Birchfield Camp Lake
Sitting at high elevations, in between the peaks of Frozen Knob and Wilson Knob in the Rocky Fork Tract, is a relatively unheard of, man-made feature known as Birchfield Camp Lake. I have been told that this ~10 acre lake was built to assist in combating potential forest fires by the previous owners of the property (a logging company)… before the land became National Forest. After quite a bit of exploring in Rocky Fork, I had still not been to this unique location… so I set out to find it…
I felt I had numerous options for routes. The easiest access, but most likely the longest, would have been via the forest roads at the main entrance gate to Rocky Fork. Instead I opted for what I thought would be the shortest route, but most adventurous… beginning my hike at Lower Higgins Creek, passing by the awesome Higgins Creek Falls, and then making a steep climb up an old logging road following Birchfield Camp Branch. This turned out to be a good choice.
The route up Birchfield Camp Branch was a difficult climb, but the trail was in good shape… much better than expected. There were some places where the trail disappeared and I had to walk directly up the stream (see photo below), but for the most part the path was clear, and even had recent signs of brush and blowdown cutting (I assume done by the Forest Service). So it wasn’t the bushwack that I anticipated, except in only a few small areas (see my Hike Planner below for a detailed trails description). The stream was also flowing very good, which made for a pleasant trek with numerous small waterfalls and cascades to divert my attention away from the tough ascent.
Once I arrived at Birchfield Camp Lake, I found it to be a very beautiful place that I thought would make a good campsite for future backpacking excursions in Rocky Fork. Numerous forest roads lead away from the lake, which lends itself to lots of exploration. This is a great place to visit, and if you’re looking for a good workout in a very secluded area, then I would recommend this hike.
100' Lower Higgins Falls
The Stream is the Trail in Some Areas
Old Logging Road Following Birchfield Camp Branch
Un-named '12 Falls on Birchfield Camp Branch
Old, Abandoned Logging Truck Near Birchfield Camp Lake
Rear View of the Logging Truck
Map - Click to Enlarge
For more photos of Higgins Creek and Lower Higgins Creek Falls: CLICK HERE
Advanced hikers with good fitness and some navigational skills. Winter or early spring hike to avoid excess underbrush growth.
Waterfall. High elevation lake.
Difficult. 2000 feet of elevation gain.
From Johnson City, take I-26 toward Erwin, and go on past Erwin to exit #43 (Temple Hill). Turn left at the stop sign at the bottom of the exit (your only option). At the next stop sign turn right onto 19W (19/23). After .75 mile, turn right onto Lower Higgins Creek Road. Follow this road for approximately 1.5 miles until it dead-ends. Park in the wide spot on the left.
From the parking area, you will see an old, rickety bridge in the upstream direction. Be careful crossing this bridge… it’s in worse shape than the last time I visited… rotten in some areas. After crossing the bridge, just stay on this trail, basically following Higgins Creek in the upstream direction. In approximately 0.9 miles you will see the 100′ Lower Higgins Falls down in the ravine to your right. It’s worth the trouble to climb down into this ravine to view the falls. After climbing back out continue on upstream for a few hundred feet, and you will come to your first ford across Higgins Creek. This will be a shin-deep ford in wet conditions. After fording, continue for approximately 500 more feet and you will see a wide spot in the trail with a valley off to your left. This is the junction of Birchfield Camp Branch and Higgins Creek. At this point, go left and leave the Higgins Creek trail, and ford the stream again (another shin-deep ford) to follow Birchfield Camp Branch. I stopped counting fords at this point because sometimes you are simply walking up the middle of the stream. However, just keep working your way upstream as best possible. The lower sections of Birchfield Camp Branch trail are the most rugged and it won’t give your feet a chance to dry out for walking in the stream, but just keep going upstream. Soon, you’ll end up on a decent trail that follows up the right side of Birchfield Camp Branch, however the trail gets quite steep at this point. But after approximately 2.2 miles into the hike you will pop out of the rhododendrons and arrive at the lake.
Gear & Tips:
Trekking poles are basically a requirement to assist in the tough creek crossings. You will need them for stability in the quickly flowing stream. Take a waterproof bag for electronic equipment and some dry clothes in case you slip and get wet. Don’t wear jeans or cotton pants, especially in cool weather… wear quick drying hiking pants.
Approximately 4.5 miles round-trip.
Out & Back.
2.0 – Occasional views through the trees. Nice view of Frozen Knob at the lake.
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):
Lower Higgins Falls: H(9) + F(5) + V(3) + W(3) + G(2+4+5) = 31–
Crossings (one way):
Two (very difficult), numerous (moderate to easy)
Steep scramble down into the ravine to view Higgins Falls.
Be careful on the old, rickety bridge… some of the boards are rotten. Extreme slippery slopes and steep areas, especially at Higgins Falls. Two difficult stream crossings, which could cause you to get wet if you fall. Take precautions to avoid hypothermia especially in cool conditions.
(right click on link, and chose “Save Target As” or Save As”. Download to your hard-drive and then upload to your GPS unit)
Birchfield Camp Lake and Higgins Falls Waypoints