike in October that I saw two plump copperheads sleeping on a rock in the sun. Thankfully, they didn’t wake up when I hopped down to that rock.
Watching kayakers. Weekend mornings during wet periods are a great time see kayakers. It seems like there are more whitewater activities from November to March than during the rest of the year.