This is a sampling of some of our favorite local falls. Make sure you bring your camera and, the rule for exploring Highlands-Cashiers, wear comfy shoes!
Lake Sequoyah Falls is located off US 64 west, 2.5 miles from downtown Highlands on the Cullasaja River. Sequoyah Dam is at the head of the falls and it feeds into18 small falls within a quarter-mile paralleling US 64. Maybe we’re cheating when we call the 30-foot cascade created by Sequoyah Lake Dam a waterfall, but it creates a gorgeous spot for a picnic.
Bridal Veil Falls is a gentle cascade that, more than anything, resembles a delicate sheet of lace. But this little charmer’s name has a further allusion – according to Cherokee lore, a young woman passing behind its gentle shower in the spring would be married before the first snowfall of winter.
Bridal Veil Falls is located on US 64 west just 2.45 miles from downtown Highlands. You can park and stroll behind the gentle cascade (even if you’re not a young Cherokee woman) for an experience that’s transcendent and deeply romantic.
A mile past Bridal Veil is the strangely named Dry Falls. Don’t let the name fool you – there’s nothing even remotely arid about this roaring 75-foot deluge. It gets its name from the fact that you can walk behind its thundering cataract and remain dry (although “dry” is a relative term, you’ll almost certainly get damp from the unceasing spray). You may be able to see a rainbow if you and the sun are in the right position.
If Bridal Veil Falls inspires soft, romantic words, Dry Falls will have you shouting at one another.
If you miss the first turn into the parking area, you can take the next one on the left. The steps down to the falls are at the west end of the parking area at the entrance to the wheelchair accessible area. The steps down to the falls are at the west end of the parking area at the entrance to the wheelchair accessible area. The walkway needs help, so watch your step.
If you proceed two miles further down US 64 west, you’ll come to Bust Your Butt Falls. This is a rushing terrace of falls that empties into a deep pool that’s as close to the proverbial Ol’ Swimming Hole as we’re likely to see in 21st Century America. The pool is the perfect tonic for a hot summer day or a bracing off-season dip that’s as unforgettable as, well, a waterfall named Bust Your Butt. If you’re feeling brave, there’s a rock that offers a 20-foot jump into the pool. No matter what your level of courage, avoid the temptation to ride the falls into the chilly waters – you will bust your butt (or worse).
If you travel even further down US 64 west, three miles past Bust Your Butt Falls you’ll come to breathtaking Cullasaja Falls. Your trip down 64 has followed the course of the Cullasaja River. This meandering stream, so languid for much of its twisting course, marshals its power for its namesake falls – a majestic cascade lined by ancient cliffs.
It’s easy to catch a glimpse of the falls as you drive by; however, getting a better view is not easy. The falls are located beside of a series of blind curves on US 64 with sheer rock cliffs above and below the road. There is only one small pull-off near the falls, but walking on the road puts visitors in danger of being hit by a passing vehicle.
Though difficult to reach, some use the falls as a place for leisure activities such as swimming (in the pool below) or rappelling. Be careful!
Glen Falls is located off a dirt road three miles south of Highlands off NC 106 south. The turn-off is marked by a U.S. Forest Service sign. Glen Falls is composed of three large falls dropping approximately 640 feet on the east fork of Overflow Creek in Blue Valley. The one-mile foot trail down to the falls is steep (and feels a lot steeper going back up).
Drive 1.7 miles on NC 106 to the sign for the falls. Turn left, then immediately right onto a dirt road. Proceed 1.1 miles to where the road dead-ends at a parking area.
This is probably the most beautiful waterfall setting in the Highlands area - and one of the least visited since it's not on the main highway and it requires a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike.
The US Forest Service is still working on making it possible to get to Ranger Falls.
After you’ve passed both Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls on US 64 west, look for signs on the right for Cliffside Recreation Area. Turn into Cliffside and drive 1.4 miles to a short paved picnic loop on the left. The loop is one-way, so turn into the 2nd paved drive and park. Now here's the downside: There's a $4 per car fee for using this area in season. There's also a lake for fishing and swimming, so a family could spend the day here and the $4 would be a deal. If you’re coming just for the waterfall, well, pack your vehicle full of people, tie a couple more on the roof rack, one in the trunk, and everybody chip in 50 cents.
The trail to Ranger Falls is maybe a mile and medium in difficulty. Go to the back of the loop and look for the Clifftop Vista Trail head. Don't take it, but look to the right for another trail. Take this trail for 5-10 minutes uphill, cross a wet weather area, and take the trail to the left that leads downhill. This trail has been freshly cut and follows a ridge line. In about 10 minutes after the turn, arrive at the creek and a nice shoals area. After this the trail gets a little mucky and picks up an old logging road along the creek. This section of trail is fairly flat and in about another 10 minutes, it begins to head uphill again towards a big fallen log. Shortly after that, the trail bears to the left towards the waterfall. Crossing the creek in front of the waterfall was tricky, but there are plans to put a small bridge in. The waterfall is cheerful and bold and about 25-30 feet high.
Head east on Highlands Main Street, and down into Horse Cove for a glimpse of Highlands before it became a resort destination. At the end of the road, bear right onto Bull Pen Road. After three miles, you’ll reach Iron Bridge and the mighty Chattooga River (where the movie “Deliverance” was filmed). As you walk across Iron Bridge, you’ll be afforded a marvelous view of Chattooga Falls in all its primitive glory. For a closer look, take the short trail just past the west side of the bridge to the top of the cascade. The powerful Chattooga has carved deep swirlholes in the rock. Over thousands of years, small pebbles and grains of sand were swirled around by the water to create these holes. Several hiking trails are in the area, including a new loop trail that follows the river upstream. Plus, this is a great spot for fly fishing.
If you’re coming from Cashiers, follow NC 107 south for 6 miles and turn right onto Bull Pen Road. Look for the tractor trailers and warehouse on the left to verify you're turning on the correct road. If you cross into South Carolina, you've gone too far. Follow Bull Pen Road west for five miles to Iron Bridge. Park on the west side of the bridge or at the top of the hill.
Picklesiemer Rock House Falls is a little 40-foot jewel hidden in Blue Valley A small stream flows over an overhanging bluff, forming a nice free-fall. You can easily walk behind the falls and even under them in warm weather. Large trees and rhododendron grow in the area and overhang the bluff. There are some tiny cascades below the main drop. A large alcove under the bluffs gives this falls its name -- old timers used to call these bluffs "Rock Houses." Presumably, someone named Picklesimer lived nearby.
From the intersection of US 64 and NC 28 in downtown Highlands, go south on NC 28 for 5.9 miles. Turn right onto Blue Valley Road (S.R. 1618) and go 4.2 miles to the trail parking.
Blue Valley Road changes to gravel, crosses the creek and becomes F.R. 79. At about 3 1/2 miles from N.C. 28, make sure to bear left at the sign board. The best spot to park is on the left in a narrow pull-off opposite an old logging road leading up to the right. The trail is moderate and about 1.2 miles round-trip. Just follow the old logging road to where it ends at a creek, turn right, and follow a faint path about 400 feet to the falls. The old road is gated a few yards from F.R. 79. It ascends on a moderate course through a stand of white pines. After crossing a low ridge it descends, again not too steeply, into a wildlife clearing. On the other side of the clearing is where the road ends; don't cross but go upstream on the faint path, which twists through some rhododendron and crosses a couple of seeps. It's not terribly rocky, rooty, or steep, so families with older children should be easily able to make it to the falls.