Rainbow Falls – Horsepasture River, North Carolina’s Finest Waterfall??

While I ponder where my next  waterfalls hike will be,  I would like to take a few minutes to share the best of what I have found so far in my travels.  In the southwest corner of NC, deep in the “Land of the Waterfalls”,  just outside of the fairly new Gorges State Park, lies the Horsepasture River.  This river is home to the finest waterfall I have seen in person, Rainbow Falls.  Rainbow Falls is a powerful waterfall, that falls 150 feet over a very wide open, large rock face.  This waterfall is on a river, so there is usually plenty of water flow, even in dry times.  When the water is up though, wow what a site!!

It is named Rainbow Falls for a special reason.  The size of this river and the large amounts of water going over the falls, creates a huge spray zone that usually makes a B-line right towards the spot where most people view and photograph this waterfall.  It will get you soaked if you stay there long enough, and it will surprise you because you are pretty high up with a good distance between yourself and the waterfall.  Anyway, when the sun is at the right angle, usually 9-10 in the morning from what I have found, the sun and the heavy waterfall mist create a huge rainbow that at the peak, will cover the entire waterfall.  It is beautiful and truly something to see.  It took me 4 times before I finally saw the rainbow, now I will plan any hike here to be at the spot between 9-10 am.

The hike there can be challenging for some.  There used to be an easy access right off of highway 281 that required only a short hike to get here.  This is now private property and the owner has very intimidating signs everywhere threatening prosecution for trespassing.  He or she does not appear to be playing around.  So, the new option is to drive into the new Gorges State Park, which has a ton of waterfalls of its own that I will have to discuss on another blog, another day.  The Trail is called the Rainbow Falls Trail and is roughly a 5 mile round trip.  It starts in the park, but leaves the park halfway and into the Pisgah National Forest.  The trail is mostly down hill to start, which makes for a difficult return trip.  It finally meets up with the Horsepasture River, and the hike goes upstream.  There are a number of smaller waterfalls and large rapids that would be the focal point of parks in other regions, but not here.  Once on the river for a ways, the trail begins to climb, eventually gets steep for a short distance.  At that point you look over the top and there it is, Rainbow Falls, and all of the thunderous sounds of the water pounding down 150 feet below.  Here you will be at an area with a safety fence and is the place to shoot the waterfall if you are lucky enough to be there with the rainbow.  Don’t stay long, as you can get drenched, not good for the camera.

The trail keeps going up towards the top, but there is also a side trail that goes down to the base.  Be careful, use some common sense, and it can be navigated safely.  At the bottom, you are close-up to this monster and then you really appreciate it’s size.  The walk to the top will cause some huffing and puffing, but the view from the top is magnificent as well.  Be very careful, I have read stories of people falling off the top, they did not live to tell about it.

After you take in this beauty, surprise, the Horsepasture river has more in store for you.  Just upstream from Rainbow, is Turtleback Falls.  Although it is much smaller, it has a character all its own  and is a beautiful waterfall in its own rights.  In the summer, people will slide over these falls into a deep pool.  Don’t do this in high water, as I have read that people could not get out, and were swept right over Rainbow Falls.  Then….about 1/4 more upstream is Drift Falls.  This used to be called “Bustyerbutt” Falls as it was known for people to sliding down a large rock face into a pool.  It is the closest to the highway and the waterfall people always saw first on the trip then.  It is now on private property, but the park line comes just to the point where you can get a good view of the falls from down stream.  It is a nice waterfall too, but does not compare to the other two.

There are two other waterfalls on this river I have yet to see, maybe this year.  Stairstep falls, and Windy Falls.  They are down stream from where the trail meets the river.  Stairstep is fairly close from what I can tell, but Windy Falls is supposed to be quite the adventure.

If you make it down to this area of NC, the famous Upper Whitewater falls is just a few miles down the road from Gorges State Park, and is supposedly the tallest waterfall in the eastern US at 411 feet.  It is only a short hike to a distant viewing platform, certainly a must-see.

Here is an extended gallery of some of my Rainbow Falls visits, along with a few shots of Turtleback and Drift Falls.

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Lower Cascades/Torys Falls After A Good Rain

Hanging Rock State Park just north of the triad in NC, is home to 5 named waterfalls.  They are small in nature and are nothing like the much larger waterfalls that lie farther west.  Several of these 5 falls dry up to merely a trickle in summer, but we had just received 1-2 inches of rain, so curiosity got the best of me.  How much of an impact would rain have on these small falls?   I had just enough free time after work to ride up, visit 2 of them and find out for myself.

Torys Falls is in a remote section of the park which requires a different drive than the regular one into the main park.  The short hike to Torys Falls is listed as moderate.  Once there,  you find yourself at a ledge looking at a waterfall over 100 ft tall.  It is very tiny though, even with good rain, it was not an impressive flow.  Even though the waterfall is over 100 ft, only about the top 25 feet can be viewed as the rest disappears over cascades into the deep forest. There is another treat here, Torys Den, a cave that was once the “hide-out” of the remaining Tories in the revolutionary war.

My next stop was a short drive to the Lower Cascades Parking Lot.  This location, while still outside of the main park, is home to Hanging Rock’s finest waterfall, “Lower Cascades”, a very scenic 35 foot waterfall with a huge overhanging cliff on the left side.  Another short hike is on tap here, a tad longer than Torys Den and a tad steeper.  Fairly new steps have made this once treacherous trek reasonably safe now.  The waterfall could be heard from the parking lot on this day, so I was pretty excited about getting down there.  Once there, I could tell the water flow was up and it made for a gorgeous setting.  I sat there nearly 15 minutes, took a few pictures, then began my return to the real world.  There is definitely some reward to be had, if you are able to get to a waterfall just after a big rain, even on small falls like these.

Wilson Creek Short Hike

Wilson Creek Short Hike

Ahh, another January day where the temps are pushing 60, and I had the day off of work, what to do, what to do. With some recent rains, the answer was clear, hike to see some waterfalls.Being January, I wanted to stay in the lower elevations, by that I mean 3000 feet or less. It seemed a fine day to do some hiking in Wilson Creek.I decided to hike the Harper Creek Trail which follows Harper Creek, a
major tributary to Wilson Creek, to view and photograph Harper Creek Falls. The last time I visited this place, there were at least 30 people in my picture, I was hoping this time it would just be the waterfall and I. The trail to the waterfall is roughly 1.7 miles one way with a steep climb right out of the parking lot. It levels out at about the 0.3 mark and is mainly level with few minor hills afterwards.When I arrived at the waterfall, I was in luck, it was cloudy and I was all by myself. It was the perfect chance to get a picture of a waterfall that stays jam packed all summer long. I had one slight problem though. The only way down into the gorge to get the picture is by rope, which is down some very steep rock. I navigated this last summer, but today the rope was cut, in pretty bad shape, and the rock was soaking wet from the earlier rains. It was a recipe for disaster. A younger, dumber me would have gone down it without a second thought. Instead, I did the smart thing, got the best picture I could get and got out of there. Being the only person there made it a bad day for a serious injury. Hopefully my next trip here will provide better conditions. Here are a few photos from my short hike at Wilson and Harper creeks.

First Hike Of 2012

With the new year now a week old, it became time to make good on some of those “New Year Resolutions”. More miles, more peaks, more waterfalls, better eating….some of the ones I have vowed to do this year. With this weeks nice warm up, it seemed to be the right time to get out and stretch the legs a little.

It was a day with temps in the mid 60’s, which is a true treat for January in the high country. I decided to start with a familiar place, The South Mountains State Park. It is a relatively short drive, with some great hiking trails, over 40 miles of them. The highlight trail, the one “must-hike” trail is definitely the High Shoals Falls Loop. This is a 2.7 mile loop that starts fairly flat as you leave the parking area. About 1/2 mile in you will cross a bridge with a beautiful shot of the stream and if you look way, way up, you will see the waterfall you are in route to view.(especially in winter when all the leaves are gone)

Once you cross the bridge, the trail goes up, rather steeply I might add. The trail does have a lot of rock steps in place to make this as easy as possible, and it is not a long distance to the falls. Before you know it, you will be huffing and puffing your way onto the well-built wooden observation deck right in front of the main waterfall. It is this point where you catch a breather and enjoy the falls. On this day, even though it was 65 outside, there was still some remnant ice from a very cold snap we had just come out of. Once we were rested, it was time to climb some more. High Shoals Falls consists of two waterfalls actually. There is the main falls ,and a second part just upstream that some label as “upper falls”.

Now to the top, this climb begins very steeply from the deck and is the hardest part of the hike I believe. Once you reach the top, there is a very picturesque view of a two-tiered waterfall and a deep, large pool. In the summertime, good pictures are hard to come by because of idiots who ignore the signs to stay out of the water. Just past the pool, begins the main falls where people have fallen….. On this day though the pool and it’s icy waters were perfect for the picture taking.

At the top of the falls, we cross the stream again on a bridge, then the trail leaves the stream for awhile. After a short, easy climb up to a ridge, you will come to a junction of trails. The High Shoals Loop turns right and begins a descent that is about twice as long as the ascent was, therefore it is not nearly as steep. Once down the mountain, the loop completes itself and it is about 1/4 mile back to the parking lot.

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