Hike the Whitewater Falls Trail near Cashiers, NC to the stunning, tumbling cascades of a towering waterfall on this short, easy, family-friendly trail.
LOCATION:near Cashiers and Highlands North Carolina
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Whitewater Falls is a stunningly beautiful, multi-drop cascading waterfall near Cashiers, NC and the South Carolina state line. It’s a gorgeous waterfall, and well worth the half-mile (round trip) hike to view a 400+ foot cascade. The hike trails a short, paved stretch of the Foothills Trail through a wildflower-filled forest, and catches some stunning views of Lake Jocassee nestled in the rolling surrounding mountains. Mid-hike, the trail scores its first views of the upper waterfall before descending a set of wooden stairs to catch a closer, wider view of the waterfall. It’s a relatively easy, short and family-friendly hike. And the picnic area near the trailhead makes a great post-hike snack spot set in a rocky, shady forest.
The waterfall holds a (sometimes disputed) claim as the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. Cascading waterfalls plunge over towering cliffs all along the East Coast, and more than one has been claimed to be the tallest, highest or greatest volume (including Amicalola Falls in North Georgia). Regardless, this waterfall is undisputedly worth a visit, and undeniably beautiful.
Whitewater Falls: the hike
The hike departs the trailhead and parking area off NC 281 (view maps and driving directions), following the paved Foothills Trail northbound from the picnic area. Views open immediately to the east from the trailhead, where the rounded, rolling southern Appalachian mountains stretch far into the horizon. The trail climbs elevation, meandering as it rises beside a tall rock outcrop on the trail’s left. Wildflowers thrive in warmer months in this sun-dappled, lush, green forest.
Scattered benches line the trail as it curves, meanders and climbs, offering great resting spots to enjoy the increasingly more beautiful view. South Carolina’s Lake Jocassee is visible as the trail gains elevation and approaches the falls.
The waterfall’s rushing roar amplifies louder as the trail continues its climb. The hike catches its first views of Whitewater Falls at .25 mile, as the upper falls tumble in a series of wispy white cascades over a blocky, boulder-riddled cliff.
The view only gets better, though, as the trail begins a descent down a series of wooden stairs and landings. The hike reaches the lower observation deck at just under .3 mile, catching broad views of the rushing waterfall. From the base of the stairs, an unpaved trail provides access to the 76-mile Foothills Trail, descending along the river to Lower Whitewater Falls in South Carolina.
This hike turns from the platform at the base of the stairs, retracing the outbound route and climbing the wooden stairs to the upper overlook. The hike catches one last view of the waterfall at the upper overlook before descending to the trailhead, completing the adventure at just under .6 mile.
More waterfall adventures near Highlands and Cashiers, NC
Hike to the beautiful cascades of High Falls at Lake Glenville, a gorgeous multi-drop falls set in a rocky forest. Or trek through Gorges State Park to Rainbow Falls, a towering waterfall framed in wildflowers and lush, green forest. Descend into the lush Panthertown Valley to Schoolhouse Falls, a beautiful single-drop waterfall that cascades into an enormous, shallow, pebble-lined pool below. Check out the full list of our favorite Highlands and Cashiers hiking trails for even more adventures.
And if you’re looking for more hikes to falls that are big on beauty but short in distance, don’t miss our favorite hikes to Asheville waterfalls under two miles. They’re seven of our favorite hikes in Western NC, and while they’re all stunningly beautiful, the hikes are quite beginner friendly and perfect for family hikes with kids, too.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
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.
Whitewater Falls NC Map, Directions & Details
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$2 per vehicle (up to 7 passengers). $1 extra per passenger for vehicles over 7 passengers. Annual passes available.
35.030250, -83.016183 // N35 01.815 W83 00.971