Bearwallow Falls Trail: waterfall hiking at Gorges State Park
Hike to the Upper Bearwallow Falls at Gorges State Park near Cashiers, NC – a half mile, kid-friendly, relatively easy trail to a beautiful, cascading waterfall.
The Bearwallow Falls Trail is rather short, spanning just less than a half mile. And it’s relatively easy – especially on the outbound hike to the waterfall, which is almost all downhill.
But in its short span, the trail meanders through some exceptionally beautiful forest, especially in summertime months, when rhododendron explode into bloom. And the hike’s main attraction, Upper Bearwallow Falls, is a beautiful sight: the Bearwallow River slides down an angled, lofty rock outcrop in a forest of hemlock, pine and leafy deciduous trees. It’s an all-around great hike for families with kids, or visitors to Gorges State Park looking to spot a beautiful waterfall without a lengthy hike.
Gorges State Park is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks. It’s located near Cashiers, NC, just 45 miles south of Asheville, and near the popular summertime lake destination, Lake Toxaway. Gorges is home to the ultra-popular Rainbow Falls Trail, a 3.9 miler that hikes to three stunning waterfalls on the Horsepasture River. If you’re visiting Gorges State Park and you’re up for a longer hike, don’t miss Rainbow Falls: it’s a truly exceptional hike to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina.
Bearwallow Falls NC: the hike
The Bearwallow Falls Trail departs from a signed trailhead near a newly constructed picnic pavilion at Gorges State Park (view maps and driving directions), trailing east. (There’s another trail that departs from this same picnic area with a similar name. The Bearwallow Valley Trail departs west, hiking to an overlook and connecting to the Gorges State Park office and visitors center.) The trail follows blue diamond trail blazes on a well-worn, easy-to-follow trail.
The trail quickly crosses a paved park road before diving into a forest of gnarly-branched mountain laurel, young pine and deciduous trees. It’s a nearly continuous downhill trek to Upper Bearwallow Falls, and the trail begins a series of switchbacks as it descends elevation. The rush of falling water becomes audible as the trail meanders through the forest, passing a bench at just under .1 mile.
The hike continues its descent, coursing through several tight switchbacks. The trail becomes increasingly rockier as it passes through a grove of leathery-leafed rhododendron. In summer, the rhododendron blossom in copious white flowers that brilliantly contrast with the deep, blue-green hue of their leaves and the silvery gray of their twisted, gnarly trunks.
Leafy fern flank the trail’s sides as it arcs northeast, making a final descent to Upper Bearwallow Falls. The hike ends at a wooden viewing platform that offers a beautiful, but distant, view of the waterfall.
Departing the waterfall, the hike doubles back on its outbound route, retracing the Bearwallow Falls Trail uphill to the trailhead. The hike reaches the trailhead at just under .5 mile, completing the hike.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
More Gorges State Park hiking adventure
Visiting Gorges, and have sunlight and energy left to spare? Don’t miss the hike on the Rainbow Falls Trail, a hike to a trio of beautiful waterfalls including the tumbling, towering cascades of Rainbow Falls. From the Bearwallow Falls trailhead, follow the park’s main loop road to the Grassy Ridge trailhead. And check out the full list of our favorite Highlands and Cashiers hiking trails for even more adventures.