Whitewater Falls is right on the SC/NC state line in the Nantahala National Forest. Technically, the upper falls are in North Carolina and the lower falls are in South Carolina.
The cascade of the upper falls drops more than 400 feet from top to bottom. There is a parking lot with a short, ¼ miles walk to the falls overlook. This is a very popular stop for people passing through the area because of the minimal effort and the public restrooms. There is a $2 fee per car, but it’s applied via the honor system. I should add that there is a public restroom in the parking area with running water as well.
If you’re feeling adventurous, it’s worth hiking to the bottom of the falls and then back up to the overlook. If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can park in a gravel lot just south of the main parking lot and take the Foothills Trail to the bottom of the upper falls. It adds over a mile to the hike, but it’s a pretty trail. The hike to the bottom is not kid-friendly unless your kids are in great shape and don’t complain. Otherwise, just view it from the overlook.
I didn’t see anyone all day until I was near the lower falls and six teenage boys came running toward me from below. They were giggling uncontrollably. When they saw me, they immediately went quiet, blushed a little, and scurried up the mountain. After another hundred yards, I finally reached the bottom of the upper falls. As I started bouldering over to the bridge across the Whitewater River, I spied a young couple laying on a large rock in the middle of the stream. The guy was zipping up his pants and the girl was rearranging her sweater. At once I realized why the teenage boys had been acting so awkwardly. I gave the couple a moment to compose themselves and eventually got to explore the area. The view of the still-frozen cascade was impressive.
After resting for ten minutes or so, I climbed the grueling trail from the bottom back up to the viewing area and got a glimpse of the majestic waterfall in all of its glory. By the time I got back to the car, I had hiked three miles that felt more like twice that.
This is not an easy hike. It’s like climbing 50 flights of stairs. In fact, some of the path from the bottom to the top of the falls is more like a ladder than a staircase. I won’t say trekking poles are a must, but they’re certainly helpful to maintain at least three points of contact with the ground at all times.
Learn more about Lower Whitewater Falls.
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