The Bradley Waterfalls – Saluda / Polk County – Part 1

The Green River Area of North Carolina is known for its deep gorges, curvy roads, whitewater, and many outdoor related activities. It’s also quite well known for about a dozen waterfalls, a handful of which are outstanding for photographers.

Many of the waterfalls in this area share the name Bradley. There is Big Bradley Falls, Little Bradley Falls, Milton Bradley Falls, Bradley Cooper Falls, and Marilou Bradley falls. I attempted some Google searching to figure out why so many of these falls share the Bradley name, but didn’t find an exact reason. I’m assuming it’s a family name associated with the area. If anyone knows the actual reason I would love to hear it. During our most recent hike we visited two of the waterfalls, Little Bradley, and Milton Bradley Falls.

Little Bradley Falls

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to visit Little Bradley Falls. Little Bradley is one of the easier hikes in this otherwise rugged area, and since my wife isn’t keen on hikes which involve wading across steams or steep rocky climbs this seemed like a hike we could both enjoy that wasn’t far from home.

An Nice Easy Hike

The hike to Little Bradley starts off across the road from the more popular Big Bradley Falls. When you find the trail-head there may be a couple dozen cars parked there, but most of those visitors are there for the larger Big Bradley Falls. We only encountered a handful of people during our hike to Little Bradley, while there had to be been dozens of people on the trails to Big Bradley, which luckily is in the opposite direction from the trail-head.  The hike starts off going up a small but fairly steep hill, which is really the hardest part of the hike. There are a couple of small steam crossings which can be easily rock hopped in anything less than pure flood conditions. The trails are easy to follow and don’t present any particularly hard challenges. There are some narrow trails with significant drop offs on either side on portions of the hike, but as long as you stay on the trails these shouldn’t be a problem. If you decide to take children on this hike ensure that they are well behaved in these areas.

Small but Beautiful

The falls are a multi-tiered cascade surround by a nice mixture of green both in the form of trees and moss. There are plenty of spots here to setup for a nice picnic or simply lounge in the forest for some time enjoying the sound of the falls. The falls dump into a small but clear pool at the bottom. There is little dead-fall around the falls, but I have a feeling the area recently had a small flood due to an obvious line of small debris located on each side of the creek bank during our visit. If there was any dead-fall here it was likely washed away recently. Sunlight does shine through the trees on cloudless days creating hot-spots of light which make photography difficult, so if your goal is to photograph this waterfall it would be best done on cloudy days or when the sun is low on the horizon. I have seen a couple photos of this waterfall before. Some people choose to shoot it straight on, but I liked the angle located on the right side of the waterfall. The overhanging rock on the left creates a a little character. 

Milton Bradley Falls

The hike to Milton Bradley Falls starts near the Wilderness Cove Tubing & Campground in Saluda, NC. When you first arrive, it feels as if you in the wrong place. We had to maneuver our way through the parking lot of the tubing business as they had quite a crowd assembled for a mountain bike race. If you continue to the far end of their lot, the road continues just a bit more until you reach another parking area for the Green River Gamelands.

The hike is only a couple of miles, but in the summer, it’s going to be hot. For most of the hike you’ll be passing through some fields full exposed to the summer sun. There is a mild creek crossing that shouldn’t be an issue for anyone wearing waterproof boots, but if the water is high due to heavy rain you may need to wade it. Once out of the fields you enter the forest for about a half mile hike. It’s not a terribly hard hike, but the trails are not well established, and can be hard to follow in the summer. Your best bet is get directions via the Internet, or purchase Kevin Adam’s book North Carolina Waterfalls which provides directions to the this and several other waterfalls in this area. There is a lot of wildlife in the area. We came across turkey, deer, and a couple of black snake on the way. If wildlife is also an interest of yours this could the perfect hike for you.

Attack of the Ticks

Unlike the majority of waterfalls in Western North Carolina Milton Bradley and the other waterfalls in this area are not located on National Park or Forest Lands.  Instead they are found on the state owned Green River Game Lands. While these lands are used for a large variety of outdoor activities, their primary purpose is to allow hunting, fishing, and trapping. Our hike to Milton Bradley Falls passed through some large open fields which are used as wildlife food plots, and true to their purpose they attract and sustain a fairly large population of wildlife, including a healthy population of deer. As most outdoor enthusiast knows where there are fields and deer, you will also end up with a significant population of ticks. Unfortunately, the winter of 2016/2017 was very warm, and as a result the population of these tiny disease carrying pest has skyrocketed. There are so many ticks this year that even USA Today published an article called “Why 2017 may be a very bad year for Lyme Disease”. Ticks aren’t something that cross my mind often while hiking in North and South Carolina. Cases of Lyme and other tick related diseases are pretty rare in the Southeast. We simply don’t have nearly as many ticks are our Northeastern neighbors. As we discovered, this year is obviously different. Within the last 10 years of hiking in the Southeast I only remember finding one tick on my skin. During our hike to Milton Bradley we had to cross approximately 1.5 miles of fields. By the time we reached the final portion of our hike all of us had at least 5 or 6 ticks on our clothes. The return trip was much different. For the first time ever, we found ourselves basically stripping down at the trail-head to check ourselves for ticks. I found two on my skin, both of which started to attach themselves, but hadn’t dug deep enough to reach any blood yet. They were easily removed with a knife which is the only capable tool we had at the time. Even when we returned home one of us found yet another tick on our clothes. My clothes went straight into the washer just to ensure any remaining ticks ended up drowned in a mixture of hot water and detergent. For the remainder of this year I’m going to avoid fields and large patches of grass. I have also purchased some permethrin, which is a strong insect repellent which can only be applied to clothes. If you plan on hiking through tall grass this summer I would highly suggest you do the same. Until we get another long cold winter I have a feeling we’re going to be dealing with way too many of these annoying little arachnids.

The Old Structures

The hike to Milton Bradley wasn’t all bad though. Near the halfway point you’ll come across what appears to be an old barn and cabin. Both are located against a scenic backdrop of mountain fields and forest, and are great photographic subjects particualry for those who enjoy old or abandoned structures.

Vines have started to reclaim an old cabin located near a storage shed used for farming equipment.  The old metal weathered roof adds some contrast due to its varying deep colors. The vines overtaking the cabin add to its rustic look.

Across the trail from the cabin is and old barn. The barn itself appears to have store some type of wire cages, possibly for raising game birds. I didn’t venture inside the structure itself though as it’s likely also a hotbed for snakes. Backdropped by a field and a mountain, and situated right beside a rather large and healthy tree make this the better of the two structures for photographs. I’m sure it would be even a better subject during a colorful sunset or a foggy morning. This photo was taken about an hour before sunset, where the sun was just starting to dip behind the mountain in the background. If I visit the area again in a season less prone to the previously mentioned tick attacks I may attempt to capture such a photo.

Photographing Milton Bradley

Once you reach the falls there are a couple locations you can shoot from. My choice was a small patch of dry dirt located directly to the left of the pool at the base of the falls. During high water this patch may be covered in water. We arrived around early evening on a day when the clouds were sparse and patchy. The sun shined brightly through the trees directly behind my back, and lit up portions of the waterfall and the surrounding bank. This waterfall like many would be best photographed on a cloudy or even rainy day. That’s not always an option though if you can’t plan your hiking adventures via the weatherman’s forecast, as was the case during our visit. Luckily after about 1.5 hours of waiting a cloud finally covered the sun long enough for me to take a couple of photos. The shaded sun lasted for about 30 seconds, but it was just enough time to get what we were after.

Milton Bradley is obviously one of the least visited waterfalls in the area, at least for now. That’s made obvious by the lack of a clearly defined trail. I doubt it will remain that way for long though, as it’s a very nice waterfall and a great photographic opportunity. If you’re in the Saluda area it’s definitely worth the couple hour of hiking.

A few more waterfalls are located on the same steam above this one. We’ll be visiting those waterfalls, and other waterfalls in the Saluda area hopefully this year. Expect a few more post regarding this area of the state coming soon.


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