Accessibility – Moderate
Height: Approx 55′ (Main Drop Only)
Distance – 2.0 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 7
Photo rating – 6
Solitude – 3
GPS Info: LAT 35.59450 LONG -81.63551
Last updated – 10/24/2018
The upper drop at High Shoals Falls is actually the top of what is about 200 feet of cascades and drops as the creek comes down the side of the mountain. After the initial plunge the creek drops over and around massive boulders and short ledges until it passes under the bridge at the base of the falls. From the bridge you can make out the uppermost drop but the only way to get a good view is to climb the stairs on river right. If not for the rock steps at the end I would rate the hike as easy but as it stands as moderate.
To reach the trailhead from I-40 take exit 104 onto Enola Road. In about three-quarters of a mile turn left on Old Colony Road then make a right onto Old NC-18. Follow this for 10 miles to Ward Gap Road and turn right. At 1.5 miles make a sharp left on South Mountain Park Road and follow this until it ends at the last parking area. Coming from SC like I did, I followed Casar Road to Ward Gap Road and made a right.
Several trails leave from the end of the parking area. You can take either. The lower one parallels the creek and is more scenic. The upper is a logging road through the woods. They come together in a short distance and head toward the falls. There is a lot of rock on the trail but it is well signed and easy to follow. Many of the steps on the lower section are huge rocks. At about 0.75 from the trailhead you will reach a wooden bridge that crosses the lower section of the falls below some pretty cascades and above a great pool. Once on river right, it’s time to start climbing. This is going to be a mix of rock steps and wooden ones. Take your time and long the way you will see lots of photo opportunities as the creek tumbles down the mountain. Near the top the trail will split with a set of steps heading up and to the left. You’ll take these if you’re doing the loop hike. Head to the right to the viewing platform at the base of the falls.
I had the good fortune of being here on a Wednesday morning in late October so Jen and I had the place to ourselves with the exception of one other woman who we passed on the steps. Photographically the lighting was perfect and with no one around, I was able to take a lot of shots of the upper drop and the cascades below. On a weekend day in the summer this would not be the case. Even as we were hiking back we passed a number of people who didn’t get quite as early a start. The hike is kid friendly but you might get some complaints on the steps. From a photographic standpoint the deck does limit the options but you can shoot either portrait or landscape.