Considered to be the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, Whitewater Falls is a spectacular sight. Access to view the falls is off NC-281 just before the South Carolina border. The viewing area for the falls is part of Nantahala National Forest, and as a day-use recreation area, there is a $2 fee (cash only) per vehicle. There are no attendants or cashiers to make change, just kiosks to deposit the money and a thing to hang on the rear-view mirror, so be sure to bring a few $1 bills. From the parking area, there is a short paved trail leading to the upper viewing area. Before you get there, you may be able to see a nice view of Lake Jocassee in South Carolina to the right. The upper viewing platform is handicapped accessible, but doesn't have the best views. For a better view, head down the stairs to the lower view area. The trail continues down to the river, where it meets up with the Foothills Trail, but you can't really see the falls from the river.
The Horsepasture River is one of the most scenic rivers in western North Carolina and there are several beautiful waterfalls along the river to see. It used to be possible to park on the side of NC-281 to access the river, but it is no private property and no-parking is enforced. Instead, park at the Grassy Ridge Trailhead in Gorges State Park and follow the Rainbow Falls Trail. The trail is moderate to strenuous and about 3 miles round trip.
The trail is initially well-maintained and easy to follow for about the first mile until it passes out of Gorges State Park and into Pisgah National Forest. Shortly after leaving the park, the trail will turn right with a smaller unmarked trail going staight/left down towards the river. Follow this if you want to see Stairway Falls. The trail is unmarked and unmaintained and can be steep in spots. But if you want to see the falls, continue on about 0.25 miles to the falls. Depending on recent rain and water flow, the falls looks like a stairway with six or seven steps. Its not as obvious if conditions are dry. There are also two more waterfalls downstream from here, Windy Falls and Sidepocket Falls. I've never seen these two and according to Kevin Adams' book NC Waterfalls, these are only for people who want to torture themselves.
Go back to the main trail and continue on for less than a mile and you will see Rainbow Falls, an impressive 125-foot falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina. There is a trail that leads down to the base of the falls. Swimming is a popular activity, but can be very dangerous, so do so at your own risk. There is another good swim hole just downstream of Rainbow Falls at Hidden Falls. Continuing on a short ways past Rainbow Falls is Turtleback Falls. Being shaped like a turtle's shell, this is a great waterfall for sliding and the falls can be packed on a warm summer day. Again, swimming and sliding is fun, but can be very dangerous, particularly if water flow is high. Do not swim past the rope to climb up Turtleback Falls. There are strong currents that will pull you towards Rainbow Falls and a fall there will lead to certain death. Past Turtleback Falls is Drift Falls (a.k.a. Bust Yer Butt Falls), but this is now on private property and the owner will aggressively prosecute any trespassers so pay close attention to signs if you venture past Turtleback. When you reach the end of the trail at the big private property sign, turn left and venture out to the river. It is possible to get a picture of Drift Falls from here while staying on National Forest property. I came here in the winter when the foliage was down and used a zoom lens to get a decent picture. Just be sure to stay off private property and don't attempt to swim or slide down this one or the landowner will prosecute.
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3245 Highway 64 East, Sapphire, North Carolina, 28774, United States
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70 SAPPHIRE VALLEY ROAD, Sapphire, NC 28774
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4350 Highway 64 W, Sapphire, North Carolina, 28774, United States
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1305 US Highway 64 West, Sapphire, North Carolina, 28774, United States
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White Owl Falls on the Thompson River is a small, but very pretty and photogenic waterfall. And it's easy to get to if you know where it is. From the entrance to Gorges State Park, go south on NC-281 (towards South Carolina) for 3.1 miles and look for a small pulloff on the right side of the road just before crossing the bridge over Thompson River. From the pulloff, cross the street and walk back towards Gorges until the guard rail ends and look for a small path leading down the river. White Owl Falls will be right here. Although its only about 16 feet tall, White Owl is a beautiful waterfall in a beautiful setting. The water is very shallow in the pool, so it's easy to wade out and get pictures of the waterfall from different angles. And few people know about this waterfall despite how easy it is to visit, so there won't be any big crowds as seen at other falls.