020 – Stairway Falls

Accessibility – Moderate+

Height: Approx 50′ over multiple drops (steps)

Distance – 2.0 Miles (out and back)

Beauty – 7

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 8

GPS Info: LAT 35.0858 LONG -82.9574

Last Updated: 06-16-2019

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Stairway Falls is the first of five waterfalls along this section of the Horsepasture River. All are accessed from the same parking area in Gorges State park even though the waterfalls themselves are in Pisgah. Since you have to park in Gorges, I list them in the Gorges Section. Taken as a whole, this ranks as my top waterfall hike in the area. Here is the rest of my top 10 hikes. I’m going to treat Stairway Falls, Secret Falls, Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls and Drift Falls as a single entity. The hike to Stairway Falls is the only one I’m going to start from the parking area. Each successive waterfall on the hike will begin at its predecessor so this will be a little different than my other entries.

From Brevard, take US 64 to the intersection with NC 281. The intersection is 2.2 miles past the bridge over Toxaway Falls. The entrance to Gorges State Park is 0.8 miles down NC 281 on the left. A mile into the park is the visitor’s center, which is worth a visit. After the road passes the entrance to the visitor’s center, bear right. The parking area is 0.6 a mile on the right. The trail begins at the information kiosk at the end of the parking area. On the day we hiked these falls in February 2014 we were the only ones here. When we repeated the hike on December 26, 2015, there was only one other can in the parking lot when we started. This will probably not the case if you make this hike in the summer or fall. On our December 2015 trip, the lot was full when we returned.

The hike begins at the kiosk and follows blue and orange blazes. Less than half a mile into the hike the trail will split. The blue-blazed Raymond Fisher Trail goes to the left and the orange blazed Rainbow Falls Trail veers to the right. Follow the orange blazed trail. The trail will descend for much of the time and near the lowest point you will have to cross a small creek that comes in from the right. At 0.75 of a mile you will reach the boundary with Pisgah. At this point you are leaving Gorges State park. The trail to Stairway Falls is about a mile from the parking area and it is marked with a carsonite post. There is a trail paralleling the river where you can move up and down the river.

The hike is kid friendly but sections of it are steep and parts of the trail once you’re in Pisgah are eroded. Photographing Stairway Falls can be done from any of the downstream points. Unlike almost every other waterfall, this one suffers when the water level is high. Once you’re done here backtrack to the Rainbow Falls Trail for the hike upstream to Secret Falls.

The trailhead for Stairway Falls (and Rainbow Falls) – February 2014
The orange blazes will lead the way – February 2014
Stairway Falls – June 2019