116 – Lower Whitewater Falls

Accessibility – Moderate

Height: Approx 275′

Distance – 4.5 miles (out and back)

Beauty – 8

Photo rating – 8

Solitude – 8

GPS Info: LAT 35.016699 LONG -82.993326

For all those that have been to Nantahala Forest and seen Whitewater Falls, very few have probably seen Lower Whitewater Falls, a twin to the epic 375 foot waterfall upstream. Measuring at nearly 275 feet, the lower falls is just as impressive. The falls are several miles apart, with the Lower Whitewater Falls lying between Whitewater Falls and Lake Jocasse. The hike is almost four and a half miles out and back on varying terrain. On my visit I was pressed for time so I didn’t do any exploring. My journey ended at the viewing platform which is downstream of the falls. It many ways it is the same view the viewing platform gives at the upper falls.

To get to the parking area from the intersection of NC281 and US64 outside of Cashiers NC, head south on NC281 for just under 10 miles. Along the way you will pass the Nantahala Entrance to Whitewater Falls. Less than a mile after passing this entrance you will enter South Carolina and the road will change to SC130. To get to the trailhead you will turn into the entrance for Duke Energy’s Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station. Two miles after passing through the gate, there will be a left that will lead to a lighted parking area. From the parking area, the trailhead is just beyond the kiosk.

The trail ascends slightly at first and after passing through a large open area, the trail enters the woods on a set of rough steps. The terrain will undulate as you follow the blue and white blazed trail. At 0.6 of a mile from the trailhead, the trail will intersect the Whitewater River. A pair of metal foot bridges span the river. Across the creek the trail intersects the Foothills Trail that leads upstream to Whitewater Falls. Don’t follow this but instead continue on the blue blazed Lower Whitewater Falls trail. The sign says 1.7 miles from this point. The trail will ascend for a while with a steep part ending a small railing 1.5 miles from the parking area. Continue past the rail as the trail bends to the right. A trail intersects from the left but keep going straight. You are now 0.9 from the falls.

The trail ascends and then empties into a parking area along a forestry road. You will follow the blue blazes along road for a short distance before the trail veers to the right. The trail ascends moderately before heading into the steep decline to the viewing platform. The trail was in good shape as of December 26, 2015. It does get steep in places but it is easy enough to follow. The trail ends at the steps to the viewing platform. As near as I could tell, this was the only photo opportunity. Good luck trying to capture the magnitude of this one.

The worst of the hike back will be the section from the platform up to where the trail levels off. My soon-to-be-seven-year-old and I left the viewing platform at 4:12 and we reached the parking lot at 5:15 so this isn’t a terribly difficult hike. It is extremely scenic and given more time I would have liked to explore the area around the bridges.

The bridges over Whitewater Creek – December 2015
Lower Whitewater Falls – July 2016
Landscape @ Lower Whitewater Falls – July 2016
The main drop on Lower Whitewater Falls
Lower Whitewater Falls – December 2015