Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mill Creek and Sentinel Point - Waterfalls AND Views

The Narrows of the New River from Sentinel Point on Wolf Creek Mountain.

Waterfalls and great views on the same hike? No people? Great trails with cool names? All of the above? Give Mill Creek and Sentinel Point a try.

Two Sundays ago +Leanne and I did a modest hike on this lesser known, but nevertheless very rewarding trail system in Giles County. And despite its proximity to a fairly popular section of the Appalachian Trail that includes Angels Rest, you might not see anyone here. I've never seen more than a couple vehicles at the obscure trailhead, which is located right in the town of Narrows.

The hike starts out on a gated road but soon turns off of it to start following pretty Mill Creek upstream. At the old Narrows Reservoir, the trail becomes more primitive but interesting as it enters the steeper, narrower gorge and waterfall section of the drainage. For the next half mile, the stream becomes more tumultuous, but there are no waterfalls until you reach Mercy Branch, a tributary of Mill Creek. Here the trail crosses above a stair-stepped cascade about 15-20' high. It's not a major waterfall by any means, but it's still a pretty spot. From here the trail, now known as the Catwalk, continues up Mill Creek on a considerably steeper grade for another half mile, within hearing, but rarely sight, of four more cascades/waterfalls. There are faint paths that lead to the first one and to better views of the others. All are worth exploring, at least in cooler months. Even the main trail is overgrown with stinging nettle in the Summer though, not very pleasant with shorts on! But if you persevere, the creek and cascades are especially inviting then.

Leanne on the Catwalk above a pretty cascade on Mercy Branch.
Above the last waterfall the grade eases off and there is a three way junction with the Weezer and Piney Road. I don't know who did so much work on these great trails that aren't even on the Forest Service map but they have neat names and even nicely made signs. We took Piney Road and crossed Mill Creek, which can be difficult after lots of rain but was a simple rockhop today. After passing the Afterthought Trail we turned off on Shortcut. You have to like a trail system that has a trail actually named Shortcut! And it really is, as it follows an old, faint roadbed that bypasses a long, gradual switchback for a more direct route to Grassy Road.

This is the final leg of the hike and the trail has now made a U-turn to parallel Mill Creek back to the north towards Narrows, but a thousand feet higher than the trailhead. It's easy walking now and near the end of this final mile the trail pops out in the open underneath a powerline cut. I know you're thinking this isn't very exciting or appealing, but it does allow for some good views back down into the gorge as  well as up to the crest of Pearis Mountain. I've also seen another waterfall from here that I've yet to explore... And at the top of the mountain where this cut crosses is the most striking view of the hike. From here you gaze down steeply nearly 2,000' to The Narrows, an impressive water gap where the mighty New River cuts through East River Mountain and Peters Mountain. The Allegheny Plateau of West Virginia stretches northward into the distance. And practically at your feet is the town of Narrows. Off to the east is the Stony Creek Valley along with Butt Mountain towering above it. Though a wonderful view, it's not exactly a scene of wilderness and unspoiled beauty here, so, somehow, strangely, the powerline over your head does not intrude. This isn't the end of the hike though, and a wilder, more pastoral view awaits.

From the ridge crest, it's an easy, even in the greenness of Summer, 200 yard walk west through open woods to the 3,444' summit of Sentinel Point and a few more steps to a small, open clifftop with wonderful views up Wolf Creek Valley and up to the 4,000' heights of Buckhorn Knob on East River Mountain. That is the Mercer County highpoint as well - but that's another hike. Directly below is an awesome free-standing pillar of rock maybe 25' high that I used to think was unclimbable by me without the safety of a rope. This time I found out I was wrong, and that even on hikes I've done several times there are often still new sights and adventures to find. I still don't know where Afterthought goes, and there is also that unknown waterfall...

This very cool pinnacle stands just beneath Sentinel Point. Photo by Leanne Barley

The route of this hike. To see a larger map go here.

Hike stats:
7.2 miles
1,900' cumulative elevation gain

More pictures from this hike

Pictures from other hikes to Mill Creek and Sentinel Point:
August 2011
November 2009
July 2009
March 2008
February 2008
August 2007

Resources and contacts:
gpx file and topo maps

Trailhead Coordinates: 

Google map for trailhead: 

Scan QR code to navigate to trailhead with Google maps on your smartphone:


  1. Mr. Shortt,
    I am a teacher at Narrows Elementary Middle School near Mill Creek. I am on a team of teachers working on a project through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to encourage youth to get out on the trails and to complete service projects. We have chosen Mill Creek as our project focus. The project will include creating a interpretive brochure, kiosk to hold information and phenology forms, as well as ecosystem observations. We will also be working on conserving the trail.
    I was wondering if I could have permission to link your blog to our site?

    1. Sure! Feel free to do so. That's a very nice area. You're lucky to have it in your backyard!