Get Washed Away on Falls Lake Trail (MST)


It’s been raining. For days. Weeks. Possibly for eternity. You’re entombed in the house, where you are spending a boring afterlife watching reruns on  Hulu and surfing the web to read about other people hiking because you appear to be living through the Biblical flood and won’t be going out any time soon unless its via kayak. The goats are all huddled under the shed, (where they’ve been standing in the same spot for days), passing around the same flake of hay in the brain-dead manner of zombies eating brains.

Its time. Get the rain gear. Get the goat. And get out of the house come hell or high water!

Location: The section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail (MST) that runs along the edge of Falls Lake starting at the Rolling View division of the Falls Lake Recreation Area.

Anti-hunter goat coat for the one that really looks too much like a deer

Is it goat approved? Yes, but bring a goat that can do at least short stretches on leash since there are some close passes to private houses. In the rain I met absolutely no one hiking this section of the trail. However, I hear that during less wet conditions the trail is very popular, especially in warm weather, and the visibility of the path suggests this to be true. Plan accordingly.

How you get there: GOOGLE Falls Lake near Raleigh, NC. Look for the “Rolling View Marina” which is a marina within the Rolling View division of the Falls Lake Recreation Area. The trail head is on your left within the park boundaries, off Baptist Road, but before the park gate, (saving you the entrance fee during the summer). Basic parking lot/trail head/trail kiosk present.

Time for hike:  7.8 miles round trip, a perfect distance for keeping goats in shape. This is an out and back hike. 

Best season to do this hike: Foul weather will keep the other trail users down, but you might want to avoid this hike in the dead of winter as the wind can be incredibly nasty in places.

Trails to Take

The great part about this trail is that it sticks to the lake shore for almost all of its length. You can’t get lost. You can’t get turned around. The only way you’re going to lose it is if you decide to start swimming to the opposite shore.

Start off at the trail head/parking lot outside the park gates for the Rolling View division of the Falls Lake Recreational area. Trail heads off west out of the parking area, crosses a slick-when-wet wooden bridge, then wanders off through the woods.

Army Corps of Engineers high water mark on a tree. This is the highest that the dam operators are entitled to flood the lake. Note that the MST runs at a lower elevation than most of these markers!

At the intersection, take the trail heading off to your left and down towards the lake. The trail will climb several ridges and drop into small drainage areas and coves, many of which are full of water at flood stage, necessitating a bit of wading, hopping around, and detouring to continue more or less on trail. Look out for a nice stand of sycamores, (big white trees), in one of these drainage areas.

Great views when the fog isn’t in the way!

The trail continues along the lake, gaining more and more height. Across a dirt access road the forest will begin clearing out, with great views of the lake when the fog isn’t so thick, (and some powerful wind)! The trail crosses over what other users have referred to as a small dry waterfall, but which is a nice little running waterfall in a rainstorm!

Top of the small waterfall

At the end of the open forest the trail descends almost to what is probably the lake shore when everything isn’t soggy and flooded. Then it climbs up a set of treacherously slippery steps at the base of a rustic house with a large statue of a woman on the lawn. There is a large dog who lives here, FYI. The trail passes a second house, then heads back into the woods.

There are other houses, a horse pasture, and lots of opportunities to navigate your way around flooded out trail, (though most of the trail was wisely built above the typical flood plain). Signage indicating close passes near houses or other private property is well placed, though oddly I had one of these signs crop up, and no less than two minutes later I found myself directed by the trail signage to walk along a private road that I had just been told to stay off of?

The private road, which looks a lot less flooded in this picture than it did in person

The aforementioned road may be a deal breaker at high flood stage, as it was precariously positioned during my visit after only about a week of on and off rain in the area. A couple of weeks of steady rain would probably render it underwater and annoying to cross on foot with goats who aren’t really water fans to begin with. Beyond the road is more houses, a jaunt across what is basically someone’s yard, and then the houses disappear and you’re back walking through the woods.

Power line cut
Dee Dee says “You weren’t actually planning to cross on the bridge today, right? Please not today?”

The trail crosses a major power line cut, then dives back down to the lake, though during flood stage continuing on the trail will require some sticker bush and tick infested off roading to continue past the power line area. A few minutes after you leave the power lines you’ll reach the bridge, (coming up on your right). Quick logic test: if the trail is flooded, and the bridge you want to cross is in a flood plain, what are the odds you can cross (or even reach) said bridge? The answer is “not good”. But it is still pretty cool to go see just how deep this flood plain gets underwater. Apparently there should be a boardwalk out to the bridge…which was completely under the waves when I came by.

What the crossing should look like when the water is reasonable

Be Warned!

  1. During high water periods, (i.e. after a couple of days of rain or worse), sections of the trail will be underwater, requiring detours. Further, if you are planning on crossing the Little Lick Creek bridge, just forget about it. Seriously – that water was deep!
  2. There are several close passes to private houses, some of which have dogs and signs of small children.
  3. Four wheelers and kids riding them. Need I say more?
Swimming to the crossing not recommended!


In Sum: Unfortunately, after much thought, the goat has decided it cannot help you portage the kayak down to the flood plain to reach the bridge. It is sorry, but it has better things to do. Like eat your hat.


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