Elk River Falls is a majestic 50-foot waterfall located near Beech Mountain and Banner Elk NC. The falls plunge over a rocky cliff and into a large basin at the bottom. The Falls are heavily flowing, beautiful, and require a short and moderate hike to reach. Be smart when you visit though, as Elk River Falls is one of the deadliest waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What you need to know
Located in Elk Park NC near Beech Mountain NC off US Highway 19
Roundtrip Distance: Short walk
Handicap Accessible: Yes, with assistance.
Dog Friendly: Yes
Features: Waterfall and swimming
From Beech Mountain and Banner Elk NC, take NC Highway 194. Turn right onto US Highway 19 E and go 0.7 miles. Turn right onto Old Mill Road. Take the immediate left and go .4 mile to a right turn onto Elk River Rd. After 4 miles, you will reach the end of the road and the parking area for the trailhead to the falls.
Note, GPS will tell you to turn right onto a small dirt road before the bridge. Do not do this, continue across the bridge until the road ends in a parking area.
Elk River Falls NC
Elk River Falls, previously named "Big Falls", is a heavy flowing 50' tall waterfall that cascades down a rocky cliffside into a large pool at the bottom. Elk River Falls is reached from the parking area by a moderate .6-mile roundtrip walk on a clearly marked and well-maintained trail.
This is a popular summertime destination for many due to it being a popular swimming hole. Please see our section below on swimming SAFELY at Elk River Falls.
Elk River Falls Video
Here is our video of Elk River Falls, during our visit in the early Fall of 2022.
Hiking/Walking to Elk River Falls
Getting to Elk River Falls is really more of a walk than a hike. The walk is short (0.6 miles roundtrip). The trailhead is located at the far end of the parking area, next to the creek. There are signs that clearly mark the trailhead, as you can see in our video.
After just a few minutes, you'll reach the top of the Falls, where the trail continues down to the base of the Falls. We realize that going out onto the rocks above the Falls for "that photo" is tempting, but we strongly do not recommend it. People have died falling from this location.
To reach the bottom of the Falls, you'll traverse down a small rocky area, which honestly is a bit dangerous, so be careful, especially if the rocks are wet. Then a small staircase will take you down to the bottom of Elk River Falls.
At the bottom is a very large rock that will provide you with excellent views of the Falls, and a nice place to hang out.
Swimming at Elk River Falls
Warning - Swim at your own Risk
As you walk out onto the large boulder, the area to the left is safe for wading and swimming. However, the main pool to the right is not. While it may look tempting, the currents in the large pool are VERY STRONG, and there is a dangerous undertow that can sweep you into deeper waters and close to the Falls.
People die at this location nearly every year, as a result of falling from the top of the water, or the cliffs or being caught in the undertow and drowning.
Again, swimming and wading to the left of the large boulder are safe.
We really hate mentioning this, as we do not want to encourage it, but Elk River Falls is pretty well down as a cliff jumping area. If you visit during the popular summer months, you will see people doing this. There are warning signs all along the trail stating that you should not do this, and how dangerous it is. But, people do it anyway.
Just don't. Climbing up is dangerous, standing or trying to jump off is dangerous, and assuming you make it into the water, you have to fight the undertow and strong currents. Again, people have died doing this, it's not worth your life.
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