Written by Colewade on 03 Dec, 2003
On an idyllic fall day in 1988, I was convinced that the Whiteside Cove Route was the most beautiful back-road drive in the south. In the arrogance of my youth, I felt as though I had discovered a very precious secret in this most…Read More
On an idyllic fall day in 1988, I was convinced that the Whiteside Cove Route was the most beautiful back-road drive in the south. In the arrogance of my youth, I felt as though I had discovered a very precious secret in this most beautiful of mountain valleys. Nowadays the route is more popular, but thankfully it has changed very little. I first encountered Whiteside Cove after getting totally lost on my first trip to Highlands. I have since escorted many friends and family members down this dusty back road, and have discovered a few more treasures along the short route. I think of it as a my favorite car hike. It can easily be done in an afternoon from either Cashiers of Highlands, but going from Highlands to Cashiers offers better views. Either way you can return on U.S. 64. There several scenic stops, most of which involve very short hikes. None of which are over ¼ mile. On my usual trip to the area I may skip many waterfalls, but I almost never skip this beautiful backcountry drive.
An "Oh My God!" Moment
On that first trip, I was totally unaware that I had missed the sign and the sharp left turn off East Main Street in Highlands, a route that would have taken me to Cashiers via US 64 east. I first questioned my route as the road narrowed through one of Highland’s many idyllic residential neighborhoods. After noticing that the street sign read Horse Cove Road, the scenery changed abruptly. I swerved on the road at the sight of the sheer cliffs of Black Rock, which loomed directly in front of us across a small cove. You just don’t expect this sort of thing in the Southern Appalachians. The giant wall of rock was only a stones throw away. My partner screamed, "Look where your going!". Though paved, the road began the steepest switchback descent I have ever encountered. Locals have a saying, "It’s all down hill from Highlands". This road proves the point. The descent is literally breathtaking.
A Really Big Tree
On a more recent trip I discovered the Horse Cove Poplar. This huge Yellow Poplar that is one of the largest in the state, and it is thought to be 400 years old. It’s worth the minor detour if you are awed by giant trees. Just before reaching the bottom of the valley, after crossing a small bridge over a stream, turn right at the fork on Rich Mountain Road. Shortly after the turnoff, there is a parking area for a trailhead. The Horse Cove Poplar is up a short trail. There is a sign.
Return and continue on Horse Cove Road. At the next fork, bear right on Bull Pen Road. (The left fork is Whiteside Cove Road. If your short on time, you can shorten the route by taking Whiteside Road to the left, but you will miss the sights along Bull Pen Road.) To do the whole tour, bear right on Bull Pen Road. Either road is mostly are gravel from this point forward.
A Spectacular View from a Slick Rock
Almost exactly one mile south on Bull Pen Road, stop for the short hike up to Slick Rock. A very short and steep hike brings you to a spectacular east-west view from a large granite outcrop. Look for the pull-off on the left in a sharp curve. The steep trail is to the right on the opposite side of the road. I don’t believe it is marked
About two miles further down Bull Pen Road, stop at the Iron Bridge over the Chattooga River. Whitewater enthusiasts salivate over this beautiful area with spectacular Class V rapids. Rafting is only legal in sections further downstream. There is a two-mile loop trail, which I have never taken. I usually just walk along the river. One of the better waterfalls can be seen from the bridge, but there are raging rapids and small cascades in either direction. This is the mysterious Chatooga, made famous by Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty in the movie Deliverance in the 1970s. It has remained famous for it’s excellent whitewater rafting. It is a peaceful, green and serene place. No signs of in-breds playing Dueling Banjos. Although I must confess that I always have to hum the tune when hike here. ;)
Is that a Bird or a Person?
Backtrack to Whiteside Cove Road and turn right toward Grimshawes and Cashiers. The road is fairly level along this section and runs along green meadows through one of the most beautiful valleys in North Carolina. There is an outstanding view of the south face of Whiteside Mountain and its 1500-foot sheer drop to the valley floor. My favorite photo stop is at the largest lake where the mountain is often perfectly reflected in the water. Keep the binoculars handy and try to spot the rock climbers as they dangle from the upper reaches.
As Big as a Postage Stamp
Beyond the lake, in the tiny little community of Grimshawes, notice the little wooden building with a flagpole beside it. This is the smallest post office in the U.S. postal system. Until recently it remained in use.
The Other Sliding Rock
If you see cars parked near the intersection of Whiteside Cove Road and the Chatooga River Bridge there is a good reason. The "Cashiers Sliding Rock" is upstream from the bridge. Though smaller, this is a lovely natural waterslide with much smaller crowds than the one near Brevard. There is an inviting swimming hole below the falls.
The road winds over low hills past small homes that only a millionaire could afford. The view is very valuable. The scenery is good to the end where it intersects with N.C. 107. The crossroads in Cashiers is only two miles to the left on N.C. 107.
Written by Colewade on 27 Nov, 2003
Though this portion of my favorite waterfall drive includes fewer waterfalls, it does offer much more varied scenery. It starts with the best view or hike in the entire region atop the huge granite dome of Whiteside Mountain. It dominates the horizon from any…Read More
Though this portion of my favorite waterfall drive includes fewer waterfalls, it does offer much more varied scenery. It starts with the best view or hike in the entire region atop the huge granite dome of Whiteside Mountain. It dominates the horizon from any direction. The drive through scenic Highlands reminds one of just how close to perfect mountain living can be. In a setting more like the Adirondacks than North Carolina, the newest generations of old families from Atlanta and Florida enjoy the cool summer weather. The drive ends with some of the most accessible big waterfalls on either section of the route and the most heart racing drive through the Cullasaja River Gorge.
This is a continuation of The Cashiers Loop. This one can easily be done as a day trip from The Great Smoky Mountains. You could try a different approach to the starting point in Cashiers from Sylva and Cullowhee on N.C. 107 south. It is a shorter, slower, and much more scenic drive through the Tuckasegee River Gorge passing beautiful Lake Glenville before arriving in Cashiers.
In Cashiers, take U.S. 64 west toward Highlands. A brief section of U.S. 64 skirts the very edge of the plateau.
You must at least stop at the Big View Overlook on U.S. 64 for a quick look at Whiteside Mountain. The overlook offers a stunning view of the massive rocky summit of Whiteside Mountain and of the headwaters of the Savannah River. The trail to the top of Whiteside Mountain is the best in the area for long range views and amazing cliff-top geography. About five miles from Cashiers turn left on at the small sign for Whiteside Mountain which goes to a parking area adjacent to the mountain. There may also be a sign for Wildcat Hills Country Club. If you pass the county line, you have passed the turnoff. $2 parking fee. This 2-mile round-trip moderate hike ascends the cliff tops to the 4,900 feet level and loops around the summit offering amazing long range views of the valleys below and rock climbers dangling from 700 foot cliffs. Peregrine falcons are often seen soaring among the cliffs.
Continue on U.S. 64 to Highlands.
Highlands, North Carolina is the highest town east of the Mississippi River. The entire city sits on a 4000-foot plateau in the middle of temperate rainforest. It began as a planned resort town in 1874. After successful careers as developers in mostly Midwestern towns, developers Samuel and Clinton Hutchinson determined to build Highlands almost on a lark. The two businessmen drew a line on a map from Chicago to Savannah and another line from New Orleans to New York, all of which were considered commercial centers at the time. Considering the hardships of long distance travel at the time, they speculated that the point where the two lines intersected would have to become important commercial center one day. Kelsey was particularly drawn to the area because of his interest in botany. It was initially promoted as a health resort to wealthy New Yorkers. Over the years it evolved into a private enclave for old-money families from both the North and the South. Most of the New Yorkers come by way of Florida these days, but a few old Atlanta and Savannah families still come each summer.
Until recently, the town is still not widely known by the mainstream public outside the south, and many local residents like it that way. One walk around Lake Sequoyah and you too will be convinced that this may be the perfect Walden Pond like environment. The wooden clapboard and shingled homes are carefully hidden among the mountain laurel and wildflowers. Very strict ordinances insure that the town retains this almost surreal character. Golf and all that caters to the golf crowd rules Highlands, though it does have much more to offer than golf. There are several good hikes from downtown Highlands. For the best long-range views from the plateau, head south on N.C. 106 from Highlands to Blue Valley or Osage Overlooks. The small downtown area is worth a walk. It is lined with tony little shops, cafes, coffee shops, and even a wine bar. There is a wide variety of lodging in Highlands, though most of it is very expensive.
Continue on U.S. 64 west to Franklin. This is the most dramatic section of U.S. 64. The road narrows as it runs along the rocky cliffs along Cullasaja River Gorge. After only 2.5 miles you will come to Bridal Veil Falls. This is literally a drive-in waterfall, and is one of the most popular by virtue of this fact alone. The short pullout behind the falls was originally part of U.S. 64. For obvious reasons this created great problems in the winter. The 120 foot tributary waterfall is one of many smaller waterfalls that literally drops into Cullasaja Gorge from the surrounding mountains. It does look much like a bride’s veil.
Just about .8 miles further down U.S. 64 brings you to Dry Falls.
Dry falls is definitely a star along the route and a personal favorite. This very powerful 80 foot waterfall free-falls over a large rock overhang into a pool below. $2 parking fee. A lovely paved trail with benches leads about ¼ mile down to the waterfall. The trail leads completely behind the waterfall to a view point on the opposite side of the gorge. The name comes from the fact that you can walk behind the waterfall and remain almost dry.
In the same general area Van Hook Glade is one of the best small campgrounds in the Nantahala National Forest. This lovely little campground has 20 or so sites in a heavily wooded area. This small single-loop campground includes the use of cold showers at the larger adjacent Cliffside Lake Picnic Area. Cliffside Lake has many short trails that provide great morning and evening walks. It was originally a campground. Today it is serves as one of the prettiest picnic areas in the region. A level and easy trail circles the lake. Cliffside Vista is well worth the 1-mile hike to a spectacular view point of the lake and mountains from a Roosevelt -era gazebo.
Continuing down the river gorge on U.S. 64 west, look for a pullout on the left at a sharp curve about 5.5 miles from Dry Falls.
Unfortunately, this is the only overlook for Cullasaja Falls. Go beyond it and turn around so that you can pull off facing the falls. Most people miss it, and many people get hit attempting this left hand turn on a curve. It is a totally unique waterfall and worth every effort. Cullasaja Falls is the largest waterfall in the Cullasaja River Gorge. The full force of one of the larger rivers in the region falls in a shattered cascade with several free falls and sluices for more than a 250 feet drop.
If you are staying in Cashiers, strongly consider returning on Horse Cove Road through Whiteside Cove from Highlands to Cashiers. See separate journal entry, Car Hiking Through Whiteside Cove
To return to Cherokee or Asheville: Continue down U.S. 64 through the Gorge to Franklin, North Carolina. Take U.S. 441 north to GSMNP or U.S. 23/74 north near Dillsboro past Waynesville where it merges on to I-40 East to return to Asheville.
My ultimate waterfall drive starts with what I call the Cashiers Loop. It is the absolute heart of waterfall country. Some of the largest and most dramatic waterfalls in the entire region are along this portion of the route. This is the famed…Read More
My ultimate waterfall drive starts with what I call the Cashiers Loop. It is the absolute heart of waterfall country. Some of the largest and most dramatic waterfalls in the entire region are along this portion of the route. This is the famed Three Gorges Region where the dividing line between mountains and piedmont is especially sharp. Waterfalls and swimming holes abound! The route starts on U.S 64 west from Brevard and loops southward on N.C. 281 to the highest waterfall in the east. This short section on N.C. 281 includes my favorite waterfall hike, which is on the Horsepasture River. The travel northward on N.C. 107 for the perfect picnic and swim without crowds at Silver Run Falls. Approaching Cashiers, the landscape is dotted with evergreens, lakes, and rugged peaks.
In Brevard take U.S. 64 West. Leaving the four-lane after passing Rosman, the road becomes seriously twisty as it crosses the eastern continental divide.
The first major stop is Toxaway Falls. Before reaching the falls and the bridge, stop at the old-fashioned Toxaway Stand for local gift items and produce. Once a common site, these open-air roadside tourist stands have become increasingly rare in the mountains and are often cheaper than more upscale souvenir shops. It's the kind of place to buy boiled peanuts, honey, pottery, baskets, and chenille bedspreads. Toxaway Falls is close to 250 feet high from the U.S. 64 bridge to its base. With no official trails, it is difficult to get a good view of the falls. It may be possible to park on the small gravel shoulder near the falls, but the best place to park is at October’s End parking lot. Eat lunch at October's End for a nice upscale lunch with a view of the falls from their veranda. Other than a picnic, this is my favorite lunch spot in the area. Notice the amazing color and broad expanse of the bedrock here. In 1916 this valley was absolutely devastated and scoured down to its bedrock core when the original Lake Toxaway Dam broke. Many homesteaders in the valley below were killed, and others had their land was wiped out. The dam wasn’t rebuilt until 1960. The 650-acre lake above is privately owned and totally exclusive, other than the a few upscale lodges and B&Bs.
Continuing on U.S. 64 West, turn left on N.C. 281 South about one mile past Toxaway Falls. About 2 miles south of U.S. 64 is the entrance to Gorges State Park.
N.C. 281 follows the upper reaches of a dramatic area that is known by many different and poetic names. I’ve heard it called the Great Blue Wall, Three River Gorges, and Jocassee Gorges. Just a couple of miles down N.C. 281, Gorges State Park was recently formed when the area was bought by a wildlife conservation group and the land was donated to the state. There are a couple of longer waterfall trails within the park, but the hikes are more lengthy and moderate to strenuous in difficulty. The facilities in this state park are still rather rustic but include a picnic area and some primitive hike-in campsites. I generally see The Gorges State Park as the best and only place to park on the way to the even more scenic falls of the Horsepasture River, which are along the southern border of the park. Park in the gravel lot along N.C. 281 and walk toward the bridge to take my favorite waterfall hike in all the mountains. See My Favorite Waterfall Hike for the description of this easy-to-moderate hike to the falls of the Horsepasture River, which include: Drift Falls, Turtleback Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Stairway Falls.
Continue south on N.C. 281 to Whitewater Falls.
Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States and one of the most popular stops along the route. $2 parking fee. This designated Nantahala National Forest Recreation Area has a ¼-mile-long paved trail leaving from the parking lot and a nice picnic area. This is an astoundingly beautiful waterfall with two major overlooks. The upper overlook is at the end of the paved trail. The lower overlook is at the bottom of a long series of steps. The Whitewater River tumbles as a three-tiered cascade for 411 feet to form Upper Whitewater Falls. Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 400 feet as a diagonal cascade and a long free fall into South Carolina and Lake Jocassee. Unless you are up for an afternoon of intense hiking on a seriously steep and strenuous trail, don’t even attempt the descent from Upper to Lower Whitewater Falls. There is a much easier and safer trail from Duke Power Company’s Bad Creek Electric project over the border in South Carolina. A spur off The Foothills Trail takes the visitors on a one-hour hike to the Lower Whitewater Falls overlook platform.
Continue down N.C. 281 into South Carolina, where it becomes S.C. 130. Turn right on the S.C. 413, which leads to N.C. 107. There is a spectacular overlook of Lake Jocasee and the entire Piedmont region on this short paved connector road called F.S. 413. Turn right on N.C. 107 toward Cashiers. After about two miles, just after passing the "Entering Pisgah National Forest" sign, the pullout is on the right at a guardrail and utility pole for Silver Run Falls. There is a small sign but it is hard to see..
Silver Run Falls is only 30-40 feet high. While it is a beautiful, nearly vertical cascade on Silver Run Creek, the main reason to visit is for a private waterfall picnic or to enjoy a crystal-clear pool that is the nearly perfect natural swimming hole. It is down a very short trail. Unlike Horsepasture and Whitewater Falls, you may just have this one all to yourself.
Continue on N.C. 107 north for 4 miles to Cashiers. As you travel north the rocky peaks of Chimney Top and Whiteside Mountain come into view.
Continued in the journal entry Cashiers to Cullasaja Gorge.
The Horsepasture River is the shortest of the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, but it offers one of the best waterfall trails in the country. The river drops 2000 feet in just four miles. The Horsepasture River Trail offers five major waterfalls within…Read More
The Horsepasture River is the shortest of the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, but it offers one of the best waterfall trails in the country. The river drops 2000 feet in just four miles. The Horsepasture River Trail offers five major waterfalls within two miles. Drift, Turtleback, and Rainbow Falls are an easy to moderate ¾ mile hike. Stairway Falls requires more effort and adds an hour to the hike. The legendary Windy Falls is ¾ mile below Stairway. This section is strenuous and extreme. It is almost impossible to reach or photograph if you do manage to reach it.
To reach the falls from U.S. 64 near Sapphire, take N.C. 281 South ½ mile passing the main entrance to Gorges State Park. There is new parking area near the trailhead for the Horsepasture River. Though Horsepasture River is not within the state park, park in the gated lot, walk back out to the road, and the trailhead is to your left. The area immediately surrounding the bridge is private property. Though many generations have done so in the past, you can no longer park along N.C. 281 at the bridge.
As the trail nears the river itself, take the right fork for a short hike up to Drift Falls. This impressive falls appears to fall diagonally down a 70-foot incline. Also known as Bust Your Butt Falls, it was once a very popular and much faster version of a Sliding Rock. In the old days, this area was called Bohaynee Beach. (N.C. 281 is locally known as Bohaynee Road.) Fearing liability, the current owner of the surrounding property is very unfriendly and has prosecuted many for trespassing. The area is even guarded at times. Fortunately, the viewing area is located on federal property. It is well worth the right-hand detour back toward the bridge, but don’t even think about swimming here.
Follow the trail south along the river for about ¼ mile to the top of Turtleback Falls. Turtleback Falls flows over a 20-foot ledge into an inviting pool where the river makes a 90-degree turn toward Rainbow Falls. Turtleback Falls is the most popular swimming area along the route. Thousands slide down Turtleback Falls each summer. After sliding halfway down the falls, there is a free fall to the pool below. I have personally done this many times. Adrenaline junkies and teenagers cannot get enough of this place. It can be done fairly safely, but only if you take the following common-sense precautions:
1. In high water, don’t swim here at all. Horsepasture is a raging torrent after summer storms. Don’t be stupid! Unlike Niagara, people generally don‘t survive going over Rainbow Falls, which is just ¼ mile below Turtleback Falls.
2. Take old tennis shoes or aqua shoes, since the rocks are very slippery above the falls. This is not a place to slip and get knocked unconscious.
3. Go down the falls in a sitting position with your head held forward as you slide down. A rise in the rocks midway down the falls causes many to jerk back and bump their head.
4. Do not swim beyond the deep pool at Turtleback Falls. In low water, it’s easy to get out and before reaching the river channel. Despite this fact, every summer people are killed here by simply ignoring the No Swimming Beyond this Point sign.
The trail winds around the pool below the waterfall for the best viewing area of Turtleback Falls between large boulders. In low water, you can follow the rocks along the river for ¼ mile down to the unofficial viewing area on top of Rainbow Falls. Having hiked less than ¾ mile from N.C 281, this is the star attraction and the most spectacular waterfall on the Horsepasture River. Following the trail itself, you bypass the riverbed and a few other unnamed cascades to the official upper and lower viewing areas. From the viewing areas, you will often get soaked by the tremendous mist generated by this jagged free fall. It is a welcomed delight in the summer and a frosty shock in the winter. The river drops almost vertically for 150 feet in to a large round pool. Rainbows and rare plants are very common below the falls. In high water, this is waterfall has the power and grandeur of the falls of Yellowstone National Park, in a much greener locale.
Most people choose to turn around at Rainbow Falls. The one-hour hike below Rainbow Falls to Stairway Falls is also very rewarding. The trail passes two primitive campsites and fords two small streams. Stay to the right as you reach forks in the trail. Stairway Falls is aptly named, since it is a beautiful cascade that it falls down six bedrock steps for about 50 feet to a placid pool.
At 400 feet, Windy Falls is second in height only to Whitewater Falls on the more southern end of the Three Gorges region. It is reportedly even more powerful. But there is a catch. It is very difficult to get to. The river narrows through thick rhododendron thickets before dropping into very deep rock crevices between house-sized boulders. Reports are that the ground literally shakes from the sheer power of falling water in the area around the very difficult-to-reach middle section. Despite what other guidebooks may say, the trail down to Windy Falls from Stairway Falls is pretty much nonexistent. Don’t even attempt it! The small few that have been successful at this endeavor have had to bushwhack their way down and they feared for their lives on this treacherous route. It is possible to reach the falls on much longer and more moderate trails from the Foothills Trail near Lake Jocasee or from a trailhead on a 4-wheel-drive gravel road from Rosman. I doubt that it is worth the effort, since it is impossible to photograph the entire waterfall after the arduous trek. The last group to see the elusive middle section was an impressive and intrepid goup of college kids from Charleston in 1995 who documented their journey on a website.