Raven Rock Falls – Jewel of the Upper Toxaway

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I have had Raven Rock Falls on my list for quite some time now. Accessed off of Cold Mountain Road (which runs from NC281, around Lake Toxaway, then up..towards Panthertown Valley), the first challenge is finding where to stop along this steep, winding Cold Mountain Rd, which fortunately is paved. I read from a very trustworthy site, NCWaterfalls, to drive 4.7 miles from NC 281, and look for telephone poles, in particular the one marked “61”.

There is a slight issue with this though.

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There are 2 telephone poles marked with a 61. One is orange and the top #, while one is yellow and the bottom #. Of course I stopped first at the wrong one. I have actually tried this before, stopped at the same pole and found no trailhead. At this point, previously I had just given up and driven up into Panthertown to see falls such as Schoolhouse Falls, and Greenland Creek Falls, still making a great day of it. Panthertown Valley, just a mile or so further up Cold Mountain Road, is waterfall loaded with 20 or so named waterfalls. Just before giving up this time, and maybe this waterfall for good (not really..lol)…..I re-read the instructions, provided by Rich Stevenson’s iconic website. The telephone pole marked 61 was to be on the left hand side of the road, or the side which the mountain drops off of. I was staring at the orange 61 marker on the “right” side of the road, so then it clicked. I was tired of not finding this waterfall, so I was driven on this day to find this one, even if I was to see no others. As it turns out, I had driven a tad too far. So it wasn’t Rich’s fault lol….(never is), mine as usual, not reading the details carefully enough. That is part of the fun of finding these waterfalls though. They can be quite the adventure when seeking for the first time. For future visits, it’s more about finding the optimal conditions to visit. Anyway, once i backtracked a little,  and easily found the yellow marked 61 pole, and then the trailhead. Let me save you all the trouble, look on the left hand side for the pole with the “yellow 61”. Park your car in one of several small pull outs and begin your trek down.

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It is that time of year, after all of the leaves have freshly fallen, and cover most of the trails. While the trails can still mostly be made out, they are somewhat camouflaged. Also, there is the slippery factor. Going up or down, loose leaves can make an otherwise “sure-footed” situation into a hazardous one.  Certainly the risk of slipping goes up. No need to stay home by any means, but definitely something to keep in mind.

This particular trail, heads down and towards the right. Falling water can be heard almost immediately on this trail, raising the level of anticipation. The trail will turn more right and began to walk along the bottom of a small cliff. The scenery is beautiful here, but the trail was very wet, and marshy as several sources of water are moving down the mountain and must be navigated. The first is a pretty, small waterfall.

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The second, and more significant is the crossing of the Cold Mountain Branch. You will actually walk under this stream as it free falls 20 feet over the trail on its way to the Toxaway. There is a bridge nicknamed “The Bridge of Death” hereto help but this is a very dangerous section of this waterfall trail. After making it accross the bridge, some large wet boulders must be maneuvered. The trail then follows Cold Mountain Branch for just a very short ways, but walking on the wet rock streambed at a slight downhill angle puts a definite level of fear in me. This particular area is to be hiked carefully, slowly, and preferably with something to hold on to.

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This dangerous section is very short. After just hiking to the difficult Upper Catawba Falls, I can say that this section is nowhere in the same league of difficulty. The trail soon heads back right for just a short ways, and then comes to Raven Rock Falls, a 20 foot free fall, followed by another 20 feet of cascading water. This one was a beauty!

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The return trip is uneventful, just be careful. It is also worth mentioning that this is private property. I believe it is owned by the same group that owns the Greystone Inn? (Not 100% sure). I have stayed at this Lake Toxaway resort twice in the last year. I can not think of a better, more centrally located place to stay for North Carolina waterfall exploration, as you sit minutes from beautiful waterfalls in every direction you can possibly look. It is also a nice experience with the champagne cruise at 5 pm and the dining is special. This place is somewhat pricey, but they do offer specials on Living Social, Groupon and other sites from time to time.

At the Greystone, the fine folks will direct people on places to hike. One of the locations just happens to be this beautiful Raven Rock Falls. The exception is the map directions they will give you. Instead of driving way up the mountain, parking on Cold Mountain Rd and walking down, this trek begins at the Lake Toxaway level and hikes up the Toxaway River. From what I am told and from what I have read, this is a very scenic hike, just much longer. Numerous other cascades and waterfalls including Fisher Falls can be seen. If anyone has taken this route, I would love to hear how your experience was. The lady at the desk in October told me that driving up the mountain and walking the short ways down was “cheating”, and anyone that wants to see this waterfall should hike the 5 mile round trip from the bottom. She was quite a character. Also, for those Panthertown Valley lovers, after staying at the Greystone, I now know where the folks walking to Schoolhouse Falls in dress shoes and fancy slacks & sweaters originate from. They also give out directions to waterfalls in Panthertown Valley and promote Schoolhouse Falls regularly. I recognized a few folks on the trail as the same I had drank champagne on the “Miss Lucy” with the previous evenings.

I think though with so, so many waterfalls present in the area, my first instinct is to take the short way and “cheat”.  The goal is to quickly see it and save time for more waterfalls in Panthertown or the Thompson River, Horsepasture River, Whitewater River or even the Toxaway River. So many waterfalls to choose from, such very little time!

2 comments

  1. I have hiked both ways for several years– the “long” way is quite nice since you pass a couple small falls and have several river crossings which is always fun. Sometimes if I have little ones with me, we park at the top and hike our way down the Toxaway River– you need 2 cars for this- Panthertown is a favorite and I finally found Carlton falls this past summer- beautiful!

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