December 2016 Update: Closed due to a forest fire. Stairs to the lower overlook were destroyed, so it will not reopen until repairs are funded and completed. So it could be a while.
More about the fire & repairs: Whitewater Falls and the Foothills Trail (TR 437) that connects to Whitewater Falls on the Nantahala Ranger District is expected to remain closed for some time. Although the Whitewater Fire was only 23 acres, it totally destroyed the staircase and access facility to the Whitewater Falls observation deck. Due to the steep terrain, the site is unsafe and dangerous to the public. The area will remain closed until funding can be secured and reconstruction can be completed. The National Forests in North Carolina is currently working with the Federal Highways Administration-Eastern Federal Lands to secure funding. The cause of the Whitewater Fire is under investigation.
Whitewater 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 (honor system): $2 for vehicles with seven passengers or less. 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.
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 two-mile trail to the falls overlook begins at Duke Power's Bad Creek Pumped Storage Project north of Lake Jocassee.