High Falls Trail: waterfall hiking at Lake Glenville near Cashiers, NC
Hike to the stunning High Falls waterfall at Lake Glenville, descending into the West Fork Tuckasegee Gorge on a moderately challenging, 1.4 mile roundtrip through beautiful, lush forest.
The waterfall is gorgeous, fully photo-worthy, and worth the visit. But the High Falls Trail is pretty exceptional, too. Diving from the lake’s banks deep into a rocky, forested gorge, the trail treks through some beautiful terrain. The trail was recently constructed in 2013, and is a model for exceptional trail design: rustic bridges hewn from huge fallen hemlock, scores of rough-chiseled rock stairs and twisted log stair railings were all sourced on site, from the surrounding forest. The difficulty of the trail’s construction is readily apparent – and yet, the efforts seem to seamlessly blend in with the surrounding forest, as if they were always there.
The hike drops over 500 feet elevation from trailhead to the waterfall, and though sections are moderately steep, the trail’s extended stretches of stone stairs make the climb back out of the gorge relatively simple (but a great workout). The trail is remarkable, the forest is beautiful, and High Falls, itself, is an incredibly beautiful waterfall.
High Falls Trail at Lake Glenville: the hike
The hike departs from a parking area near the lake’s shore (view maps and driving directions), following a wide gravel road eastbound. The hike veers northbound, departing the gravel road at .15 mile, diving into the forest. Leathery-leafed and gnarled-trunk rhododendron line the trail, and thick vines chase sunlight in the forest canopy above, climbing tall deciduous trees. The hike descends a wide, rustic staircase, continuing its northbound descent.
The High Falls Trail veers to the west at .25 miles, descending stone stairs and catching the first sights and sounds of the nearby West Fork Tuckasegee. The hike trails the river downstream, descending more stone stairs and crossing a bridge made from wide-trunked hemlock. The hike swings northbound, following a wide meander of the river, crossing a raised boardwalk and descending more stone stairs at .4 mile.
The trail begins its steepest descent at .5 mile, climbing down an extended stretch of stone stairs and swinging through switchbacks.
The hike passes a small, just-barely-in-sight waterfall at .6 mile, following warnings to stay on the marked High Falls Trail. The trail meanders under a huge, towering, mossy rock outcrop before making its final descent to the waterfall.
The hike reaches the base of High Falls at .7 mile. The waterfall pours over the towering cliff above, cascading in multiple streams of whitewater. The waterfall’s flow varies greatly – from barely more than a trickle in dry seasons, to an impressive and beautiful normal flow, to a massive, rushing display of whitewater on dam release days.
A slight wind carries the waterfall’s spray through the deeply-cut gorge – especially refreshing on a warm summer day. Scattered boulders at the base of the trail make a great place to gaze at the falls and soak up the beauty of the surrounding gorge and forest. (As always, though, don’t climb on or around the waterfall: the rocks can be extremely slippery and dangerous.)
(This stretch of the river is popular with kayakers on release days, a 5.5 mile stretch of whitewater with class III – IV rapids after a Lake Glenville dam release. For more info on kayaking the West Fork Tuckasegee, see the guide at American Whitewater.)
Departing High Falls, the hike retraces its steps to the trailhead. It’s an almost unrelenting climb of over 500 feet elevation – and a great (but short) workout. The trail reaches the trailhead at 1.4 miles, 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 waterfall hiking adventure near Highlands and Cashiers, NC
Finished the hike to High Falls, and have energy and daylight left? Don’t miss the nearby, short trek to Dry Falls, a quarter mile adventure to a gorgeous waterfall that you can walk behind. Hike to the gorgeous falls at nearby Gorges State Park, including the massive Rainbow Falls waterfall on the Horsepasture River. Catch stunning mountaintop vistas from the towering summit of Whiteside Mountain in Highlands. And check out the full list of our favorite Highlands and Cashiers hiking trails for even more adventures.
High Falls near Cashiers: Trail: Directions & Details
Free parking is available at the High Falls trailhead at Lake Glenville. Before you go, check for seasonal trail and road closures on the USFS Nantahala National Forest site.
35.198550, -83.159517 // N35 11.913 W83 09.571