On Tuesday, August 4th 2020, my mom and I explored the wild mountain scenery of North Carolina and South Carolina, driving to Whitewater Falls to Cullowhee NC and beyond.
After breakfast, we left Sapphire and headed south on Highway 281 towards Whitewater Falls. The ten-mile journey wove through lush forest and winding curves with scenic vistas. Along the way the passed the entrance to Gorges State Park.
Gorges is a gem in the NC Park System.known for it’s rugged river gorges, rocky cliffs, wildlife and beautiful waterfalls. We were fortunate to visit Gorges in 2019… and plan to visit again. Gorges invites visitors to explore over 7500 acres of wilderness access perfect for hiking, picnicking and scenic driving. If you love waterfalls, make sure to block off an entire day at Gorges – so you can hike to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls…The visitor center provides a wealth of information on the park ecosystem including the park’s high concentration of rare species such as Oconee bell flowers. For more information click here.
Continuing past Gorges State Park, Highway 281 winds through a portion of the Nantahala Forest. The word ‘Nantahala,’ is of Cherokee origin and means ‘the land of the noonday sun,’ as the sun only hits the valley floor at midday in some areas of the hills.
Navigating the switchbacks, the radiance of the sun shone through the array of lush vegetation…truly this is a lake of the noonday sun…brilliant, radiant and mysterious…I always feel the mountains are a treasure that needs to be search…the treasure you find is the peace and beauty of hidden vistas and off the beaten path scenery.
Perhaps one of the area’s most famous ‘treasures’ is Whitewater Falls, which is accessible via a short hike from a well-marked parking lot on 281. (Upper Falls)
Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, tumbling 811 feet down a series of craggy cliffs and gorges through the Blue Ridge Escarpment. It is the confluence of four rivers: Whitewater River, Thompson River, Horsepasture River and Toxaway River.
The waterfall is so large that it is made of of six interconnected falls that stretch from North Carolina to South Carolina. The waterfall’s scale is so sweeping that you need to travel to multiple look out points to see different portions of the falls. The most popular vista is the upper falls. You can access the Lower Falls of the Whitewater a few miles south, just over the state line in SC.
After parking our car and putting on our face masks (this is the time of COVID after all), we started the 1/4 mile walk to the upper falls of Whitewater. This walk is fairly flat and accessible for most visitors. The minute we hit the trial, the sound of the rushing water rumbled in the distance. The forest enveloped us as the wind rustled through the pines.
Just before reaching the falls, I turned around and noticed a stunning view of neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Jocassee (SC) to the south. I stood and stared at the vista for several minutes, thanking God for the peace and beauty of the land. With all the stress of COVID – it is nice to just daze into the vast mountain vista – so blue and so dazzling. It is a quiet hope that helps remind the heart to be still and trust in God.
I cannot put into words the grandeur and awe of Whitewater Falls. The thunder of the pounding water and roar of the mist, creating a fog out of the trees – is breathtaking. You cannot rationalize that what you are seeing is real. It is truly one of the most stunning places I’ve seen, able to rival any cascade.
The waterfall is viewable from a lookout point at the trail’s end, however for a better photo opt, I climbed the 154 steps to the ‘base’ lookout. The Upper Falls of the Whitewater, pummels 411 feet…
I hesitated to leave, content to just sit and dream as I listened to the waterfall…but we still have lots of daylight left…Next stop: Lake Jocassee and Devils Fork State Park in South Carolina.