Hikers leaving Jones Gap State Park trailhead for Pinnacle Pass Trail (#20) have struggled up Little Pinnacle Mountain, climbed alongside Walking Fern Falls only to round the nose of the ridge and descend into a special little environment that they will probably pass through without too much notice. This is the steep “canyon” containing Oil Camp Creek. From its headwaters near US 276 on the side of Caesar’s Head, it flows a little over a mile before it breaks out into the River Falls Valley on its way to join the Middle Saluda River.
From the top of the adjoining ridge lines down to the creek is 1000 feet and it all drops away very quickly. This ensures that any watercourse coming down those sides is going to create a waterfall; however, this is a two-edged sword. The steepness doesn’t allow to the streams to generate much volume as they come down. That is, unless you’re there right after a significant storm.
Oil Camp Creek itself does not support any waterfalls but, during high water, it can be noisy and almost completely filled with rapids. This little valley is always dark, cool, wet, and verdant. After a storm, all these characteristics are exaggerated.
And you don’t have to hike the Pinnacle Pass Trail to see this little gem, either. There is actually a separate trail head. To get there, take Hwy 276 through Marietta. About a mile past the Cleveland Post Office, you’ll turn right onto River Falls Road (at the F-Mart). It is then 2.8 miles to Oil Camp Creek Road coming in from the left. Just follow the road until it looks like it ends. Then look carefully just right of center. You’ll see an opening in the bushes. This is actually the dirt road that will take you to the trail head about 100 yards further along. This “road” is poorly maintained and rough. Park at the kiosk and barricade.
Walk around the barricade and just follow your ears. During high water, each feeder tributary can produce a waterfall so look carefully and do a little upstream investigating. You will be rewarded. There is actually one such stream right at the barricade.
There are 4 stone bridges built by the CCC along this old road. They are moss-covered to the point they have become part of the environment. Be sure and pay attention to these. They are special.
Just past the 3rd stone bridge and another barricade, you’ll see Pinnacle Pass Trail coming in on your right immediately followed by a nice tributary waterfall on your left. You’ll also find remnants of an old moonshine still.
Now, cross the 4th bridge and, on your right, about 200 feet past the bridge and before some logs on the trail, you’ll see Oil Camp Falls. Normally hard to find and just a trickle down the rock face, during high water, it will be impressive, making that thundering sound that only waterfalls can make. During high water, it is difficult to comprehend that Oil Camp Falls is a rare and delicate cataract bog.
This is an easy walk of just over a half mile to this point. Oil Camp Creek’s little valley is a special place and will provide many wonders regardless of the water flow. You should go.
See the slide show for photos of the falls in both low and high flow.
Click here for a video on Oil Camp Falls at high flow.