Fayetteville is most notably home to Fort Bragg, but it’s also the only real place east of Interstate 77 in North Carolina where you could realistically make a day of waterfall hikes. There are at least four distinct waterfalls in Fayetteville, and all are relatively close to each other along a portion of the Cape Fear River Trail. It’s possible that there are others based on the topography of the area, but since this part of the state isn’t exactly known for waterfalls, it’s going to be a while before we know for sure.
Pauline Longest Falls
Height: 20 feet
Trail Type: Dirt
Hike Distance: 0.6 miles round trip
There’s no official name for these falls as far as I can tell, but I called the falls Pauline Longest Falls after the trail of the same name that takes you there. There’s a decent view from a couple of points along the bank, but with good hiking boots or your bare feet, you can scramble down to the creek and get inside the gorge that was carved by the creek. Here, the water twists and contorts itself down inside a pothole-shaped gorge before emerging out and snaking through the exposed bedrock. It’s an impressive sight.
From Exit 28 off of Interstate 295, drive south on Ramsey Street for 1.6 miles and turn left onto Lowdermilk Drive. This is the entrance to Methodist University and you’ll have to stop at the gate and talk to the attendant. If you tell him/her you want to check out the Pauline Longest Nature Trail, they’ll probably let you pass. When I visited, the attendant told me the trail was “a bit rugged,” which was a complete lie.
From the gate, turn right onto Joe Stout View Drive. Follow this street down to the student bookstore and turn right into the parking lot. Drive to the opposite back end of the lot and take the road that leads out. After the speed bump, you’ll come to a 5-way intersection. Take the second right at that intersection – Lower Field Drive. Take this road all the way to the parking lot behind the baseball stadium.
The trail starts on the other side of the railroad tracks beside a natural gas pipeline station. The path dives into the woods and is practically level for the quarter-mile leading to the falls. Once you reach the creek, you have a choice to either make a short climb up the bank to view the falls, or keep walking for a short distance and scramble down to the creek bed.
Clark Park Falls
Height: 30 feet
Trail Type: Asphalt and dirt
Hike Distance: A few dozen yards
The J. Bayard Clark Park & Nature Center is a pretty big recreational area with several biking trails and a big playground. You’d think a 30-foot waterfall in the eastern part of North Carolina would be the headlining attraction at a place like this, but it’s really just a minor note, which should tell you something.
There’s no good vantage point to see the falls, which drop into a heavily eroded opening in the ground to a shallow pool. By the middle of summer, the trees and bushes around the falls in full bloom will almost completely block out the falls, especially if the creek levels are super low. The best time to visit is after a heavy rain.
From Exit 28 off of Interstate 295, drive south on Ramsey Street for about 5 miles and turn left onto Sherman Drive. At the bottom of the hill, the road turns to gravel and ends in a big parking area.
From the parking area, follow the path across the railroad tracks and walk over to the Nature Center. The main viewing point for the falls is behind the Nature Center, but you can also follow the trail over the creek and try to catch a glimpse on the other side of the mini-gorge. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can try scrambling down to the bottom.