Just a short drive south from Western Carolina University on NC 107 is one of North Carolina’s most beautiful treasures, Whitewater Falls. With a total height of over 400 feet measured from several towering cascades, it is the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Whitewater Falls is located in Jackson County, nestled just inside the North Carolina state line between Cashiers and Greenville, South Carolina, making it quite a popular tourist stop.
Whitewater Falls attracts thousands of people from all over the country every year to the Nantahala National Forest. Many visitors travel or pass through from Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. However, the popularity of the falls should not dissuade anyone from considering it an essential stop, either while simply passing through or looking for an exciting day hike with beautiful scenery. And because there is only a short hike from the parking lot with wheel chair access, the falls are accessible to everyone. “It really is a stunning sight,” says Phillip Drummond, a WCU student and devoted outdoor adventurer. “To see nature work in this way is amazing.”
There are two lookout points along the falls for visitors. They provide the best view of Whitewater, especially in the fall with the changing of leaves. However, more adventurous people have been known to hike down through the wilderness in search of better views of the falls. In fact, Whitewater Falls is completely surrounded by foot paths and rigorous trails. Foothills Trail extends for 85 miles east into South Carolina. It also leads hikers south to the lower falls, where Whitewater descends an additional 400 feet on the South Carolina side. Most of that area remains wild and undeveloped due to extreme variations in elevation. The trail is maintained by the Foothills Trail Conference, the Highlands Ranger of Nantahala National Forest, and by volunteer landowners and organizations.
Other attractions in the area include the Oconee State Park, where visitors can hike on the Oconee Trail or pursue other outdoor activities like rafting on the Chattooga River.
The facilities at Whitewater Falls recently underwent a mild renovation. There is now a large parking lot for visitors; the fee is two dollars per car. Also added was a large recreation area with picnic shelters and a field for playing sports or just taking some time to relax.
80 percent of funds collected from visitors are used to keep Whitewater Falls a jewel of the East. Funds go toward everything from keeping onsite facilities operational and clean to ensuring that guardrails remain in proper condition for safety.
Finding Whitewater Falls from the WCU campus is simple, and the drive takes about an hour. Turn left out of Western’s main entrance onto NC 107 South. Follow 107 through Cashiers into South Carolina and turn left at the “Whitewater Falls” sign. Turn left again at the next stop sign and look for another sign, which points toward the Whitewater Falls parking lot.