Located near Beech Mountain and Banner Elk is the impressive Elk River Falls (formerly called Big Falls) in Pisgah National Forest (Appalachian/Toecane Ranger District) near the small town of Elk Park. This 50-foot North Carolina mountain waterfall cascades over a rock cliff and into a picturesque oval pool. Just below the oval pool is a popular summer spot for swimming and sunning on the rocks.
The trail to the top of the falls is an easy five minute walk. You can safely stand on flat rock area and watch the waterfall plummet over the cliff. Of course, do NOT get into the water above the waterfall since currents are very strong. There are some good fishing spots farther upstream.
From the top, you will see your next destination in front of the falls. Return to the trail and head downhill. It's a steep but short walk with steps and tree roots for hiking assistance. At the bottom, there's a long flat boulder that goes out into the pool that is perfect for sitting and picnic.
The swimming area can be a little crowded on hot weekends in the middle of summer, but it's often very quiet. It's free to enjoy! The photo on right was taken in the winter.