Hike to the stunning High Falls waterfall at Lake Glenville, descending into the West Fork Tuckasegee Gorge on a moderately challenging adventure through a beautiful, lush forest near Cashiers.
LOCATION:near Highlands and Cashiers, NC at Lake Glenville
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map
Just north of Cashiers, on the northern banks of Lake Glenville, the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River pours over a 100+ foot cliff, tumbling in a dramatic multi-tiered waterfall and plunging into a boulder-filled pool below. It’s one of North Carolina’s most beautiful falls and a must-see for visitors to nearby Highlands and Cashiers.
The waterfall is gorgeous, fully photo-worthy, and worth the visit. 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 were 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 straightforward (but a great workout). The trail is remarkable, the forest is beautiful, and the waterfall itself is incredibly beautiful.
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 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 trail swings northbound, following a broad 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 massive, 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 a trickle in dry seasons, to an impressive and beautiful normal flow, and to an enormous 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 perfect place to gaze at the falls and soak up the beauty of the surrounding gorge and forest.
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 the waterfall, 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 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 hiking adventure near Highlands and Cashiers, NC
Finished the hike, 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. Hike through the incredibly scenic Panthertown Valley to the beautiuful single-drop cascade at Schoolhouse Falls. And check out the full list of our favorite Highlands and Cashiers hiking trails for even more adventures.
Trails and routes may change – so please refer to official trail maps for the latest route.
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Free parking is available at the trailhead. 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