The Carolinas are home to several hundred waterfalls. Our Majestic falls are adorned with beautiful forests and towering cliffs. Places that can seem movie like and as a matter of fact have been in movies like Last of the Mohicans, Hunger Games and Dirty Dancing. These great places should be enjoyed by everyone but must be respected for what they are, wild places! A true wilderness setting.
Such places come with inherent dangers most of which can be mitigated with some general knowledge and common sense. Things like staying on marked trails and not wandering from platforms, knowing what plants and wild life might be poisonous, wearing the correct shoes for hiking, taking enough water and wearing sun screen can go a long way to having a fun, safe and adventurous day!!!
A few things to keep in mind when you are in search of waterfalls. Approaches to Carolina falls tend to vary in a wide range of difficulty and length from easy to difficult. Know those details, what you are capable of and prepare for it prior to embarking on any trail or hike. Luckily NC does have several equally beautiful falls with little to no hike involved and even a few with handicap access.
Here is a short list of a few essential items for safe hiking: water and snacks, sun protection, flash light, matches or a lighter, any medications that you might need, map or something (cell phones don’t always work in wilderness settings) for navigation and communication, basic first aid kit and whistle in case you need to signal for help. My motto is its better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it!!!
When approaching a waterfall from above or below one should know they are wet, slippery and often steep rocky areas. These areas can be prone to erosion, loose rocks and soils tends to stay moist. Slipping is likely so pay attention to footing and your surroundings. A side note dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones! The pretty green algae that are common in waterfalls (and make for beautiful Carolina waterfall pics) is super crazy slick…. you will slip so try not to step on it!
Swimming and even hiking should be done so with caution and attention to your surroundings. I think a common-sense piece of advice here would be swim in the pools at the bottom of the falls but not at the top, it’s very easy to get swept over the edge! The top of a waterfall is the most dangerous area!! Keep in mind even shallow moving water can sweep you off balance and off your feet especially on wet slippery rocks. Also remember when hiking if you are using things like roots or trees to steady yourself they could be rotten or have shallow root systems that could give way with very little weight pulling on them.
If you must approach a ledge do it safely and with caution. Try out this simple technique that my guide company NC Outdoor Adventures uses when accessing cliff ledges, the “Head High Rule”. When you get a body lengths distance to a ledge you should get head high to it…crouch or lie down. Keep in mind if you trip and fall when on a ledge you could go over the edge and even a short fall could be fatal.
Also follow the rules in the parks you visit! Stay on marked trails and do not wander from platforms! Some say no swimming and stay on trail for good reasons! What reasons well…. endangered plant or animal life could be present, exposed cliffs and ledges, unseen currents, erosion controlled areas, um you could simply get lost!
Please don’t throw rocks and or stack them…here’s why. You could be messing with some cool critter’s home. Like the Hellbender Salamander (also known in NC as a Mud puppy) or the crayfish. Stacked rocks can also be a hazard when it comes to tripping. Throwing rocks off a cliff could result in hitting a hiker or rock climber below! It’s bad Leave no Trace etiquette —https://lnt.org/
A few of my favorite places to visit falls includes an area of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded by Pisgah National Forest known as Little Switzerland and Linville (less than 2 hours from Charlotte) it is home to some of the most picturesque falls in WNC. Also the beautiful Town of Brevard and Transylvania County is Mecca known as the land of waterfalls with 249 waterfalls within only a few miles. Also Great Smokey Mountains National Park is full of unique waterfalls some you can walk behind others you can drive under! My 2 favorite falls are Crabtree Falls in Little Switzerland and Big Bradley in Saluda NC!
A few good resources for waterfall adventures: My personal favorite Kevin Adams book, North Carolina Waterfalls (3d. Ed. 2016). The Wayward Traveler Waterfall and Hiking Guide: http://www.waywardguide.com. You can also find great free materials at local visitor centers so make sure to stop in and check them out.