Hike to Upper Bearwallow Falls at Gorges State Park near Cashiers, NC, a half mile, kid-friendly hike to a beautiful, cascading waterfall.
LOCATION:near Cashiers and Highlands, NC in Gorges State Park
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 780 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
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 along its short distance, the trail meanders through some exceptionally beautiful forest, especially in summertime months, when scores of rhododendron burst into bloom. And the hike’s main attraction, Upper Bearwallow Falls, is a beautiful sight: a tumbling river slides down an angled 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.
The park is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks, located near Cashiers, NC, just 45 miles south of Asheville, and near Lake Toxaway, a popular summertime lake destination. It’s home to the ultra-popular Rainbow Falls Trail, a 3.9-mile adventure that hikes to three stunning waterfalls on the Horsepasture River. If you’re visiting the park and you’re up for a longer hike, don’t miss Rainbow Falls: it’s a truly excellent hike to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina.
Bearwallow Falls: the hike
The adventure departs from a signed trailhead near a newly constructed picnic pavilion at the 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 travels 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 the waterfall, 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 ferns 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.
The hike departs the waterfall and 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 adventure.
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 adventures at Gorges State Park
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 Trail, 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.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Bearwallow Falls Trail Map, Directions & Details
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Free parking is available at Gorges State Park.
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