Whitewater Falls NC

Whitewater Falls NCWhitewater Falls NC, located near Sapphire NC is the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, measuring 411 feet.  

Update 6/30/2017 – The stairs leading to the lower observation deck are now open again!  They have been closed due to forest fires in November of 2016 that destroyed the previous stairs down to the deck.

Location: Near Sapphire NC
Roundtrip Distance: 1/2 mile to the observation decks
Difficulty: Easy to first observation deck, Strenuous to the second (due to stairs)
Handicap Accessible: Yes – to the first observation deck
Dog Friendly: Yes
Features: Waterfall, hiking (currently closed)
Directions: From Sapphire NC on Highway 64, take highway 281 9 Miles south. Turn left into the Whitewater Falls parking area. The trailhead is out the rear of the lot.
Recommended Gear:No special gear required.

Whitewater Falls NC

Whitewater Falls is located on the Whitewater River in Jocassee Gorge, North Carolina.  The waterfall has a very nice and large parking area, located directly off Highway 281.  Restroom facilities are located at the front of the parking area.  

Whitewater Falls is a pay to visit waterfall, and a donation box and envelopes are located at the trailhead (small brown box shown in the photo above).  This is an honor system, and costs only $2.00 – So be sure you bring cash.  Also at the trailhead is a small but nice picnic area.

Whitewater Falls NC Trail

Just prior to reaching the end of this short 1/4 mile trail, look to your right for a fantastic view of Lake Jocassee, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There is a bench here where you can sit, rest and enjoy the scenic view.

Whitewater Falls NC Lake View

There are two different views of the Falls, an upper viewing area that is handicap accessible and an easy 1/2 mile roundtrip walk up a paved walkway.  This is the view most people walk to, but it’s not the best view of Whitewater Falls NC.

Whitewater Falls NC First View

The second, and better view of Whitewater Falls NC, is available by walking down the approximately 150 stairs from the first viewing area.

Whitewater Falls NC Stairs

In November of 2016, forest fires here destroyed the stairs, and Whitewater Falls has been closed since.   The stairs have been rebuilt, and the falls opened back up on June 30th, 2017.  Here is a photo of the new stairs surrounded by burned trees from the fires:

Whitewater Falls NC New Stairs

Foothills Trail to the base of the Whitewater Falls

As of our most recent visit on 7/3/2017, the spur trail down the base of the falls was closed, due to fire damage.

Whitewater Falls NCThe two viewing decks mentioned above are the two “official” locations for viewing the Falls.   From the lower observation deck, there is a trailhead to spur trail that takes you down to the Foothills Trail, which provides access to Whitewater River, and there is an unofficial trail that will take you to the base of Whitewater Falls.  

The spur trail from the lower observation deck is 1/2 mile, and strenuous.  The trail drops more than 600 feet in a very short distance.  At the bottom, you’ll catch the Foothills Trail.  

Cross the metal bridge over Whitewater River, and follow the path to the left towards the falls.  This will take you to the base, a popular swimming area.  There are many large rocks here, great for sitting and enjoying the sights and sounds of the falls.

We only recommend this trail for experienced hikers that are in good shape.  The trail is steep, and often slippery, especially after a recent rain.

Nearby Waterfalls

Be sure to visit Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls, in Gorges State Park while you’re in the area as well.  

In nearby Highlands, NC you can also visit Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, and Cullusaja Falls as well.

Whitewater Falls NC Photo Gallery

Here is a gallery of our photos from Whitewater Falls NC:

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Whitewater Falls NC Video


About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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