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Trail of the Month: Carter Falls - Powerhouse Loop Trail

Carter Falls, Elkin, NC

Trailhead: GPS coordinates 36.288925, -80.880323

Length: approximately 1 mile out-and-back

Difficulty Level: Easy/Moderate (can be strenuous for some in reaching the falls)

Wildlife at Carter Falls, Elkin, NC

What to Expect:

A favorite among hikers in and outside of the Elkin, this trail features one of the area’s most picturesque waterfalls, an opportunity to view a variety of wildlife and is predominantly shaded. The trail combo follows this cascading section of Big Elkin Creek before its confluence with Grassy Creek. Total, the trails create a loop that is about 1 mile. There’s an option to tack on a moderate/strenuous spur trail that may involve the use of a rope cable for some to navigate the steep slope down to the creek. With care, there is a tremendous reward at the bottom: a sandy, partly-shaded bank at the base of Carter Falls. 

Carter Falls, Elkin NC

About this Trail:

The 50-foot Carter Falls is one of the Elkin area’s greatest natural features. Yellow poplar, chestnut oak and several hardwood species dominate the canopy, as ground cedar and wildflowers from trout lilies to trillium take residence along the forest floor. The damp environment and sloped topography opens the opportunity to spot a variety of fungi along with amphibians and reptiles tucked in granite outcrops and downed trees. Please adhere to the clearly marked signage provided by the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) in order to maintain this sustainable trail. Erosion has been a considerable issue, so it’s ever critical to be stewards of an area so rewarding. From here, the trail takes a sharp left and descends in the southeast direction paralleling above the creek for much of the rest of the way before turning left and returning back into the upper forest on the way out.

As summer rolls in, it’s tempting to dip in one of the many pools along the creek, but be careful doing this as the frequent summer storms tend to push runoff from surrounding agricultural plots and stir up the creek’s turbidity. Needless to say, you may not want to submerge in the creek for the sake of avoiding harmful bacteria and/or unseen hazards. Fortunately, local advocacy groups like Watershed Now and Friends of Big Elkin Creek are driving efforts to safeguard the creek and amend the practices that have degraded the resource. 

The coinciding ‘Powerhouse Trail’ - making up the other half of this loop - is named for a hydro station that consisted of a 150-ft dynamo and dam built in 1914 that supplied electricity to the Town of Elkin up until 1967. Operated by the Carter Falls Power Company for a decade, the land was purchased by Duke Energy (Then Duke Power) before being sold in the 1980s to an Elkin attorney who then sold it to the state in 2018 en route to becoming a place of public access to nature. 

On the way back, one will notice the ‘Bridge of Dreams’ sign put up by the EVTA. This sign marks the crossing of a soon-to-come footbridge that will reconnect with a developing spur section of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail that heads toward Elkin. The gravesite of William Harris, bodyguard of General George Washington during the Revolution, can be seen on the other side of this bridge when implemented, giving one another reason to revisit this trail.


For those seeking a rustic walk in the woods with plenty of solitude, this is for you! Given the variety that the trails feature, the amount of time taken to complete can range anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Solid footwear is encouraged as the lay of the land varies and slick rock/wet trails are not at all uncommon. Lots of great potential for photos as well be that of the falls, dam remnants, plants, water birds or watersnakes (these are common in the creek but non-venomous and non-aggressive!). Swimming is not prohibited but it’s not necessarily encouraged either. Lastly, if you’d like to add more mileage: from the Carter Falls Trailhead, one can walk east towards Byrd’s Branch Campground on Martin Byrd Rd. and pick up the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail that connects the Grassy Creek Trails network

Our Notes:

  • Dog friendly (leashed)

  • Not the easiest, but not hard

  • Plenty of rewarding views

  • One of the best waterfall hikes in the area

  • Rich in history and ecology

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