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. Remember, do NOT get into the water above the waterfall since currents are very strong. And do not dive from the rock cliff - that can be deadly. In July 2016, someone jumped from the top and died after getting entrapped by unseen boulders and other objects underwater. Others have been seriously injured. Also, don't attempt to swim under the falls or climb the rock face. See more Waterfall Safety Tips.
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!
Driving Directions: Coming from Banner Elk, take NC Highway 194. Turn right (north) onto US Highway 19E and go .7 miles to Old Mill Road on the right (at the small downtown area). Take the immediate left fork (opposite of the downtown strip) and go .4 mile and turn right onto Elk River Road. Go four miles to the end of the road. The road is paved except the last little bit - but in very good condition for all cars. There's a small parking area with a National Forest Service stake that marks the trail (but still says "Big Falls").
What's near Elk Park?
- 6.4 miles to Newland
- 7.5 miles to Banner Elk
- 13.5 miles to Beech Mountain
- 15 miles to Grandfather Mountain
- 17 miles to Linville Falls
- 19 miles to Roan Mountain
- 23.6 miles to Spruce Pine
Waterfalls Park in Newland
Nearby (11 miles from Elk River Falls) is a beautiful roadside waterfall in Newland. The Waterfalls Park is maintained by the volunteer fire department. It's located on NC Highway 194 right across the street from the Dollar General! Several cascades total about 50 feet in height. You can take a trail on the left up by the waterfall for a better view of the upper falls. You see the waterfall from the road, so you cannot miss it. There's a small parking area and there is no admission fee.