Between Roan Mountain, Tennessee, and Banner Elk, North Carolina, is the Elk River, a mountain stream that tumbles over some of the most impressive cascades in the Blue Ridge. Most of these are deep in the national forest and hard to access, but the 50-foot Elk River Falls is not. A curvy country road and a short hike are all that must be overcome to see this picture-perfect waterfall. Driving through the valley to get here, you would not expect the lazy river beside the road to suddenly plummet away out of sight, but it does. Beginning near the crest of the Blue Ridge, these waters must drop steeply before reaching Watauga Lake. The Elk River Gorge cuts that drop through solid rock, and this waterfall is the start of it.
When you reach the gravel lot at the end of the road, park with consideration for others because space can fill up. An obvious trail leads into the woods and reaches the waterfall in less than a quarter mile. First you will see the horizon line where the river falls away. Broad, flat rocks make it easy to walk out to the top of the falls, but be very careful. They are extremely slippery when wet and a fall can be fatal. Walk a little farther and down a staircase to reach the beautiful pool below the falls. There are more rocks you can access for a better view, or to sit and dip your feet.
Note: Waves and spray from the falls are intense, and current in the pool is strong. Swimming is not recommended. Climbing or jumping anywhere near the falls is extremely unsafe because of recirculating currents and submerged objects.