▶ OUTDOOR ADVENTURES
the High Country
One of the most wonderful things about living in the mountains is the opportunity to see any number of waterfalls on a whim. Rivaling a sunset bursting with color, waterfalls are a sensory delight with striking visuals, a misty feel and an enthralling soundtrack. Some of the waterfalls are easy to spot just from cruising the highways such as Trashcan Falls in Sugar Grove, while others are found with a treacherously steep hike such as Compression Falls. Check out information and directions to more than a dozen waterfalls below.
Elk River Falls
As one of the High Country’s most popular waterfalls, you can expect a crowd on good weather days. But it’s worth it to catch a glimpse of the impressive 60-foot falls. The falls are a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot.
Directions: From Boone, take Highway 105 South toward Banner Elk. Turn right onto Highway 184, and then turn left onto Highway 194. At the intersection of 19E, turn right. In 1.3 miles, make a sharp right onto SR 1303. Follow signs leading to the falls, making a left onto Elk River Rd.
Harper Creek Falls
Harper Creek Falls is part of the Wilson Creek Gorge, which is a beautiful, secluded area. It may take some turning around to find it, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, you won’t be disappointed.
Directions: Heading south on Highway 181, make a left onto Brown Mountain Beach Road. Continue for 5 miles, passing the off-road area, and make a left on SR1328. Pass the commercial campground. The road will turn to gravel and there will be several parking places.
Hebron Rock Colony
Hebron Rock Colony offers a beautiful, long slope of giant boulders, great for crawling, jumping and climbing. The river cascades down the rocks, creating numerous small waterfalls in between dozens of little swimming holes.
Directions: To access the falls, do not park on Old Turnpike Road off of Old Shulls Mill Road. You will get towed. Park at Julian Price Memorial Park picnic area off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in between mileposts 296 and 297. To reach the popular summer hotspot, hike from the parking area about 1.5 miles on the Boone Fork Trail, where you will come out above the falls.
Upper Creek Falls
Upper Creek Falls could be called nature’s playground. A swimming hole, complete with a rope swing, is located above the falls, and natural rock slides are found at several points below the falls. The waterfall itself is over 30 feet high, and continues for another 50 feet. The trail leading to the upper falls is less than 1 mile, but strenuous. Crowds are usually small, but sometimes loud.
Directions: Take Highway 105 South from Boone. Turn left onto Highway 181 South. After crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway and passing signs for Table Rock, the parking lot for Upper Creek Falls is on the left.
Trash Can Falls
A popular swimming hole for college students, Trash Can features cascading falls and a few jumps ranging from 15 to 30 feet high. Diving is not recommended, as the water is only about 10 feet deep at most.
Directions: From Boone, take Highway 421 north towards Tennessee. Turn left on Highway 321 at Skate World Roller Rink and continue for approximately 10 miles. After crossing the Watauga River Bridge, you will see a parking area on the right. Cross the road and walk up a small, narrow trail into the woods for several hundred yards until you reach the falls.
Snake Pit Swimming Hole
Snake Pit provides visitors with a larger area to swim than Trash Can Falls. Multiple flat boulders make it possible to sunbathe, and there are a few tall jumps—but again, diving is not recommended due to the depth of the water. Be careful of the swift currents.
Directions: Snake Pit is in the same vicinity as Trash Can. From Boone, take Highway 421 and turn left on Highway 321 at Skate World Roller Rink. After crossing the Watauga River Bridge, continue to the second pull off. Park here at your own risk, or parking is available at Trash Can, which is about a five-minute walk to the Snake Pit trail. The trail is to the right near the guardrail. Be prepared for a steep climb down to the hole, but a knotted rope is available for those who need help climbing up and down.
Hebron Rock Colony
One of the most well known swimming spots, Hebron Rock Colony is a natural rock formation about 20 minutes away from Boone. Large boulders, small waterfalls and multiple swimming holes can be found here. If you continue to the top, a manmade dam can be found, and just beyond the dam is a larger swimming hole known for its sun.
Directions: Take Highway 105 south from Boone. Turn left on Old Shull’s Mill Road. After passing a church on your left, make a right onto Old Turnpike Road, which is unpaved. Continue about five minutes until you reach a sharp turn to the right. Parking is available here. Hebron is about a 10-minute walk down a steep hill.
Compression Falls (AKA Twisted Falls)
Featuring a waterfall listed at 30 feet high, Compression is in a remote setting perfect on a hot summer day. It is worth it if you can reach it: the hike is less than a mile, but the trail is extremely steep—straight down in some places. The trail will lead you over and around the rocks until you reach the falls.
Directions: From Boone, follow Highway 421 toward Tennessee. Turn onto Highway 321 and continue until you reach Elk Mills Store on your right. Turn right after the store onto Poga Road. After 0.2 miles the road will spit. Keep left and cross Jack Campbell Bridge, and turn right again to continue on Poga Road. Turn right onto Clawson Road and drive about half a mile. Park on the road next to an old barn up the hill to your left. The trail is across the road from the barn and is marked with yellow and red paint on a tree.
Elk River Falls (Big Falls)
Four miles upstream of Compression Falls is Elk River Falls or Big Falls, as it is known on topographic maps. Located in Elk Park in the Pisgah National Forest, the waterfall is estimated to be anywhere from 40 to 60 feet and features a nice pool for swimming and flat rocks for sunbathing. Here is one description of Elk River Falls: “With a high volume of water, it drops almost vertically into a huge, neat pool surrounded by massive rock bluffs, which [are] quite scenic.”
Directions: Take US 19 East to Elk Park, just over the border from Roan Mountain, Tenn., and turn north onto Old Mill Road. After 1/4 of a mile, turn north again onto Elk River Road. Take this for about 4 miles until the road dead ends at the falls. It's a short 1/4-mile hike to the base of the falls.
Gragg Prong features deep swimming holes carved out by multiple waterfalls. Located in the Wilson’s Creek area, this spot also has an open rock area perfect for sunbathing.
Directions: From Boone, take Highway 105 south toward Linville. Go straight through the intersection for Grandfather Mountain, and at a four-way stop, turn left on Roseboro Road. The road will cross the Blue Ridge Parkway in about a mile and will turn into Forest Service Road 1511, which is unpaved. The road continues for six to eight miles into a valley and the community of Roseboro. Stay straight to find the parking area. Follow Trail 262 downstream and you will find the swimming hole about a mile away.
Huntfish Falls has plenty of space for swimming and relaxing. The rocks open up into three levels, connected by a waterfall leading into a deep swimming hole.
Directions: Similar to Gragg Prong, from Boone, take Highway 105 south toward Linville. Continue straight through the intersection for Grandfather Mountain, and turn left on Roseboro Road. When the road intersects the Parkway, turn right. Take a left on Old Jonas Road or Forest Service Road 464. Continue down the valley for approximately eight miles until you see a parking lot on the left. The trail continues down for about a mile to the falls.