Dry Falls in SW North Carolina will always be one of my favorite waterfalls. I was a big fan of Dry Falls long before I ever started hiking to waterfalls.
Driving through the Cullasaja gorge many years ago, I drove up on Dry Falls, along with Cullasaja Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. After my first park at Dry Falls and walking underneath it and staying “mostly dry” on a hot day, I was hooked. This was a cool place, and not one to forget. If only I knew all of the beauty around me then that I know exists now.
Dry Falls is located along US 64, just a few miles west of Highlands, NC, just beyond another very unique waterfall named Bridal Veil Falls, which is on a smaller tributary stream to the Cullasaja. As Bridal Veil falls over the pull-out that once was US 64, it maintains the uniqueness as being the only waterfall that I am aware of that you can drive under. This was not the case today as the pullout was completely blocked off due to a 3 foot pile of ice….very cool! Back to Dry Falls, It is located in a very rugged area known as the Cullasaja Gorge. As the Cullasaja River and US 64 make their way from top to bottom, and east to west, be prepared for some beautiful river views, large rapids, waterfalls, large rock walls, and some rather dangerous driving conditions. While it is perfectly safe to drive on, it is a very tight, narrow and curvy stretch of US 64. Large trucks are advised to avoid this area and take the truck route for US 64. It does have some pull offs for people to enjoy, but just doesn’t seem to be enough to accommodate the many people fascinated with this area. People walking along the highway are always a possibility. Be careful in those sharp turns. This is especially true further downstream at the gorgeous 200 ft Cullasaja Falls, where the best view of the falls is right along the roadside, just coming out of a steep curve. With this in mind, I will add that the newly built parking lot, handicapped accessible overlook, and reconstructed trails at Dry Falls are excellent. It can be enjoyed from above, in front of, from either side view, and even behind in warmer months. There is no hiking involved, just a short sidewalk trail down to and under it. The Dry Falls area has been developed with tourists in mind, and to accommodate a good number of people. I still prefer to have it it myself.
Dry Falls is roughly a 70 foot plunge that falls over an extended ledge. This creates a a rather large area for people to walk behind and enjoy this waterfall truly like no other. This being a river, there is always sufficient water flow on the Cullasaja River to be enjoyed any season, wet or dry, cold or hot. Many say that if there was only one waterfall to visit in NC, it should be Whitewater Falls, having the distinction of being the highest waterfall east if the Mississippi. I would disagree and say that it should be Dry Falls. Whitewater Falls is a beautiful 411 ft waterfall, and is amazing. I am certainly not knocking it. It does however have to be enjoyed from a rather distant overlook. The view is gorgeous but the closeness factor does not exist. There is just something about being able to get up close, walk underneath, come out the other side and be one with such a powerful waterfall as this. It is a must see!!
This visit is in late January, in the heart of the much talked about Polar Plunge of 2014. I have allowed several nights of temps in the single digits to kind of do their thing. The icy results are amazing. The river itself is lined with ice as far as the eyes can see, both directions. Large ice columns have formed near the base, blocking off the access to get behind Dry Falls, so we can only walk up to it along the left side. Standing at the bottom, the large ice columns along with the powerful water volume still falling, really gives a sense of how small we are. The spray from the powerful waterfall has built up some impressive ice walls on both sides below the plunge. It is also worth mentioning the water crossing the walkway was frozen solid in places making for a somewhat treacherous walk to the falls, so be careful.