High Shoals Falls - South Mountain State Park
High Shoals Falls

11-25-06 - There are still so many places in western North Carolina that I haven't fully explored - South Mountains State Park is one of them. My only visit had been in 2001 to shoot High Shoals Falls. I'd been meaning to go back, but never did. Then my pal Bobbie said she had visited the waterfalls on Little River that Kevin Adams mentions in his books and thought I should take a look. So we met Thanksgiving '06 week end and worked off some turkey. Quite a few of the trails in the park are for horseback riders and some for mountain biking also. For more info and a map of the park, please visit the official website and follow their rules and regulations.

To get here, get on I-40 to Morganton and take exit 105. Go south on Hwy 18 for just over 10.5 miles and turn right on Sugar Loaf Road (there's a sign for the State Park at every turn). Go 4 miles until the road ends and turn left. Go another 2.5 miles at turn right on Ward's Gap Road, SR 1901. It's about another 5 miles with a right turn to the parking area at the park office. A new visitor's center and office looked to be almost complete at my last visit if you need info or a trail map. The parking for High Shoals Falls and the current office is at the end of this road in the Jacob Fork parking area. You'll pass the drive up camping (11 sites) on the left. The park also offers primitive camping sites scattered around the interior of the park.

The trail head for the 50 foot High Shoals Falls is at the far end of the parking area. If you need to use the rest room, take the road trail and it's on the left. If not, I suggest taking that Nature Trail to the left that follows closer to the creek. It connects back with the road trail which narrows as it continues to follow Jacob Fork up to the waterfall. The trail is 1.5 miles round trip. It starts out easy, but gets steep at the final climb up to the viewing platform. There's also a loop trail that leads up and over the ridge at the top of the falls. Kimberly Alison Turley of Charlotte died in June 2005 from a fall from the top of this waterfall. Reports say she crossed a barrier to get a picture, slipped, and fell to her death. My heart goes out to the family and friends of this young lady. Please stay safe while visiting this and all waterfalls.

Before the final climb to the waterfall, the trail crosses Jacob Fork on a boardwalk at some very large rocks. In the above shot, you can see High Shoals Falls in the top left. The climb up the left side is over a combination of rock and timber steps and wooden stairsteps. The spray from the falls was pretty bad when I got this shot of the entire drop, so be prepared if you are a photographer. The official site says this is an 80' waterfall, but I'm not sure where they are getting that from. This section is 40-50' high.

Now for the waterfalls on Little River. According to Kevin Adams book and what a ranger told Bobbie, only the top waterfall is on park property. I think it's a nice waterfall but I would only recommend it for hard core waterfall junkies - don't bring your children to this one. We took Short Trail from the Jacob Fork parking area, just to the left of the current ranger office. It heads uphill and connects with the Little River Trail. This continues up to a ridge, passing the Turkey Ridge Trail to the right, then descends to cross the river (more like a creek at this point). Just ahead on the right is a fence with a sign warning of waterfall dangers. It's about 2 miles from the parking to this point and you can hear the waterfalls below. There's only a scramble trail from this point down. I ended up just below the top of the upper drop and had this view from behind a big rock.

If you want this view of the waterfall, you are on your own. You can approach it from below, but you'll probably have to get your feet wet. Any other way and you risk a nasty fall. The free fall is maybe 10' high and the cascades continue below where I got this shot from. A dead tree has fallen across however, and I was standing in front of it.

waterfall on Little River

We could see the top of the 2nd waterfall from the 1st one. As I mentioned, all indications are that it's outside of the park property, but there aren't any 'no trespassing' signs or boundary indicators. The 20-25' waterfall is in a mini gorge.

Immediately below this section, the land begins to slope off drastically. The river cascades over open bedrock for maybe 150', then falls about 20' over this last waterfall.

Judging from the topo maps, there should be more waterfalls within the park boundaries, especially in the new section. The trails haven't been developed there yet, so this gives us something to look forward to. I hope to get back for some more exploring of the developed section of the park some time soon...

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