023 – Turtleback Falls

Accessibility – Moderate+

Height: Approx 20′

Distance – 3.2 Miles (out and back)

Beauty – 7

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 6

GPS Info: LAT 35.0925 LONG -82.9662

Last Updated: 04/01/2017

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Turtleback Falls is the fourth waterfall 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. The remainder of my top 10 list can be found here. 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 that begins in 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.

Turtleback Falls is very nice but it has the misfortune of being just upstream from one of the most striking waterfalls in the area, Rainbow Falls. From the lower observation area, backtrack to the split in the Rainbow Falls Trail and take the upper branch. This will lead you to the next stop, Turtleback Falls. The right fork will lead you to the top of Rainbow Falls as is follows this section of the Horsepasture River. The falls are very close together. Several access points along the river provide views of Turtleback Falls as it comes in from the right. The downstream views don’t provide a striaght on view of the Falls. If you venture out onto any of these vantages use caution. The rocks are slippery and current swift. One misstep and you could end up in the river just above Rainbow Falls. If you venture further upstream you can get a straight on view of the falls. Once the river slides down Turtleback Falls into the collection pool it makes a hard right and races to Rainbow Falls. The river between falls tranquil and as long as the rock is dry you can venture out. The strength of the current can be misleading. There are plenty of places you can safely get in the river. The top of Rainbow Falls isn’t one of them. You can take some shots of the falls from the large rock directly in front of the falls or you can shoot it from below the bend in profile. Either shot will do. If it’s warm out you will have to contend with people sliding down the rock into the pool at the base.

Despite the steeper segments the hike remains kid friendly. The hike from Rainbow to Turtleback Falls is less than 0.15 of a mile so barely enough time to get bored and complain. Again, there’s a lot to see and this helps keep their mind off how much their legs hurt. The worst of the outbound hike is over. The eroded sections and the steep ascent coming to Rainbow Falls may challenge younger children. I did a lot of carrying of my then 4 year old, on the way back. Our rule used to be, you can only be carried on the uphill portions of the return hike. This used to come into play frequently. One one more to go on this hike, Drift Falls.

Above Turtleback Falls – February 2014
Turtleback Falls looking upstream – February 2014
Just below Turtleback falls – February 2014
Turtleback Falls from the top of Rainbow Falls – February 2014
Turtleback Falls looking upriver – December 2015
Upriver View of Turleback Falls – December 2015