The Transylvania Times -

Destination Hike: Whitewater Road Waterfalls


February 3, 2020

White Owl Falls is little, but offers a serene cove away from the crowds found at some of the larger waterfalls on Whitewater Road. (Times photos by Jacob Meyers)

I believe one of the great treasures often missed when visiting the mountains are the vast number of hidden gems hiding from us just mere steps off the beaten path.

Whitewater Road (281 South) crosses a number of major rivers in this area as they steeply fall into the foothills and make their way into Lake Jocassee below.

And where there are rivers and steep mountains, there will also be incredible waterfalls.

This is one of my favorite areas to guide waterfall tours for out-of-towners looking to scoop a few extra waterfall pictures before making their way back home.

The big ones would obviously be Rainbow Falls, Gorges State Park's most heavily visited attraction, and Whitewater Falls, often revered as the highest waterfall this side of the Rockies.

While those are beautiful and popular for very good reason, this particular section of the Blue Ridge Escarpment has more to offer than even those who frequent it have ever seen, and so here are three suggested stops along Whitewater Road.

First comes White Owl Falls.

This hidden beauty is one of the lowest-trafficked waterfalls in this area, and that comes as a real surprise considering the beauty that it has to offer year-round.

If the private mountain oasis wasn't enough, a few hundred yards up the river sits the remnants of an old bridge, likely a logging construction or a means to get power lines installed in this area.

Either way, the explorer in me always gets excited when stumbling upon these hidden, crumbling pieces of local history. White Owl Falls is accessed approximately 3.7 miles down Whitewater Road.

Visitors will pass Gorges State Park and Brewer Road. Shortly after Brewer Road is a straightaway with guardrails on both sides.

Park in the turnoff at the end of the straightaway and hop the guardrail on the lower side, opposite the end of the straightaway where you parked.

A worn footpath will send you on a minor rock-scramble down the hill, and then lead you directly to White Owl Falls.

The second suggested stop is D.E.W Falls. The waterfall gets its namesake from Dorothy Ehrlich Walker, a young student from South Carolina who lost her life in a car accident.

Her classmates built the waterfall trail as a senior project, and named the waterfall in her honor.

This hike is less than a quarter-mile from the trailhead, and is the most kid-friendly stop on this list. Five miles south on Whitewater Road is a straightaway that follows shortly after the one for White Owl Falls, and this one is recognizable by the dynamite-exposed rock wall on the right-side of the road as well as the slow-vehicle turnoff that follows this section of rock wall.

Hikers can park either on the turnoff or, preferably, at the end of the strip on the right where a small metal gate lies.

Walk around the gate and go straight until the path starts on a mild incline.

Shortly up this incline is a side trail on the left that leads directly to D.E.W Falls and an often dry rock landing perfect for wading or taking photos.

Third, there is John's Jump Falls.

This 25-foot beauty is the most popular of the three waterfalls listed, but traffic is still significantly milder than the major nearby locales on Whitewater Road. Immediately after the parking area for D.E.W. Falls, there is a small field on a left-hand turn.

Park in that clearing and the trail will become obvious as you approach the tree line.

This is a steep root and rock scramble, but is just as short of a walk as the other waterfalls listed.

Neighboring D.E.W. falls is named after Dorothy Ehrlich Walker, a young student from South Carolina who lost her life in a car accident.

The path splits halfway down, heading left for the ducts that funnel water under the road (we believed them to mysteriously resemble the movie IT), and right where it will land at the base of the waterfall.

Directions to Waterfall Road From Brevard

•Head southwest on S. Broad Street

•Turn right onto U.S. 64 heading southwest and continue straight for 17.6 miles

•Turn left onto N.C. 281

•The first waterfall on this list will be 3.7 miles down N.C. 281/Whitewater Road

(Myers is an Appalachian-based adventure enthusiast and writer. An avid storyteller, rarely does he or his fellow hikers step into the woods and return without something interesting to share.

Most of his current writing is displayed on his blogger's page on The Trek's website.)


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