North Carolina's Upper Whitewater Falls is a spectacular 411-foot cascade that rests near the border of South Carolina, dropping precipitously from the Blue Ridge Escarpment toward Jocassee Lake. Great views of the falls are available from two overlooks. The easiest overlook to reach is a quarter-mile from the parking lot along a paved path. A second overlook with a better view of the falls sits below this overlook down 154 wooden steps. While these are the only two full views of the falls, adventurous hikers can continue down the half-mile trail to the base of the falls. It is steep and slick when wet, and it drops nearly 600 feet to the Whitewater River below. Here the river tumbles over large boulders and forms deep pools that invite swimmers in the summer. It’s possible to bushwhack to the base of the falls by crossing the bridge and following the river upstream to the left. The trail leading to the right after crossing the bridge is part of the Foothills Trail, and it continues across the escarpment for over 80 miles.
The Blue Ridge Escarpment is an abrupt 3,000-foot rise from the rolling hills and plains of the Piedmont to the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The orogeny of the steep slope is uncertain, but its effects are better understood. Because of the orientation and of the slope and jet stream’s forces, moisture-laden air from the plateau to the southwest is forced to condensate and rain when it is rises up the escarpment. This area regularly receives over 100 inches of rain per year, and it hosts a large population of tropical plants that are typically found in the Caribbean and Central Americas.
An alternative route to the base of the falls and overlooks leaves from a parking area further south on NC-281. From here, it is a longer hike following the Foothills Trail.
Parking at the overlook parking area costs $2 for vehicles with seven passengers or less and $1 for each additional person. Annual passes are available for $15. The Foothills Trail parking area is free.