Saturday, February 23, 2013

North Carolina is home to some of the finest waterfalls in the country. Some can be seen from the comfort of the car (Looking Glass Falls) while others require sweat, determination, and maybe even a few blisters (Bradley Falls) but it's almost baffling to think that one in particular can be DROVE underneath! US 64 West of Highlands travels through the Cullasaja River Gorge. On the first stretch of this road, the dream of driving behind a waterfall can become a reality. Bridal Veil Falls is right next to the road and the park service has paved a loop behind the falls wide enough for two cars to pass! Yesterday, Steve, Kip, and I decided to hike in the Highlands area in celebration of the rare occasion of us all three being off on the same day. Misty was kind enough to loan us her jeep and we set off early with a notepad full of waterfalls and directions scribbled down.

It's a scenic drive winding through the mountains near Cashiers, North Carolina. There are many nice houses built along the cliffs and mountain tops and golf courses are a dime a dozen. I was more interested in the huge rock faced mountains and distant views of lakes as we wound toward Highlands. When 64 turns west out of downtown Highlands, I suggest you buckle your seat belt and say a prayer because the road turns gnarly and narrow as it passes through the Cullasaja River Gorge. The first stop of our day was Bridal Veil, I was pleased with the flow and the icicles along the edge of the falls were very photo friendly. Unfortunately the road behind the falls was closed due to the ice covering the roadway. We were still able to park and get some good pictures so I was satisfied.
Bridal Veil Falls
and another angle
Just a mile or so down the road, Dry Falls Scenic Area is on the left side of the road. Dry Falls has one of the strangest names considering it's flow is downright massive. It's also a unique waterfall in the fact that you can walk behind the falls. The park service has done an incredible job with the sidewalks, railings, and even have built a ramp so that handicapped people can enjoy the waterfall also, so kudos to them! Once again ice was present all around the falls and the area behind them was gated because of the ice, however it did little to hinder us, we jumped the gate and continued on much to the envy of the less nimble visitors there with us. The mist from the base was blowing up high in the gorge and a rainbow could be seen with the naked eye, but not picked up on camera which was a slight bummer. I've always wanted to hike to the base, but with all the ice we decided not to try our luck and continued back up to the parking lot and onto the next stop.
Dry Falls
closer view near the gate
Steve and the ice covering the railing along the falls
behind the falls
far side of the waterfall
looking down the Cullasaja Gorge
After leaving Dry Falls, the road continues to follow the river through the gorge, only a few miles later the river begins to lose elevation at a rapid pace and becomes further and further away from the road level. Warning signs begin to appear cautioning of narrowing roadways and 10mph curves, over the next two miles highway 64 is one of the more terrifying roads in America. At the top of Cullasaja Falls the road is blasted through the cliffs on one side and sheer drops of hundreds of feet on the other. All three of us remained silent on this stretch and breathed a sigh of relief as we passed a sign indicating we were leaving the river gorge. We found a good spot to turn around and headed back up 64 to a narrow pull off along the massive 250ft high Cullasaja Falls. The road side view here is probably the best option even though there is a trail to the base, the upper section wouldn't be visible from down there so we didn't go, plus it was almost a completely vertical trail half a mile or more down. Here's a quick look at the majority of the falls.
road side at Cullasaja Falls
US64 above Cullasaja Gorge
 To be continued in another post...happy trails!

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