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Upper Whitewater Falls, North Carolina's Highest Waterfall

Nearby: More Waterfalls | Looking Glass Falls | Sliding Rock | Hiking Guide | Brevard | Linville Falls | Waterfalls at Dupont | Gorges State Park | Nantahala National Forest | Rainbow & Turtleback Falls | Dry Falls | Waterfalls near Highlands & Cashiers | Cashiers | Highlands | Waterfall Drives & Maps | Toxaway Falls

Upper Whitewater Falls NCWhitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, falling 811 feet! The Upper Falls plummets 411 feet and is 60 miles from downtown Asheville in the Nantahala National Forest. It's on the Whitewater River in the Jocassee Gorge area of North Carolina. The 400-foot Lower Falls can be accessed from a different location in South Carolina.

For an excellent view of Upper Whitewater Falls, follow the paved 1/4-mile walkway to the upper overlook. The walkway begins at the end of the parking lot and is accessible to wheelchairs. A lower overlook with an even better view (see photo at right) is located at the bottom of 154 wooden steps. The only full views of the falls are from these two overlooks. However, some people venture off the trail to try for better views. Tragically, several of these people fell to their deaths or suffered serious injuries at Whitewater Falls. Please stay on the trails.

More energetic hikers can continue down the half-mile spur trail that drops 600 feet in elevation to the Whitewater River and Foothills Trail. It's a nice spot to swim and hang out on the big rocks. Once down the set of stairs, the trail switchbacks down the mountain and is steep in places. It will be very slippery on a wet day. You can get to the base of the falls from here. Cross the metal bridge and take the path to the left towards the falls. To the right is the Foothills Trail which will take you down river, past the base of Corbin Creek Falls, and into South Carolina. The trail towards the falls is rather treacherous and hard to follow in places.

Hours: Dawn until dusk, year-round.
Fee: $2 for vehicles with seven passengers or less; $1 per person for more than seven people traveling together in a vehicle. Annual pass available for $15; One-day or season permits are also valid at Whiteside Mountain and at Dry Falls. No camping. The parking area for Upper Whitewater Falls is large and includes picnic tables and restrooms.

Directions From Asheville: Take I-240 West to I-26 East. Go to the Asheville Airport/Brevard Exit (exit 40) and take a right onto NC 280. Drive to Brevard and take U.S. 64 West (toward Lake Toxaway and Highlands). At Sapphire, turn left on NC 281 and go south about eight miles to the Whitewater Falls entrance.

Nearby is Gorges State Park with more waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls.

Upper Whitewater Falls NC
Capturing the waterfall view from the upper overlook.

Upper Whitewater Falls - Fall ColorUpper Whitewater Falls
Fall at Whitewater Falls - The waterfall after a rain vrs during a long, dry period.

Download a PDF of the Whitewater Falls brochure.

Lower Whitewater Falls in South Carolina

Just a few miles downstream in South Carolina is Lower Whitewater Falls that cascades 200 feet down a rock face in the Jocassee Gorges area. A view of this waterfall requires quite a hike.

The Whitewater River, starting with the larger Whitewater Falls upstream just across the border into NC, falls 1,500 feet over 3.5 miles. There are several more falls downstream of the Lower falls, but most are quite inaccessible. The two-mile trail to the falls overlook begins at Duke Power's Bad Creek Pumped Storage Project north of Lake Jocassee. From the Foothills Trail parking lot, ascend 1. mile to a high, flat hill with views of Jocassee and then descend .5 mile to the Whitewater River. After crossing the bridge over the river, you will join the Foothills Trail and ascend for .5 mile before turning right onto the .9 mile falls spur trail. This spur will ascend some more, join a relatively flat gravel road for a time and give you time to rest before descending steeply for .4 mile to the falls overlook. During the hunting season months of October, November, December and April, this road (Musterground Road) is open to vehicle traffic and can be accessed to the right of the Foothills Trail parking lot. Passenger vehicles can easily drive as far as where the spur trail intersects the road. Thus, the hike can be cut by 2/3 during these months.

From Sapphire, NC, drive NC 281 past the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook area to the stateline where NC 281 become SC 130. Follow SC 130 another mile or so to the Duke Power Bad Creek Project on the left. Turn right, drive up to the gate and wait for it to open. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the gate should open automatically to let folks in. (Hikers can get out at anytime, but folks can only get in during daylight hours.) Drive another two miles down to the Foothills Trail trailhead parking lot. Again, look for signs directing you to Whitewater Falls. Portajohns and pay phones are at the trailhead, but bring plenty of water or a water filtration system as none is available there.


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Writing & Photography By Mark File - ©2003-2015 File Investments, Inc - All Rights Reserved